Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Detroit Cops Rewarded With Secondary Employment After the Killing of 7-Year-Old Girl

For Immediate Release

Press Statement

Tuesday, May 19, 2010

Contact: The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality
Phone: 313.399.7345

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality Expresses Concern Over the City Council Vote to Allow Secondary Employment for Law-Enforcement Officers

On May 18 the Detroit City Council in a vote of 5-3 positioned taxpayers to assume disastrous levels of liability stemming from potential lawsuits resulting in actions of police officers authorized to accept secondary employment with private corporations. The passage of the ordinance without adequate public debate and testimony from experts on law-enforcement practices, deprived the public of hearing a number of fundamental issues that would arise from the enactment of such a new law in Detroit.

Over the last two decades various citizens have been awarded hundreds of million of dollars in damages resulting from both jury decisions and out-of-court settlements involving police misconduct and brutality. As a result of this pattern, a federal investigation was conducted by the U.S. Justice Department for three years which resulted in two consent decrees aimed at reforming the Detroit Police Department's practices related to the use of lethal force as well as the conditions under which people are detained while under investigation or for questioning.

The recent killing of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones illustrated the ongoing problems associated with the use of force by the Detroit police. This tragic death represents a continuation of the wrongful deaths that must be halted. There needs to be a recognition by the City administration that these recurrent problems of police-community relations have to be resolved.

The employees of the City are not typically allowed to hold secondary employment. The workers have been forced to accept pay and benefit cuts as a result of the impact of the economic crisis on Detroit. What message does this new ordiance send in regard to fairness and equal treatment for all public employees?

Many city workers have been laid off in an area which has the highest unemployment rate in the United States. Rather than devise plans to re-employ city workers, the City Council is authorizing preferential treatment to one department and completely ignoring the increased possibility and probability of a new flood of legal claims emanating from the secondary employment for police.

Our organization is demanding that a real public hearing be held prior to the enactment of this ordinance. That the full legal, labor relations, economic and civil rights implications be considered in a publicized hearing open to the general public. We feel that the May 18 vote should be retaken in light of the information that will come out during a hearing where the public is encouraged to participate.

We are also demanding that the Detroit City Council pass a resolution urging the monitor charged with overseeing the implementation of the federal consent decrees to complete their work and issue quarterly reports to the public. The taxpayers have paid millions since 2003 for very limited results in regard to the Police department's compliance with the mandates of the consent decrees.

In addition we insist that immediate action be taken to ensure that the excessive use of force, racial profiling, harrassment and media misrepresentations against community organizations and critics of city government policies be halted by the elected and appointed officials of Detroit. We recognize that it is the majority of the people in the city who are forced to sacrifice in the present economic and social crisis.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality remains committed to upholding the right of the people to live in peace free from the repressive actions of the government and private interests. We call for the empowerment of communities to determine their future.

May 19, 2010

Detroit cops can work as guards

Proponents expect plan to cut crime; critics fear lawsuits

The Detroit News

Detroit -- City police officers now can moonlight as uniformed security guards following the Detroit City Council's approval Tuesday.

The council passed the ordinance in a 5-3 vote. Councilman James Tate, who was supportive of the measure, did not vote because he attended the funeral of Avondre Donel, a Detroit teen who was recently shot while playing basketball near his home.

Proponents said the measure will reduce crime in a city whose police contingent has been cut by 1,000 officers since 1998. But critics fear it will increase lawsuits and brutality complaints.

The practice is common in several major cities, including New York, Atlanta, Miami and Indianapolis. But the Coalition Against Police Brutality says some cities with the policy have histories of abuse.

"This is a game-changer for Detroit," said council President Pro-Tem Gary Brown, a former deputy police chief who sponsored the measure. "It's one of those parts that will be used to increase visibility in Detroit, and that's got to reduce crime."

The plan ends the city's practice of providing police at sporting events and instead allows teams to hire off-duty officers. Officers could earn their hourly rate -- about $28 -- and there will be a $2 administrative fee added to make it cost-neutral for the city, Brown said. Officers cannot work more than 30 hours per week on second jobs.

"We'd rather hire Detroit Police officers to foot patrol, bike patrol and be there during the busiest time when shoppers have more money in their pockets," said Theresa Zajac, senior program director for the Southwest Detroit Business Association.

"We can go out and hire a guard service, but (they) may not be as well-trained as Detroit officers."

Some opponents, including the Coalition Against Police Brutality, are concerned about liability issues for Detroit.

"The people of Detroit have enough liability already," said city resident Tyrone Travis, a frequent council observer. "We cannot stand for that anymore. Those store owners should foot that bill."

But Brown said he's not concerned.

"The liability issue is what held us up for 18 years," Brown said.

Wayne County passed a similar measure earlier this month.

May 19, 2010

Cop in Aiyana shooting helped needy kids, sued for earlier raid

The Detroit News

Detroit -- The man who allegedly fired the shot that killed a 7-year-old girl during a raid Sunday spent his free time helping kids in need.

The man who appeared regularly on "The First 48," a cable television true-crime show, also is accused in a federal lawsuit of being part of a team that broke into a home, shot two dogs and pointed a pistol at children, including an infant.

The revelations paint two different pictures of Officer Joseph Weekley, a member of the Detroit Police Special Response Team who was placed on a desk job after his gun discharged during a raid Sunday, resulting in the death of young Aiyana Jones.

While he has not been identified publicly by the department, a source familiar with the case confirmed Weekley's involvement to The Detroit News.

Weekley, 34, in 2003 founded the SWAT for Tots program, which collects toys for homeless and abused children during the holidays.

Weekley, whose nickname is "Brain" because police officers said he is always thinking, also was involved last month in a program called "Run With the Cops, Not From Them," which raised money for children with cancer.

"He tried to make kids see that the cops are the good guys," said a Detroit police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He spent a lot of his free time going around collecting toys for poor kids."

Weekley is a 14-year veteran of the Detroit police force and has been on the Special Response Team for six years.

Detroit police officials said he had one previous nonfatal shooting last year, when he returned fire from a man who was shooting at officers. A review cleared him of any wrongdoing, Assistant Police Chief Ralph Godbee said.

The lawsuit, which was moved from the Wayne Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court in April 2009, accuses Weekley and other members of the Special Response Team of entering a Detroit house on Feb. 8, 2007, shooting two dogs, and then pointing a gun at an unspecified number of children, including an infant.

The officers were looking for Marlon Westbrook, who later was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to seven to 15 years in prison.

He is incarcerated in the Saginaw Correctional Facility.

A hearing is scheduled for June 9 on whether the case should proceed to trial."> (313) 222-2134 Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed .

May 18, 2010

Editorial: Review the raid

Investigators should examine procedures used in police incursion that led to death of 7-year-old girl

One aspect of the investigations into the shooting of 7-year Aiyana Jones during a police raid on her home should be a review of the Detroit Police Department's armed entry procedures and whether they were properly followed. One reason the Detroit Police Department remains under federal supervision is its history in prior administrations of too many shootings of non-offenders.

The police raided the dwelling Sunday in which the child lives while seeking to arrest a suspect in the shooting last week of 17-year-old Jerean Blake. Police said they had the right address and the suspect was apprehended. They also said they announced themselves before they entered the home.

Because of the violence of the shooting of the 17-year-old victim, they believed they were apprehending an armed and dangerous suspect, police officials have said. They threw a concussion grenade into the home to disorient the inhabitants. In the confusion when police entered, an officer's gun discharged and the child was fatally shot, police say.

There is some question about whether there was physical contact between the officer whose weapon discharged and the victim's grandmother. The grandmother, Mertilla Jones, denies there was any struggle. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger Monday alleged the fatal shot came from outside the home.

That's all that's known at this point, but other residents of the house point to toys on the lawn in front of the house, which should have alerted police that children were present.

In fairness to the police, the context of this weekend's raid must be noted. The city has undergone a bloody two-week period in which a number of shooting victims have been killed. One of their fellow officers, Brian Huff, was shot to death and several other colleagues were wounded when police approached a different house to arrest a separate suspect early this month.

And the Detroit Police Department deserves credit for immediately approaching the Wayne County prosecuting attorney and asking for an outside investigation, which will now be conducted by the Michigan State Police, as well as the department itself, including its board of police commissioners.

One issue that ought to be reviewed is the presence of a camera crew from a cable network reality show and whether it played a role in the tactics of the raid, as alleged by a different attorney who earlier claimed to represent the family.

The shooting of the child in the course of the raid, Assistant Police Chief Ralph Godbee said, is "every parent's worst nightmare. It is also every police officer's nightmare."

Precisely because of this nightmarish outcome, the so-far confused situation surrounding Aiyana Jones' death needs to be cleared up, and a thorough investigation with reliable conclusions must be presented to the public.

Police officers have a tough job that places them at great personal risk, as the death of Officer Huff illustrates. That's why they deserve great respect. To preserve that respect, the department should review this raid to make sure procedures were correctly followed. If they discover any weaknesses or lapses, appropriate action must be taken to change the procedures or training for these difficult, dangerous arrests.

May 19, 2010

Bing, Evans response to girl's death criticized

The Detroit News

Detroit -- The day after the slaying of a 7-year-old by a police officer made national headlines and rocked Metro Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing spoke at a supermarket on behalf of the city's grocers and appeared at a groundbreaking for a civil rights legend.

A visit to the family of young Aiyana Jones, however, was not on the mayor's schedule.

City leaders have been cautious about reaching out to Aiyana's relatives in the wake of the shooting, a mistake, a crisis management expert says.

In the hours after Aiyana's death, which occurred Sunday when a police officer hunting a murder suspect reportedly fired a shot that struck her as she slept, Assistant Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee expressed his sorrow, and extended an offer to help the family "any way we can."

Godbee, acting as chief while Police Chief Warren Evans vacationed abroad, reiterated the same sentiments Monday.

Since then, however, police have clammed up.

"Due to the fact that the family of Aiyana Jones has apparently retained legal counsel, along with the fact that the investigation into the raid ... has been handed over the Michigan State Police, the city of Detroit Law Department has advised the Detroit Police Department to refrain from giving any further comment on this investigation," Godbee said in a written statement.

On Tuesday, police issued a news release explaining Evans had cut short his vacation and would address the media but the briefing was canceled.

Evans later issued a statement expressing his regrets to Aiyana's family.

But a written statement is not enough, said Jonathan L. Bernstein of Los Angeles-based Bernstein Crisis Management Inc.

"You can't hide behind a press release," he said. "In a case like this one, lawyers will restrict what you can say, but that doesn't stop you from doing the right thing by making a verbal statement, and reaching out to the family."

While Bing hasn't spoken in Detroit about the incident, he did discuss it briefly Tuesday while in Washington, D.C., for an automotive summit.

"It's a tragedy. It's horrific, but until you know what the facts are ... I'd rather err on the side of waiting until I understand the facts before I say too much," Bing said.

Cora Mitchell, whose 16-year-old son Robert was killed last year by a Warren police officer, wondered why Ron Scott, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, was consoling the family.

"Why is Ron Scott here doing Warren Evans' job? He should be here; Mayor Bing should be here. They should be apologizing to this family."

Detroit News Staff Writer David Shepardson contributed.

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