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January 7, 2003

Detroit officer severs woman's finger

From: MLive, NJ - 07 Jan 2003

The Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- An officer who cut off the fingertip of a 45-year-old woman he was trying to handcuff was investigated in 1998 for shooting a 79-year-old disabled woman, officials said.

An internal investigation was under way and police have asked prosecutors to file charges against Officer Anthony Johnson, department officials said Tuesday.

Johnson could face departmental disciplinary action, police said.

"The department has no policies and procedures that would cause an officer to use a knife to make an arrest," Deputy Chief Gary Brown said. "We don't issue knives. We don't conduct any training that would involve a knife in the arrest of a subject."

Officers at the scene early Sunday said Joni Gullas was resisting arrest. But Gullas said that she thought she was being carjacked.

According to police, Gullas' fingertip was severed when Johnson used a 4-inch utility knife to cut off the sleeve of her oversized coat so he could put her left hand in the handcuffs.

Johnson has been placed on desk duty. Detroit police said a warrant request was sent to the Wayne County prosecutor's office, though the office said it had not seen the request late Tuesday afternoon.

Gullas has not been charged with a crime.

According to police reports, Johnson and two other plainclothes officers on a breaking and entering task force were riding in an unmarked car when they noticed Gullas' van in a bar parking lot.

Gullas, of Detroit, said she was waiting for friends when a car pulled up and someone shined a spotlight in her face.

A man approached, said he was the police and demanded her identification. Gullas said she could make out only a silhouette and asked the man for police identification.

"I just thought I was getting hijacked right then and there," she said.

Johnson approached the window and demanded Gullas' license. He wrote that she refused and smelled of alcohol.

Johnson wrote that he reached inside to open the door, but Gullas pinned his hand with her knee and began moving the car backward. Johnson wrote that he hit her in the face, opened the door and pulled her onto the pavement while she violently resisted.

He cuffed her right hand but couldn't get to her left hand. He pulled on her coat sleeve, and she pulled her hand inside, he wrote. Gullas denied doing that and said the sleeves on the coat normally hang over her hands.

Concerned that she might be reaching for a weapon, Johnson pulled out the knife and cut the sleeve off, he wrote.

He severed her left ring finger at the top knuckle and deeply cut her middle finger, she said. The fingertip was later recovered but could not be reattached.

This isn't the first time Johnson has drawn attention. He shot and killed a 79-year-old disabled woman during a ruckus in her home in 1998, police officials said.

The department and prosecutors ruled the killing was justified because the woman -- who was deaf, had arthritis and suffered dementia -- had lunged with a kitchen knife at Johnson and other officers who were trying to control a fight inside a Detroit home, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Cora Bell Jones' family sued the officers and the city, collecting a $350,000 settlement in 2001.

The U.S. Justice Department launched a civil-rights probe of the Detroit Police Department in December 2000 and has been investigating allegations including excessive use of force and mistreatment of prisoners, The Detroit News reported.

The department since has revised its use of force policies and said in a statement Tuesday that it "hopes to send a strong message to the community that officer misconduct will not be tolerated."

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.