Gwen Johnson, mother of Franklin Smith, who was released on personal bond after being held as an accessory to murder in a racially-charged frame-up in Taylor, Michigan. (Photo: Abayomi Azikiwe).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
African-American youth remains detained by Taylor Police
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
TAYLOR--Tuesday's rapidly convened hearing in 23rd District Court in Taylor was requested by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office in order to file a motion requesting the lowering of bond for Devin Plummer.
Judge William Sutherland denied the prosecution's request stating that someone charged with first-degree murder are not normally released on personal bond.
"There is nothing new that has been presented to the court that would require the granting of this motion," Sutherland said during the brief hearing.
Plummer has been charged in the murder of a white woman on July 30 during a shot out.
Defense lawyer for Plummer, Ray Anthony Paige, called upon the prosecutor's office to drop the charges against his client.
Plummer's family, friends and community supporters maintain that he is innocent of the charges. At the preliminary hearing on Monday, Franklin Smith, who appeared alongside Plummer, was granted personal bond and released.
Smith's mother, Gwen Johnson, spoke with the Pan-African News Wire outside the courtroom today stating that her son is innocent and that she is supporting the call for the release of Devin Plummer.
A preliminary hearing, originally scheduled for Monday, will be held on Friday, August 13.
The Taylor Police have come under scrutiny in light of the racially-charged character of this murder case. Despite the growing African-American population in Taylor (9%), a suburb outside of Detroit, the police force in the city remains all-white.
Paige, the defense counsel for Devin Plummer, contends that his client was beaten by the Taylor Police and has a tooth missing as a result of this alleged brutality.
Police presence was heavy at Tuesday hearing. Armed police stood up in military formation when Judge Sutherland announced his decision not to release Devin Plummer on personal bond.
Three armed officers stood in front of the door leading to the exit from the courtroom while four others held sway surrounding the defendant Devin Plummer.
Representatives of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality (DCAPB) attended the demonstrations and court hearings in Taylor for the last two days. Members of the DCAPB have pledged their solidarity with the Plummer-Smith Defense Committee which is leading the fight for justice demanding the exoneration of both African-American youth being held in the case.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Murder charges spark protest, racism claims
Doug Guthrie and Tony Gonzalez / The Detroit News
TAYLOR -- Police and prosecutors investigating a confusing murder of a single mother fired at by at least two guns are defending themselves against racism claims for the arrest of two college-bound black teens.
After one of them walked free Monday on a personal recognizance bond to cheering friends outside 23rd District Court, police insisted the case of the July 31 killing of Wendy Meinke stems from accounts of black and white witnesses.
The Taylor teens have no prior arrests, and relatives say one of them, Devin Plummer, 17, was forced by police into making incriminating statements. Cops deny the claim and call Plummer one of two unconnected gunmen who fired during a fracas that killed the white mother of six.
"I understand that people are concerned. Race is not a factor," said Taylor Police Commander Don Helvey. "This has been an unbelievably complex and bizarre case. I'd rather let 100 bad guys go than convict an innocent man, but we are acting on the best information we have."
About 50 people protested Monday at the court, where a preliminary examination of evidence was postponed until Friday. Plummer, who is charged with first-degree murder and faces up to life without parole if convicted, remains in jail without bond.
But Judge William J. Sutherland allowed Franklin Smith, 18, to go free without posting any of his $50,000 bond. He's accused of driving the getaway car and is charged as an accessory, a five-year felony.
The decision elicited cheers and chants of "Devin is next!" from protesters outside the courthouse. But it means Smith can't leave the state for Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., where he has a scholarship to play basketball.
"What happened is awful, but these are two good kids," said Eddie Rudolph, a relative of Plummer's from Belleville.
The protests were organized by Adolph Mongo, a Democratic political consultant who worked for the campaigns of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Geoffrey Fieger when he ran for governor in 1996. Unlike some relatives of the accused teens, Mongo linked their arrest to race.
"In small towns like Taylor, locking up black men is a hobby for many white cops," Mongo said.
The Taylor Police Department has 96 officers. None is African-American. The city of about 66,000 residents has about a 9 percent African-American population.
But police only recommend charges. Prosecutors bring them. And Wayne County's prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, is black. In a statement released Monday, she defended the charges and actions by the Taylor police.
"Charging decisions are made based on the evidence and facts presented to us by a police agency," she said. "No charging decision in this office is ever made based on the victim or defendant's race, religion or ethnicity.
"There are checks and balances in the criminal justice process and in some cases, as in this case, the police present additional evidence after a warrant has been recommended. We are reviewing this additional evidence as quickly as we can. In this case, there is no evidence of misconduct by the Taylor Police Department -- in fact the opposite is true. They continue to investigate this case and on their own discovering new evidence."
Both teens were planning to leave for colleges last week and had been out together to celebrate their last night in town. Instead, they've been in jail.
Police say an argument between Joshua Meinke, who is about 22, and others about 10:30 p.m. July 30 escalated and drew a large crowd at the Coppertree Apartments. His mother was shot when she tried to intercede and died in the early morning hours of July 31.
Witnesses have told police that two people fired in the direction of Meinke. Bullets from two guns were recovered at the scene. Plummer was identified on the night of the shooting by Joshua Meinke as one shooter, but police said Plummer wasn't armed when first questioned and they haven't found his gun.
A 14-year-old Taylor youth also has been charged with Meinke's murder in Wayne County's Juvenile Court.
Authorities have declined to identify him. Police said the juvenile apparently has no connection to Plummer and Smith, but he was in the crowd during the melee and fired.
Police said Plummer and Smith were in a car chased after the shooting by Joshua Meinke and his friends. Police stopped both cars. Plummer and Smith were questioned by police until early the next morning. Smith was released and later rearrested.
"In 20 years of investigating numerous homicides, I've never seen anything like this," Helvey said. "It's unbelievable. Stories keep changing. I know there are some who are suspicious of the police, but we are trying our best with the information that we have."
Plummer's mother, Aretha Plummer, said she believes her son was beaten by police to obtain the statement. She said she heard her son crying when she came to police headquarters the night of the killing.
Helvey said he watched part of the interview with Plummer, and insisted the youth wasn't beaten.
Windy Monroe, 37, said her son was a witness and is expected to testify on Friday. She said the fight might have been between rival gangs.
"I'm scared. I'm scared for my son's life," Monroe said. "Not only that, I have to worry for myself. Who's to say these kids don't rebel and I get hit in the crossfire?"
She said she has considered relocating her son, whose last name is different from hers.
"It's bad that I need to watch my back and he has to watch his back when we go out all the time," Monroe said.
Plummer, a 2007 graduate of Taylor's Kennedy High School, is an incoming freshman at Kentucky State University. He was expecting to catch a bus to Louisville, where he planned to live with his brother, the morning after the shooting.
"Devin has a promising future," said Dwayne Plummer, 23, a minister at Grace Tabernacle Church in Louisville, Ky.
"He never had a run-in with the cops before."
Smith left the courtroom and denied any involvement.
"We weren't doing nothing," Smith said. "We were just riding around. We were falsely accused."
You can reach Doug Guthrie at (734) 462-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org.