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Detroit officer severs woman's finger

Cop says he was cutting coat to cuff her

January 7, 2003

BY JIM SCHAEFER
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

A Detroit police officer with a knife cut off the finger of a 45-year-old woman he was trying to handcuff in a parking lot on 8 Mile.

The police, who were in plainclothes, said she was resisting arrest. The woman, Joni Gullas of Detroit, said Monday that she thought she was being carjacked.

According to police reports obtained by the Free Press, Officer Anthony Johnson pulled out a knife Sunday morning to cut off the sleeve of Gullas' oversized coat so he could put her left hand in the handcuffs.

Johnson, of the 9th (Gratiot) Precinct, has been placed on desk duty, a typical move after officers use force during arrests. Gullas has not been charged with a crime.

Cmdr. Ralph Godbee Jr. said only that internal affairs was investigating the officer's behavior during the incident, which happened about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Though the department does not issue knives, many officers carry them for, among other things, cutting seat belts to free accident victims.

Johnson and two other officers were riding in an unmarked car on a special burglary patrol when they noticed Gullas' van in a parking lot near the Huddle Lounge near 8 Mile and Gratiot.

Gullas said she had just left the bar and was waiting for others to come out so they could go together to breakfast 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. After some heated give-and-take between the two over IDs, Johnson approached the window and demanded Gullas' license.

He wrote in his report that Gullas smelled of alcohol but refused to produce her license, saying she wasn't doing anything wrong.

She shifted the car into reverse and began to back up, he wrote. Gullas denies that she moved the car.

Johnson wrote that he reached inside to open the door, and Gullas pinned his hand with her knee and began moving the car backward again. Johnson wrote that he hit her in the face, opened the door and pulled her outside onto the pavement. He said she was pulling and pushing away from him violently.

He cuffed her right hand, but couldn't get to her left hand, which she had tucked under her body. 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 a pocket knife and cut the sleeve off "to speed up cuffing process," he wrote.

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

At her east side home Monday, Gullas nursed her bandaged hand, which required surgery at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

"I wasn't fighting. I just didn't know what the heck was going on," she said. "Oh, my God, it hurts. I might as well have cut the whole hand off."

Contact JIM SCHAEFER at 313-223-4542 or schaefer@freepress.com.

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