Muskegon, MI – The veteran Muskegon police officer who was fired after a complaint that he had a vintage Ku Klux Klan (KKK) application hanging in his house had previous run-ins with his accusers.
In one instance, one of them hit the officer in the face during a traffic stop.
Muskegon Police Officer Charles Anderson’s employment was terminated during a disciplinary hearing on Sept. 12, after a citizen complained about a piece of KKK memorabilia he had on display inside his home, MLive reported at the time.
The investigation into the 22-year veteran of the Muskegon police force began approximately one month ago, after Robert Mathis, who is black, toured the officer’s Holton Township home with his family as part of a potential real estate purchase.
During the tour, Robert spotted an unsigned, vintage KKK application hanging in a frame, and also noticed several Confederate flags in the residence, MLive reported.
Robert Mathis subsequently described the items he saw in a Facebook post.
“I feel sick to my stomach knowing that I walk to the home of one of the most racist people in Muskegon hiding behind his uniform and possibly harassing people of color and different nationalities,” he declared in the post. “To the officer, I know who you are and I will be looking at resources to expose your prejudice.”
Officer Anderson was placed on administrative leave during the internal investigation, according to a 400-page Muskegon Police Department (MPD) inquiry report.
During an interview, Robert Mathis was asked if he had ever had contact with Officer Anderson.
“No sir. Not to my knowledge, you know,” he responded, according to the report. “I’m not, you know, perfect. I’ve had some run in’s with the law and maybe been arrested by the officer but in going into the home I was just exploring to see if it was a fit for my family.”
He was then asked if Officer Anderson might have arrested him at some point.
“I don’t know sir,” Robert Mathis said, according to the report. “I’m not, you know, saying that I haven’t. I’m not saying that I have.”
Robert’s wife, Reyna Mathis, also told police that she “doesn’t know” if she had ever had contact with Officer Anderson, but noted that “she was in trouble” in the past, according to the report.
In fact, Officer Anderson had pulled the couple over for a speeding violation in 2008, investigators said.
Both suspects exited the vehicle and refused to comply with Officer Anderson’s orders during the stop, resulting in the officer placing Reyna Mathis under arrest for “failing to follow his lawful commands,” according to the report.
During the altercation, Reyna Mathis struck Officer Anderson “in the face and eye with her hand, causing minor injury” to him, the report revealed.
She was later convicted of assault on a peace officer, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Approximately three months later, in October of 2008, Officer Anderson arrested Reyna Mathis at a bar after she allegedly assaulted someone there.
She was allegedly intoxicated at the time, and was taken to jail for two outstanding warrants during that instance.
In 2010, Officer Anderson responded to a report of a “mutual domestic assault” at the Mathis home, after the intoxicated couple got into an argument about Robert Mathis having an affair, according to the report.
Robert Mathis had an active warrant for his arrest at the time, but fled the scene prior to officers’ arrival. Neither suspect was arrested as a result of that altercation.
The following year, Officer Anderson responded to a complaint from a woman who claimed that her purse was stolen while she was attending a party at the hone of Reyna Mathis.
He interviewed Reyna Mathis as part of the investigation, but another officer conducted the follow-up investigation.
Officer Anderson responded to the Mathis home again in November of 2012, after Reyna Mathis called 911 to report that she and Robert Mathis were in the midst of a domestic disturbance with their children present.
“Both were reported as intoxicated,” according to the report.
Reyna Mathis said that Robert Mathis had “cussed” at her, so she “called 911 as she was afraid things were getting out of hand,” the report read.
Robert Mathis refused to give a statement, and there was no evidence that an assault occurred, so Officer Anderson “stood by until Reyna gathered her things and left,” according to the inquiry.
Officer Anderson’s final involvement with the couple occurred in 2014, after someone called 911 to report that they were outside the caller’s home looking for their runaway son.
Both parties left prior to his arrival, and he had no contact with them during that call.
The Mathis family’s real estate agent was also interviewed as part of the inquiry.
She noted that the couple was also trying to sell their own home, so she sent them MLS documents on a home that was comparable to the one they were selling.
“The embedded documents in the MLS listing show the seller as Chuck or Charles Anderson on the MLS sheet, the seller’s disclosure form, and the property surveys,” according to the inquiry report.
The agent said that the Robert and Reyna Mathis told her they wanted her “to find them a large home, with an in-ground pool with acreage,” and that she was “somewhat surprised that the Mathis’s were interested” in the home she had sent them the MLS documents on because that residence was similar to the one they were trying to sell.
She noted that a pool was a “steadfast requirement” of the Mathis family, but that Officer Anderson’s home did not have one.
Since Robert and Reyna Mathis wanted to tour Officer Anderson’s home, the agent met with them for a showing on Aug. 7, according to the inquiry.
She ended up taking a call in the foyer during the tour, so the family wandered through the residence on their own.
A short while later, Robert Mathis “abruptly exited the home,” the agent said, according to the report.
The agent then went upstairs with Reyna Mathis, who pointed out the framed KKK application on the wall in an upstairs room.
Once they got outside, “the Mathis’s were talking about the owner being an Officer,” so the agent asked them if they knew him, according to the report.
The agent said that she then realized that Officer Anderson’s name was on the MLS sheet she had provided to them, and she shared his name with them again.
“Rob Mathis stated, ‘yeah we know him (or of him), we know who he is,’” their realtor said, according to investigators.
During the investigation, Officer Anderson confirmed that he has a framed, 1920’s-era KKK application hanging in the “antique room” of his home, according to the inquiry report.
He said he also has a Confederate flag hanging in his garage, as well as a Confederate flag-themed hot pad on his dining room table.
Officer Anderson explained that he has an extensive “Dukes of Hazard” collection and the flags were a part of that collection.
He said he is passionate about U.S. history – especially from the late 1800’s to the 1960’s – and that he purchased the KKK application approximately six years ago.
“He describes himself as an amateur historian and a collector of any antique items that originate from that particular time frame,” the report read. “He was adamant that to him the application is just a piece of Americana that was from the time period from which he collects antiques.”
Officer Anderson said he is a member of the Catholic-based Knights of Columbus charity organization, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Officer’s Labor Council, but “emphatically denied” having ever been a member of the KKK.
“Anderson was asked if he left these items up in his home to dissuade a minority from purchasing his home,” according to the report. “Anderson advised that does not care who he sells his home to, he simple wants to complete the sale.”
Officer Anderson also noted that, as a Catholic, he “would be considered a target” by the KKK.
The highly-decorated officer “advised that he considers himself to be a member of the community who is strongly against the Ku Klux Klan and what that organization stands for,” according to the report. “Anderson stated that as an Officer for 22 years, he believes that he has done the City of Muskegon well, and treated everyone fairly.”
He also noted that if the Mathis family had contacted him directly, he would have explained why he had those items, “shown them his extensive collections,” and that he would have apologized to them because “he meant no one harm by any of it,” according to the inquiry.
The investigation also included interviews with a member of the LGBTQ community, who staunchly defended Officer Anderson and called him “the least bigoted person he knows,” according to the report.
Officers from his shift – including four who “are all of African ethnicity” – all “spoke favorably of Officer Anderson and singled him out as a genuine, and honest man, who lends his experience willingly to all Officers,” investigators said.
They also described the veteran officer as being “not at all biased,” and said that he “polices the City as a fair and impartial Officer,” according to the report.
But the feedback provided by those who have worked with Officer Anderson over his 22-year career was outweighed by local social justice faith-based leaders – none of whom have had any direct experience with Officer Anderson in any capacity.
“They do however know how the [African-American] Community perceives Charles Anderson and the Muskegon Police Department,” the report noted.
“If Anderson returns to the Police Department, the City would go ‘wild’ and there would likely be trouble,” the inquiry report read. “He has lost all of his trust from the people. All stated that Anderson is probably a great police officer, but the African-American community has no faith in him.”
The inquiry concluded that, by “the mere possession of the application and Confederate flag-related items,” Officer Anderson caused the African-American community “to look unfavorably on the whole Police Department.”
“The general consensus of the African-American community is that this is part of the police culture, is supported, and the police condone this. It is believed that no action will be taken against Anderson at all. The feeling is that the gap between the community and the department will never grow closer, as this situation pushes us further apart,” the report read.
The faith-based leaders argued that “being a public representative calls for heightened expectations from the public, and lessens the tolerance of mistakes or even misinterpretations,” the report read.
The report also contained 16 awards for bravery or letters of appreciation that Officer Anderson received during his career, WZZM reported.
There was no evidence of any disciplinary action against him, according to the news outlet.
After Officer Anderson was fired by the department, Robert Mathis said that he was “glad the city was moving forward in a positive direction,” but that other officers need to be held accountable for not saying anything about the memorabilia Officer Anderson had in his home, according to MLive.
“There are other officers within the police force that have been to Anderson’s home and were well aware of the Confederate flags,” Robert Mathis alleged. “[Officers who] contributed to that behavior, instead of saying we as a police force are supposed to have good attitudes when making decisions for our community.”
“These KKK applications, flags, they’re not indicative of people who should protect and serve our community,” he opined.
Protesters have demanded that the department review cases involving the now-former officer and people of color, including the 2009 shooting death of Julius Johnson, MLive reported.
Officer Anderson fatally shot Johnson as he was beating the officer in the head with multiple objects, including the officer’s radio.
The officer was beaten so severely, doctors had to place a metal plate in his head to repair the damage, FOX News reported.
Prosecutors later determined that Officer Anderson’s use of deadly force was justified.