LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — The Lowell police chief was forced to resign just days after a controversial Facebook post that supported four young men who had armed themselves against potential protesters.
Chief Steven Bukala was told to resign by 5 p.m. Thursday or that he would be fired at 5:01 p.m., according to documents obtained Friday by News 8.
He resigned by email.
“I’ve decided it’s time to start my life outside of the Lowell Police Department and my future looks very bright,” he wrote.
The Lowell Police Department on its Facebook page had posted earlier this week about the four men who’d armed themselves to patrol the city.
“We at the Lowell Police Department support the legally armed citizen and the Second Amendment,” the chief wrote on the department’s Facebook page.
That led to a flurry of comments between residents, with the chief defending the right to open carry.
It also led City Manager Michael Burns to order the chief to remove that sentence in support of the four men.
On his personal Facebook page, Bukala posted a photograph of the four armed men on Tuesday, three days after the Grand Rapids riot.
Bukala wrote: “So these fine young men called me today. They wanted to exercise their Second Amendment rights and walk down Main Street. They saw what happened in Grand Rapids. They said it’s not going to happen here. We have your backs. I thanked them for letting me know they were in town and to call if they see something.”
The Lowell Police Department on Thursday apologized on its Facebook page for what it called “an ill-considered message posted on the Lowell Police Department Facebook page. We then defended this message, arguing with residents or dismissing their concerns.
“We must take this opportunity to listen and learn so we can work together to defeat racism and build a more just and equitable society,” it added.
The city manager cited Bukala for violating city policy, including “conduct unbecoming of a police officer,” and “Personnel shall not allow personal feelings to influence their professional conduct.”
The post “inserted political and debatable issues into a departmental notice which causes unneeded concern by some city residents,” the city manager wrote. “Your actions created an unnecessary negative portrayal of the city in some citizens’ view.”
Bukala could not be reached for comment.
Tonia North, owner of North Star Antiques on Main Street in Lowell, defended the chief and was disappointed by his resignation.
“He was doing his job the best he could,” North said. “It’s a right for people to bear those arms. If people have a problem with it, there’s a different place you have to go for that.”
But she wondered why some of the men have displayed Confederate flags on their Facebook pages.
“Do I think those young men should have been carrying that flag? No, because I think they’re throwing gas on a fire,” she said.
Garrett Hardman, one of the four who patrolled the city while armed, told News 8 that “what we were doing was lawful. I support the 2nd Amendment right.”
He also said the chief was wrongfully forced to resign.
When asked about Confederate flags, he said, “I don’t recall.”
Bukala had been with the city of Lowell since 1995 and was appointed chief in 2013.
In 2017, Bukala was charged with five counts of unauthorized use of LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) for using police computers for personal reasons. He pleaded guilty to willful neglect of duty by a public officer and was fined $1,000.
Last year, he received a Medal of Valor for saving someone from drowning.