Ousted Lowell police chief requests pay from city

Kent County

LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — The now-former Lowell police chief is demanding he remain on the city’s payroll for the next several months, promising that if he’s not, he’ll take legal action as far as the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Steve Bukala was fired from his position as Lowell’s police chief earlier this month after a controversial posting to Facebook offered support to armed young men who wanted to patrol downtown Lowell to protect the city from rioters like the ones who caused damage in downtown Grand Rapids.

The post was ultimately taken down and the city posted an apology before giving Bukala an ultimatum: resign or be fired. City leaders accused him of using his platform as police chief to express his personal beliefs and unprofessional conduct, among other things. Bukala tendered his resignation but says his dismissal was wrong.

On Monday night, Bukala’s attorney Katherine Henry spoke on his behalf during the public comment portion of the Lowell City Council meeting. Like other recent meetings, the council met via Zoom video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among Bukala’s demands were financial considerations. Bukala said he was about five months away from eligibility to receive pension benefits immediately. He said the decision to terminate him before that time will cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Henry requested that Bukala be kept on the payroll until December so that he could collect the benefits he would have received.

She promised costly litigation if the demands aren’t met.

“If we have to take this thing all the way up to the Michigan Supreme Court, we will,” she told News 8, adding that she would take it even further if necessary.

The city council heard from more than a dozen members of the public about Bukala’s forced resignation. Some gathered in a tent with the former chief to watch the meeting and spoke in support of him using a shared internet connection.

“We need to support the Constitution,” Bradley Wade, a Lowell resident, told the council. “It’s there for a reason.”

“You should’ve dealt with Steve one-on-one, talked it over, because that would’ve been the most professional thing to do,” said Alicia Despres, a former 911 dispatcher for the city.

Several also spoke in support of the decision to oust the chief.

“Second Amendment rights are not in question. Social media as a platform for the chief of police supporting a group of gun-toting hooligans with Confederate flags flying … is the issue,” Patricia Mogor, a Lowell resident, told the council from her own internet connection into the meeting.

“The support of vigilante justice by young men who publicly expressed interest in harming protestors is not the same as upholding the Second Amendment,” Lillian Peterson, another resident, added.

Some of those supporting Bukala asked that he be given his job back, but the former chief said he doesn’t want it and wouldn’t accept it if it was offered because of a lack of support from members of the council.

Council members did not address Bukala’ termination as it was not on the agenda, though they thanked members of the public who spoke on the topic.

Bukala’s family had raised more than $9,000 through a GoFundMe page as of Monday evening.

Some of those gathered with Bukala Monday said their concern is about more than one man but about the larger issue of constitutional rights.

“This is not just little Lowell with 4,000 residents,” Jamie Lett, a Lowell resident, told News 8. “This is bigger than us.”

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