LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — Speaking publicly for the first time about his forced resignation, the former Lowell police chief insists he did nothing wrong.
Steven Bukala resigned under pressure after posting an image of four armed men on Facebook who said they had decided to patrol the streets in case violent protesters came to Lowell. The chief posted their image on Facebook and expressed his support for their second amendment rights.
Criticism came swiftly, prompting the city to apologize. Lowell City Manager Mike Burns later told Bukala that he had to resign or be fired. Bukala chose the former and stepped down before the city manager’s deadline.
On Thursday afternoon, Bukala said he made the post on Facebook after consulting with Burns.
“He and I agreed that we should put something on social media,” Bukala told reporters, his attorney at his side.
After seeing the post, Bukala said Burns expressed some concern.
“Burns came into my office, chuckling, ‘We’ll probably get some complaints about the last line,’” Bukala explained. “The last line that he was referring to was ‘The Lowell Police Department supports the Second Amendment and the armed citizen.’”
The former chief said he had no regrets about his actions.
“Under the circumstances — we were two days removed from riots in Grand Rapids — I knew we’d be getting some calls on this,” he said as his justification for the post. “We are sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States and the State of Michigan. Politics aside, we support the entire constitution. The city manager and the city council all swear to the same oath that I did.”
Bukala dismissed the concerns of critics who question whether he is racist as “laughable.”
“Anybody that knows my family dynamics, this is laughable. But I’ll put it out there,” Bukala said emphatically. “I have a brother who is homosexual. My stepson is dating a Hispanic girl… and my stepson’s best friend is half black, half white. For someone to actually even insinuate that I am a racist is laughable.”
He said as police chief, his role was to defend the rights of all people.
Bukala said he had directed the individuals in the photo to call police if there were issues and not to take matters into their own hands.
“They didn’t want what happened in Grand Rapids to happen in their town,” Bukala said of the men. “I lost my career for standing up for the First and Second amendment rights. The character attacks on me are nothing more than trying to silence what the one true issue is.”
Despite his feelings about his termination, Bukala said he doesn’t want his job back. He had served as a Lowell police officer since November 1995 before becoming chief in 2013. Bukala said he was considering retiring anyway as he was months away from benefit eligibility.
Now he wonders if the city’s financial woes may have had something to do with his termination.
Supporters have rallied around Bukala. A GoFundMe page set up for him raised nearly $8,000 in its first two days. A demonstration denouncing the chief’s ouster was held in Lowell over the weekend.
“I’ll be honest with you. I was choked up and I was at a loss for words,” Bukala said.
But he also said some of that support has turned vile. Bukala said Lowell’s city manager has received threats, something Bukala denounced as wrong and inappropriate.
Katherine Henry, Bukala’s attorney, said she and the former chief are considering legal options. They plan to address the Lowell City Council at the board’s next scheduled meeting Monday at City Hall. Henry said they plan to make requests of city leaders but asking for Bukala’s job back isn’t part of the plan.
Bukala said some city council members have been at odds with him and he doesn’t want to return to work under those condition.
When asked about what he’ll do next, Bukala kept that to himself, citing his “few haters.” He said he won’t return to law enforcement. The circumstances surrounding his termination, he said, left a “bad taste.”