Ackerman steps down from police oversight commission after drunken driving arrest

Council Member Zachary Ackerman, D-3rd Ward, speaks at the Ann Arbor City Council's budget retreat at the downtown library on Dec. 10, 2018.

Council Member Zachary Ackerman, D-3rd Ward, speaks at the Ann Arbor City Council's budget retreat at the downtown library on Dec. 10, 2018.

ANN ARBOR, MI – After being arrested for drunken driving earlier this year, an Ann Arbor council member has agreed to step down from the city’s new police oversight commission.

City Council voted 10-1 Monday, May 6 to have Council Member Ali Ramlawi replace Zachary Ackerman as a council liaison to the new citizen-led body overseeing the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Ramlawi said he wants to help the new commission address issues facing marginalized community members.

“This is a great personal interest of mine,” said Ramlawi, owner of the Jerusalem Garden restaurant downtown.

“I identify with being a minority, being Palestinian, but born and raised in this country. I have great empathy for people who get the raw end of the stick.”

Ackerman, D-3rd Ward, was sentenced to probation Feb. 20 for driving under the influence in Novi.

Police said his blood-alcohol level was measured at more than twice the legal limit after he rear-ended another vehicle Jan. 2.

Some of his colleagues, including Ramlawi, have questioned whether Ackerman’s socioeconomic privilege helped him avoid harsher penalties and questioned whether he should continue serving on the new oversight commission, which aims to strengthen relations between police and the community, including minorities.

Ackerman is serving one year of probation and said his experience in court as a first-time offender felt fairly transactional. He said he has sought treatment for alcohol addiction.

Ramlawi, who said he experienced racism and intimidation growing up in the mostly white Detroit suburb of Livonia, said he thinks it’s best that Ackerman steps aside so the controversy of his arrest and plea deal don’t cloud the commission’s work.

“This is a sensitive and delicate moment for the commission, and it needs to have confidence from the public,” he said.

Ackerman co-sponsored the resolution to have Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, replace him. It passed on a voice vote without debate, but Council Member Jeff Hayner, D-1st Ward, later spoke up to note he was opposed without offering further explanation.

Ackerman didn’t offer any comment.

As a liaison to the city’s Human Rights Commission, Ramlawi was part of a subcommittee, along with Ackerman, that helped select members of the new body, officially called the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, which held its first meeting last week.

Ramlawi believes it will be beneficial for City Council to have a common liaison to both commissions.

The other council liaison to the police oversight commission is Jane Lumm, a 2nd Ward independent.

In December 2018, Lumm survived an attempt by some of her council colleagues to remove her from the commission after some community activists argued she was biased in favor of police.

Council Member Jack Eaton, D-4th Ward, proposed replacing her with Council Member Elizabeth Nelson, D-4th Ward, saying Nelson could be the neutral voice needed to foster public trust, but the move was supported by only Nelson and Anne Bannister, D-1st Ward.

Mayor Christopher Taylor said he’s confident the new commission will be successful and do great work.

The commission’s formation comes as the city considers finalists for the police chief position.

The council approved a resolution Monday night honoring outgoing Police Chief Robert Pfannes.