“I would always make an inquiry before an indictment,” Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley said when asked how he learned of a “device,” at first thought to be an electronic surveillance bug, found in the mayor’s office following the Nov. 5 election when Neeley defeated incumbent Karen Weaver.
In a press conference unusually called on Saturday morning, Flint Police Chief Phil Hart attempted to close the matter when he said the device was never seized by Flint police because it was “insignificant” and only capable of recording keystrokes on a computer. The device therefore is not in police possession and will not be available for public view, he said.
Hart stated a commanding officer found the device in a drawer in the mayor’s chambers and left it there.
He said the device was not plugged into a computer, had not recorded anything, did not have WiFi or similar capabilities, but was capable of counting how many times keys on keyboard were depressed.
Asked by a reporter whether the device would have to be plugged in to log keystrokes, Hart replied, “Absolutely, there was a USB attached to it from my understanding. It would have to be plugged into a computer.”
Hart, like Neeley completing just his second full week of work, explained he had issued a press release offering few details last week, without having seized the device while the investigation was still underway. He said the press release was issued in the interest of communicating transparency to the media and public as the new administration took over.
“It’s found,” he said. “If you guys found out later that I had something like that and I never said anything, would you trust me? So I wanted it to be out there for everyone to know right from the beginning. That’s why we also didn’t say that we had any concerns or considerations of someone who might have done it,” Hart said.
East Village Magazine (EVM) first heard about the device when Neeley appeared on a Nov. 16 WFLT 1420-AM 10 a.m. radio show, On the show he stated that “in having the office swept, there was one electronic surveillance device left in the office.”
Neeley brought up the “device” when describing an investigation into the outgoing Weaver administration. Neeley said the investigation results “may rise to a criminal nature” including an audit into City finances, alleged documents that were shredded by Weaver’s administration, and the “device.”
At the press conference, however, Hart asserted there was no investigation into the alleged shredding of documents at City Hall.
“I know that people were making comments on Facebook and I just took that as – you know unless you can show me proof, I don’t like to even go there because you could damage someone’s career quite unwillingly and there’s no intention of doing anything like that,” he said.
When asked where he’d learned about the “electronic surveillance device” and the shredding of documents, Mayor Neeley said, “The shredding of documents, much like you received the information, there was a shredder truck just kind of big out on Saginaw Street for the process. And so we’re still looking through that process right there.” He did not address how he learned of the device.
Chief Hart said he did not investigate who may have used it or left it there because it was of “no serious concern for safety or information being put out.”
Hart said he did not ask anyone from the previous administration about the device.
“I didn’t even want to put that out there that we’re trying to accuse anyone. If we couldn’t determine when it was placed there and what was done with it, and the fact of the matter is it is not recording anything of any real importance, you just cause a whole lot of problems by doing that,” he said.
Steve Branch, former city administrator under Mayor Weaver, told EVM Saturday he believed the device was a flash drive found in his office. He said he accidentally left it there when he moved out, and all it contained was music he had downloaded for the State of the City address. He said he’s been meaning to call Hart to say he wants his music back.
EVM Contributing Writer Melodee Mabbitt can be reached at email@example.com. EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis and EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.