(VOD has added photos, videos to original Counterpunch article.)
“Hoffa symbolizes a political economy long gone, an era when a union leader could strike fear and loathing in the hearts of senators and presidents, when the old industrial working class, millions strong and capable of bringing the economy to its knees if it so desired, was still the foundation of the social order.”
“While he recognized the value and necessity of having a welfare state, at bottom he thought the working class had to take care of itself, do whatever was necessary to survive, and constantly fight against a hostile world.”
Jimmy Hoffa used to say he’d be forgotten ten years after his death. This was an uncharacteristically unintelligent judgment. Forty-four years after his murder on July 30, 1975, Hoffa is still famous enough that one of the most celebrated movies of the year is about the man who claims to have killed him, Frank Sheeran.
“The Irishman,” movie by Netflix, about mob hitman Frank Sheeran, tangentially about Jimmy Hoofa
Called The Irishman, the film, directed by Martin Scorsese, stars Robert De Niro as Sheeran, Al Pacino as Hoffa, and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino, the Mob boss who approved the killing. For a labor leader, such a level of fame is not only extraordinary; it is unique.
Of course, the reasons for Hoffa’s fame are not entirely to his credit. He is seen as the dictatorial and corrupt union leader who was close friends with gangsters and allied his union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), with the Mafia. Bobby Kennedy went after him for years, starting with the famous McClellan Committee hearings of 1957–59 (for which Kennedy was the chief counsel), and finally got him convicted in 1964 on charges of jury tampering and fraud, for improper use of the Teamsters’ pension fund. His appeals having failed, Hoffa went to prison in 1967, but was released in 1971 when Richard Nixon commuted his sentence. As described in Charles Brandt’s bestseller I Heard You Paint Houses, on which Scorsese’s movie is based, Hoffa’s subsequent campaign to regain the presidency of the Teamsters was sufficiently threatening to the Mafia that they had him killed.
The Irishman focuses on this seedier side of Hoffa’s life, thus perpetuating the image of a wholly amoral and self-serving criminal with which the McClellan hearings made Hoffa’s name synonymous. Most articles published in popular media, such as Steve Early’s recent piece “The Ghost of Jimmy Hoffa Won’t Go Away,” express a similarly one-sided view. The truth is that Hoffa’s Mob connections were hardly the defining feature of his life. Rather, he deserves to be known, in large part, as the preternaturally effective and hard-working—20-hour days six days a week—leader of what was then the largest union in American history, responsible for raising millions of truck drivers, warehousemen, laundry workers, retail clerks, and others into the middle class.
Hoffa was a devoted civil rights activist as well; here he is seen in 1965 at the funeral for Viola Liuzzo, murdered by the KKK/FBI during the voting rights battles in the South. Liuzzo’s husband was a Teamsters leader as well. Hoffa is seated in second row 2nd from right. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the second man to Hoffa’s right in that row. The funeral was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary church in Detroit (where VOD editor Bukowski went to grade school.)
With the possible exception of John L. Lewis, no twentieth-century union leader was as beloved by the members as Hoffa. He made it a point to be approachable and endlessly responsive: in speeches, for example, he regularly gave out his office phone number and insisted that members call him at any hour of the day or night if they had problems. The contracts he secured were remarkably generous—and yet, ironically, even employers profoundly admired him, considering him a master negotiator, a “genius,” more knowledgeable about the trucking industry than anyone, all in all “a great statesman” who was scrupulously honest and realistic in bargaining.
Civil rights hero Viola Liuzzo, murdered in 1965; Jimmy Hoffa marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the south as well.
Indeed, the fundamental reason for the perennial fascination with Jimmy Hoffa may be not so much his ties to the Mafia as his sheer power and success. No other industry was more critical to the nation’s economy than trucking, and Hoffa did more than anyone to rationalize and stabilize conditions in this chaotic, competitive industry (a service for which employers were grateful). Bobby Kennedy may have exaggerated when he said Hoffa was the second most powerful man in the country, but he certainly did have a degree of power unimaginable for a union official in the twenty-first century.
And that’s what’s so interesting about him: Hoffa symbolizes a political economy long gone, an era when a union leader could strike fear and loathing in the hearts of senators and presidents, when the old industrial working class, millions strong and capable of bringing the economy to its knees if it so desired, was still the foundation of the social order. Certain sectors of the working class were even defiantly independent of the corporate-liberal “consensus” of the Cold War establishment, having carved out their own self-policed political economy with the help of organized crime, informal deals, and a willingness to meet violence with violence. The Teamsters epitomized this independent working class, and Hoffa epitomized the Teamsters.
Jimmy Hoffa with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was the aesthetic, so to speak, of the Teamsters and their form of unionism to which Bobby Kennedy and other “corporate liberals” objected (together with “socially responsible” unionists like Walter Reuther of the United Autoworkers).
As historian Thaddeus Russell argues, “the confrontation [between Kennedy and Hoffa] represented a cultural conflict between the rising, respectable professional class of the prosperous postwar years and the uncultured, unassimilated, and unruly industrial working class of the Depression.” To have such an untamed and independent social force right at the heart of society—in the age of triumphant liberalism—was an embarrassment.
That working class is dead now. But in its heyday, it was one hell of a force to be reckoned with.
The Rise of Jimmy Hoffa
Years later, Hoffa formulated the moral philosophy he had imbibed from his early days in Indiana and Detroit:
“Every day of the average individual is a matter of survival. If by chance he should go from home to work and have an accident, lose an arm or an eye, he’s just like an animal wounded in the jungle. He’s out. Life isn’t easy. Life is a jungle… Ethics is a matter of individualism. What may be ethical to you may be unethical to someone else… But my ethics are very simple. Live and let live, and those who try to destroy you, make it your business to see that they don’t and that they have problems.”
It was in Detroit in the Depression years that Hoffa learned the law of the jungle. As a dock loader at Kroger’s warehouse, Hoffa led a strike against the sadistic foreman, which resulted in a temporary agreement with the company that improved conditions and pay. When he was fired a couple of years later, in 1935, for dropping a crate of vegetables on the loading dock, he was immediately hired by a Teamsters official to be an organizer (or “business agent”) with Local 299. He was only 21, but with his boundless energy and intelligence, he proved effective.
Across much of the country, the IBT was beginning a sustained offensive in these years. In 1934 its members played a decisive role in two successful general strikes: one in San Francisco, where they joined the longshoremen’s union to shut down the city, and one in Minneapolis, where the Trotskyists in charge of Local 574 led a strike that elicited shocking violence from the police and thugs hired by employers. The Teamsters’ almost total victory in this strike, leading to the unionization of thousands of “unskilled” workers, began its transformation from a small conservative craft organization to a national industrial union encompassing over two million members.
The more politically conservative Detroit Teamsters were, in their own way, just as militant as the Trotskyists in Minneapolis. To organize the increasingly numerous—and abysmally paid—intercity freight drivers, Local 299’s organizers favored a strategy much simpler than signing up workers and petitioning for elections that would be overseen by the newly established National Labor Relations Board. Instead, they approached an employer: “either enroll your workers with the union or we’ll bomb your trucks.” If he refused, they bombed his trucks. And sometimes his home. In a violent, lawless city, this strategy worked well. (They had likely learned it, in fact, from having their own cars bombed by “hired thugs.”) Combined with frequent strikes and strike threats, such intimidation resulted in an influx of new members into the local and steadily rising wages.
Hoffa and his several union colleagues didn’t limit themselves to organizing drivers; anyone who worked on a loading platform was fair game too. “We’d go out,” Hoffa later recalled, “hit the docks, talk to drivers, put up picket lines, conduct strikes, hold meetings day and night, convince people to join the union.” It was treacherous work: “My scalp was laid open sufficiently wide to require stitches no less than six times during the first year I was business agent of Local 299. I was beaten up by cops or strikebreakers at least two dozen times that year.” During one strike he was jailed eighteen times within a 24-hour period, since he kept returning to the picket line after being released. In these years he also had a list of arrests “that’s maybe as long as your arm” for fighting with strikebreakers, hired thugs, and members of rival unions who were trying to organize the same workers the Teamsters were.
Farrell Dobbs, a leader of the Teamsters 1934 Minneapolis strike
In 1938 two developments occurred that would later facilitate Hoffa’s centralized control over the entire union. First, Dave Beck, an organizer from Seattle (who went on to become president of the IBT in 1952), formed the Western Conference of Teamsters, an administrative body covering the eleven western states and British Columbia. Such a higher-level body was necessary for coordinating organizing and bargaining in a fragmented industry that had thousands of small employers and hundreds of local Teamster unions. That very year, two thousand employers in the eleven states signed an agreement to bring higher wages to intercity (“over-the-road”) drivers.
Around the same time, Farrell Dobbs was achieving a similar ambition in the Midwest. One of the Trotskyists who had led the 1934 Minneapolis strike, Dobbs realized it was inefficient and mutually damaging for locals to separately negotiate different wage scales for their own over-the-road drivers. So he and his comrades, with the cooperation of the IBT leadership, created the Central States Drivers Council (CSDC) to bargain for all unionized over-the-road drivers in the twelve Midwestern states.
To force reluctant—and widely scattered—employers to come to the bargaining table, Dobbs gave them the kind of ultimatum that Hoffa used to great effect in later years: all firms with lines ending or beginning in Chicago (which meant most firms in the Midwest) would have to negotiate an areawide contract or face a devastating strike. They quickly complied, and over two weeks they and the CSDC hammered out the most ambitious and important contract the IBT had ever negotiated. Establishing uniform minimum wages, maximum hours, seniority rights, safety guarantees, a grievance committee, and a closed shop (all drivers had to belong to the Teamsters), the contract covered 125,000 workers at 1,700 companies. Continue reading →
Above: Channel 7 coverage of attorney Nabih Ayad’s disclosure that Detroit cop Darrel Fitzgerald’s deposition showed Terrance Kellom had no hammer
Blue wall of silence stands: Fitzgerald reverses testimony third time during civil trial, claims he did not see Kellom with OR without a hammer, did see hammer in house after he left and returned
Most of civil trial proceedings held through motions ‘in limine’ held in Judge Sean Cox’s chambers out of public view
By Diane Bukowski
December 3, 2019
REVISED FROM DEC. 2 STORY AFTER VOD REVIEWED FITZGERALD’S TESTIMONY AT COURTHOUSE, ONLY MEANS ALLOWED BY JUDGE COX
Terrance Kellom, 19, with baby son. He was expecting the imminent birth of his daughter. Facebook
DETROIT — The news that a federal civil jury rendered a verdict of “no cause” Nov. 4 after deliberating for three hours, on a lawsuit against the 2015 death of 19-year-old Detroit dad Terrance Kellom at the hands of I.C.E. agent Mitchell Quinn and a police task force, has devastated his family and shocked many community members.
“Y’all took my son away from me, his kids, and our family!” his father Kevin Kellom commented on his Facebook page. “Y’all then lied on him in court, and a biased judge allowed y’all to get away with murdering my son in me and my daughter (Teria Kellom)’s face. I want y’all to understand, justice will be served, by hook or crook, you still have to deal with karma and there is no biased judge or jury in her courtroom. Everybody has to answer to God!!”
The family’s attorney Nabih Ayad said he plans to appeal the case.
A “Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team” (D-FAT) stormed Kellom’s home without a search warrant to arrest his son Terrance on an outstanding armed robbery warrant April 27, 2015. The police had seen both Kelloms outside just prior to the home invasion and could have enforced the warrant in public view.
Freddie Gray during his arrest.
Former Detroit police officer Mitchell Quinn, deputized as a federal I.C.E. agent, and possibly other Detroit officers, unexpectedly opened fire on an unarmed Kellom in a living room hallway, killing him with at least four gunshots, as he cried out, “Dad, Dad!,” according to family eyewitnesses.
In the next days, masses of “Black Lives Matters” protesters occupied Evergreen outside the family home and marched down Joy Road. Simultaneously, Baltimore was in chaos, even forced to cancel a Major League game, as protesters rose up for days against the police killing of Freddie Gray.
Contradicting the family’s version, police and later Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy claimed Kellom was wielding a hammer, swinging it over his head as he ran at Quinn.
However, In her press conference, held months after the killing, Worthy admitted that no fingerprints were found on the hammer. Earlier, she sealed the Medical Examiner’s report on Kellom’s death from public view until the press conference. That report showed that Kellom had indeed been shot in the back, likely as he was lying on the floor because the bullet did not exit his chest. Worthy claimed the bullet hole resulted from Kellom “turning slightly to the right.”
Pros. Kym Worthy press conference on Kellom killing.
Kellom family supporters had been expecting that Detroit Police Sgt. Darrel Fitzgerald would testify that Kellom was NOT armed with a hammer as Fitzgerald said in his sworn deposition taken by plaintiff’s attorney Nabih Ayad. Fitzgerald earlier wrote directly after the killing that Kellom was “holding a hammer over his head and advancing on Quinn” when he was gunned down.
The mainstream media covered Ayad’s announcement of Fitzgerald’s recantation extensively and internationally. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said they would re-open their investigations into the case.
But Fitzgerald reversed his testimony during the trial a THIRD time, swearing Oct. 24 that he did not see Kellom at all, either with or without a hammer, as he was shot to death.
Fitzgerald, the Detroit officer in charge of Kellom’s outstanding armed robbery warrant, said Agent Quinn and Kevin Kellom began running upstairs after Fitzgerald heard an officer there shout, “Put the hammer down, I’m not going to shoot you.”
In the ensuing chaos, he testified, gunshots rang out in the first floor hallway, but he could not see Terrance Kellom AT ALL during the confrontation, despite standing directly nearby.
Fitzgerald also reversed his sworn deposition testimony that he saw no hammer in the house at all. He claimed instead that he left the house shortly after the shooting, and saw a hammer when he came back. Forensics testing showed that hammer had no fingerprints on it.
His testimony is currently only available by viewing it on the U.S. Federal Courthouse terminal directly, with no copies allowed by Cox until Jan. 29, 2020.
Matthew Schneider of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit issued the following release on the federal jury verdict, headlined “Federal Agent Cleared of Wrongdoing in Death of Fugitive:”
“After a two-week trial, an eight-member jury found defendant Mitchell Quinn, deputized at the time as a U.S. Marshals task force officer, did not violate the constitutional rights of Terrance Kellom, a felon who was wanted on an arrest warrant for armed robbery, among other offenses. The jury deliberated less than three hours before returning their verdict of no cause.
“According to the evidence presented at trial, agent Quinn acted in self-defense when Terrence Kellom attacked him with a hammer during the attempted arrest of Mr. Kellom on April 27, 2015.”
In addition to the serious setback represented by officer Fitzgerald’s reversal of his deposition testimony, VOD’s research of court documents shows that U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox used his gavel to hammer most of the plaintiff’s evidence and arguments out of the trial, preventing the jury from ever hearing them. He held numerous in limine (non-public) hearings, then issued an order Sept. 4, 2019 upholding most of the defendant United States of America’s arguments. See 31 page protective order at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Cox-order-Kellom-case-pages-deleted.pdf.
Cox ruled that “plaintiffs “may not present evidence or make assertions regarding the adequacy of the criminal investigations.” He referred to reports and conclusions by Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, the State Police, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In other words, their conclusions of “justifiable homicide” remained intact and admissible.
In addition, Judge Cox wielded a heavy hammer against Attorney Ayad and Kevin Kellom in response to Ayad’s disclosure of the plaintiff’s own sworn deposition of Officer Fitzgerald.
Judge Cox ruled that Ayad had violated an April 23, 2018 “Stipulated Protective Order” and ordered him to pay $2,220 to Quinn’s attorneys.
A story by Detroit News reporter George Hunter called the original order a “gag order,” which “barred anyone involved in the lawsuit from discussing the case.” Hunter said both plaintiffs and defense had agreed to that order.
The actual order, however, falls far short of Hunter’s description.
The filing opens with the following wording, “This Protective Order shall govern the production and disclosure of any documents, electronically stored information, materials, things, discovery material (including responses to interrogatories, depositions, and requests to admit), materials filed with the Court, or testimony in this action.”
But it goes on to state without reservation, “This order permits Officer Mitchell Quinn and the pertinent federal agencies, such as the United States Department of Homeland Security, its Office of Inspector General, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the United States Marshals Service, and other agencies, to disclose information regarding Terrence Kellom and Officer Quinn.”
Regarding Kellom’s family and their attorneys, the order says, “Plaintiff, her counsel, and other parties shall not disclose any of the records or information to any person unless the disclosure is reasonably and in good faith calculated to aid in the preparation and/or prosecution of this case. Such records shall be maintained in strict confidence by all parties. Plaintiff, her counsel, and all parties are prohibited from copying such records or disclosing or discussing their contents, except as is necessary for purposes of this litigation.”
In fact, Ayad did not provide actual copies of Fitzgerald’s deposition during his press conferences regarding Fitzgerald’s disclosure that Terrance Kellom did not have a hammer and that he did not see any hammer in the house. This reporter tried to find a copy of the actual deposition in on-line court documents, but was unable to do so.
Protest after brutal killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO
It is certainly arguable that the public had a right to know about Fitzgerald’s disclosure of events he witnessed on April 27, 2015, in the midst of the national “Black Lives Matter” movement. The Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team killed Kellom just after Baltimore police killed Freddie Gray, an event that led to widespread uprisings throughout Baltimore and the nation. Those uprisings followed numerous others that began with the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Virtually no law enforcement agents have been indicted, charged or sentenced for any of the hundreds of murders.
Even the U.S. Department of Justice, which is playing a heavy-handed role in the Kellom case, refused to find civil rights violations in most of those cases.
The remainder of the order comes perilously close to concealing court records from public view in violation of both state and federal laws, just as Judge Cox is concealing the transcripts of Officer Fitzgerald’s testimony at the trial.
Baltimore Councilwoman Shannon Sneed announces the passage of bill banning gag orders, accompanied by Council Pres. Brandon Scott (l) and activist Tawanda Jones (r).
There is a movement against gag orders, particularly in police brutality cases, growing across the nation.
According to WYPR 88.1 FM radio, “The Baltimore City Council passed a bill Oct. 27 that bans the use of gag orders in the settlements of all police brutality and discrimination cases and bolsters transparency throughout the city’s litigation system.”
“The bill, titled Transparency and Oversight in Claims and Litigation, was introduced by Councilwoman Shannon Sneed and City Council President Brandon Scott in July. Dozens of city residents testified before the council in a September hearing about their experiences with gag orders in lawsuit settlements, calling them “hush money” and “abusive.”
“Tawanda Jones, an activist whose brother was murdered by police six years ago, called the bill a huge victory.
“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” Jones said. “I had to take my name off of my brother’s settlement because I refused to be silent. At the end of the day, forced silence condones police violence.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in 2017 said, “Communications service providers are constantly faced with demands to turn over their customer’s records to law enforcement. But Microsoft found that when it was served with these demands, they were all too often accompanied by gag orders with no ending date, forbidding them to talk about the demand or tell their customer that their records were involved. So the tech giant decided last year to sue the government over those gag orders in federal court in Seattle, and in February, it overcame the first hurdle by beating back the government’s effort to have that part of the case dismissed.\
Brother C.J. Airs Video for Aiyana Jones, 7, killed by cops
Yana world cj – letter to aiyana
Shot by @Dodbh
The video above was released by Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ younger brother Christian Jones, who was in the house as a toddler when a Detroit police task force shot his sister, aged 7, to death May 16, 2010, as she lay sleeping with her grandmother Mertilla Jones.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office relented somewhat in Jones’ case with a civil settlement and reduction of Aiyana’s father’s sentence, but Prosecutor Kym Worthy worked hard to defeat civil lawsuit Nov. 4 for unarmed Terrence Kellom, 19, killed by police DPD/I.C.E. task force in 2015.
Aiyana Jones and little brother light Christmas tree before her vicious murder in 2010
November 21, 2019
By Diane Bukowski
Detroit--News aired today over all stations that Detroit police officer Rasheen McClain was killed after entering a Detroit home where a yet unidentified man allegedly had threatened members of a family with a high-speed rifle. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James Craig were there afterwards, along with hundreds of police standing vigil at Sinai-Grace Hospital. If the alleged killer is charged and convicted, his life will likely end in prison.
In contrast, after a Detroit police SWAT team led by an armored truck and police in military gear with machine guns shot 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in the head to death May 16, 2010, her large family and neighbors held an agonized vigil outside her home. They called on then Mayor Dave Bing and Police Chief Warren Evans to speak to them. The two never came to that vigil. They never apologized to the family for the horrific raid, during which Officer Joseph Weekley, Jr. fired his gun within seconds after kicking the door down, directly into the child’s head, possibly at contact range according to Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt.
The other day, I visited with Mertilla “Maria” Jones, Aiyana’s grandmother, who was sleeping with her during her vicious murder by police. Mrs. Jonese is still grieving and in poor health. She told me that after nearly ten years she still has flashbacks of watching her beloved grandchild’s head blown off by Weekley’s MP-5 automatic submachine gun. Members of the police team then snatched up Aiyana and ran with her out of the house before the family had any chance to touch and console her as she lay dying. Aiyana was the oldest child of Charles Jones, who with her mother Dominika Stanley and two toddler brothers were all in the home at the time. Also present were Mertilla Jones’ sister and two male relatives.
Killer cop Joseph Weekley as star on previous A&E DETROIT SWAT website.
The police forced Charles Jones to crawl out of a back bedroom, where he was sleeping with Aiyana’s mother Dominika and their two toddlers, over blood-stained glass and pieces of Aiyana’s brain, then forced him and the other occupants to sit on the blood-stained couch where Aiyana died.
After several mistrials for “manslaughter,” Weekley walked out a free man while Aiyana’s dad Charles Jones was falsely charged in the murder of Je’Rean Blake, 17, two days earlier outside a neighborhood liquor store. Despite the mainstream media’s constant assertion that Charles gave his brother–in-law Chauncey Owens the gun to kill Blake, a police video at the trial of the two men showed Chauncey naming another individual who provided the gun, not Charles.
Charles was finally re-sentenced to a charge of manslaughter, reduced from second-degree murder, to run concurrently with a 10-year sentence for perjury. He will face the parole board finally in 2021, and his attorney has pledged to be there to support him. Charles had been expecting to serve 40-60 years. He pled “nolo contendere” to the charges, meaning he would be shielded from civil liability. The action came as a result of appeals by his attorney, not as a “gift” from Prosecutor Kym Worthy, known nationally as an “Innocence Denier” due to her refusal to admit that 14-year-old Davontae Sanford was innocent of the four Runyon Street murders
Video below: community asks where Police Chief and Mayor are the night after Aiyana’s death, during a candlelight vigil.
Meanwhile, Ms. Jones told me, her family has flourished, with her own eight children producing 50 grand and great-grandchildren. Aiyana’s brother Christian Jones, known as C.J., recently released the militant video at the top of the story about his older sister’s death and his continuing grief and longing for her. He was accompanied by some of Aiyana’s other relatives at her gravesite.
Wayne County Prosecutor and the City of Detroit, after viciously pursuing the victim’s family, constantly harassing and arresting her aunts and uncles for many years aferwards, finally relented to some degree, approving an $8.2 million lawsuit settlement in her death, filed by Attorney Geoffrey Fieger. In the video, Christian vows to use the money to assist others. It is published on his Facebook page, yanaworldcj.
As the House opens impeachment hearings for President Trump, Professor Stephen F. Cohen (above) warns that the US military assistance at the heart of Ukrainegate escalates the US-Russia Cold War.
Guest: Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, contributing editor at The Nation, and author of War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate.
AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté, here with Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton and NYU, author of the book, War With Russia?, question mark, From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate. Welcome, Professor Cohen.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Good to be with you again. Thank you.
AARON MATÉ: So, let’s talk Ukrainegate, dominating the news right now. At the center of this impeachment drive against Trump is that he briefly froze military aid to Ukraine and the belief there is he did so for political purposes. Putting that question aside, what has gotten lost in all this is the question of why are we sending military aid to Ukraine, and is that wise policy? The conventional line we get is that we are helping defend Ukraine from Russian aggression after Russia invaded Ukraine, took Crimea illegally in 2014, and we are helping Ukraine respond to that and to help support Ukraine in its fight against Russian separatists in the Donbass. What say you to that?
Pres. Barack Obama
U.S. Pres. Donald Trump
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, the first thing to remember is, is that President Obama was under enormous pressure to send military equipment to Ukraine. I don’t know if you remember that or not, but it was a major campaign and it was led, as I recall, by people very close to him, and he refused. And why did he refuse? Well, I’m not sure what his calculation was, but the, the wisdom of not sending is clear.
First of all, what everybody must want is peace between Russia and Ukraine. So why would you pour more weapons, why would you tempt one Ukrainian—now the leadership of Ukraine has changed—but why would you tempt one or another Ukrainian leadership to broaden the war, where you want above all to bring peace? Correct? Secondly, in whose hands eventually do such weapons fall? I mean, there’s no guarantee in a place like Ukraine, that the Ukrainian army, which is involved in the black market in a big way, those weapons could go anywhere.
But ultimately you have a situation now which seems not to be widely understood, that the new president of Ukraine, Zelensky, ran as a peace candidate. This is a bit of a stretch and maybe it doesn’t mean a whole lot to your generation, but he ran a kind of George McGovern campaign. The difference was McGovern got wiped out and Zelensky won by, I think, 71, 72 percent. He won an enormous mandate to make peace.
So, that means he has to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. And there are various formats, right? There’s a so-called Minsk format which involves the German and the French; there’s a bilateral directly with Putin. But his willingness—and this is what’s important and not well reported here—his willingness to deal directly with Putin, which his predecessor, Poroshenko, was not or couldn’t or whatever reason—actually required considerable boldness on Zelensky[‘s part], because there are opponents of this in Ukraine and they are armed. Some people say they’re fascists but they’re certainly ultra-nationalist, and they have said that they will remove and kill Zelensky if he continues along this line of negotiating with Putin.
So now along comes Trump, right? So, Trump makes a wrongheaded phone call to Zelensky, about Biden and information. It was the wrong thing to do, no two ways of looking at that. But the more important thing is, and that’s why I’d like to see the full transcript of the…we’ve only been given a partial so far as I know. I want to know if Trump encouraged Zelensky to continue the negotiation with Putin, and here’s why. Zelensky cannot go forward as I’ve explained. I mean, his life is being threatened literally by a quasi-fascist movement in Ukraine, he can’t go forward with full peace negotiations with Russia, with Putin, unless America has his back. Maybe that won’t be enough, but unless the White House encourages this diplomacy, Zelensky has no chance of negotiating an end to the war, so the stakes are enormously high.
Why are U.S. weapons going to Ukraine?
All this stuff about Biden, it’s bad but it’s a distraction. It’s not what we should be focusing on. We should not be shipping more weapons there. What we should be doing, and certainly what, given Trump’s inclination to be a dealmaker and like a semi-peace candidate—but you wonder if there’s anybody around him to explain these things to him—but this is an opportunity for Trump to do the right thing and do it clean, to say to Zelensky, “I support this negotiation with Putin. I hope that you and Putin can settle your conflicts.” If the Germans and the French, because there was this so-called Minsk format that involved them, need to be brought in, okay, but Europe’s pretty much lost interest in this and there’s no leader.
I mean, what makes the moment interesting, stop and think about it a minute, Aaron, is there’s no kind of—what’s the right word?—there’s no transformative or decisive type of leadership in Europe. I mean, because these countries have their own leader[s]. Merkel’s on her way out. We don’t know what will be the next leader. Boris Johnson is, well, Boris Johnson. Macron is attempting to fill the role. He wants to be the leader of the West in a relationship with Russia. He’s trying to…it’s very interesting what he’s doing because he’s trying to replicate what de Gaulle did. De Gaulle wanted France to be the diplomatic bridge between east and west. Let him try, but there’s, there’s a moment, I mean, I, all my life I, I have a book called Lost Opportunities, Soviet Alternatives and Lost Opportunities [Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives]. There’s, there were moments in history, political history, when there’s an opportunity that is so good and wise and so often lost, the chance. So, the chance for Zelensky, the new president who had this very large victory, 70 plus percent to negotiate with Russia an end to that war, it’s got to be seized. And it requires the United States, basically, simply saying to Zelensky, “Go for it, we’ve got your back.”
The “military-industrial complex,” a term coined by former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
AARON MATÉ: Well, let’s talk about the forces in Washington that do not share that point of view, that do not want to encourage a peace process between Russia and Ukraine. You know, you mentioned Trump, when Trump met with Zelensky, Trump did say that he encourages Zelensky to make a deal with Putin and he thinks that would be a good thing. But that is not an opinion shared in, in Washington.
Talk about the people who in DC, who helped bring us this crisis to begin with, the same ones who were pressuring Obama to send a lethal aid…
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Let me sit in your chair a moment. I mean, just theoretically, what could…what imaginable reason could anybody in Washington have for not wanting to see peace between Ukraine and Russia?
AARON MATÉ: You know, I have my theories. The influence of the military-industrial complex. It’s profitable to have tensions with Russia. There was an attempt in Ukraine, obviously, you know, at, with the Maidan crisis, the, which began all this, to wrestle…
STEPHEN F. COHEN: In 2013, 2014.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, which is when the US helped—including Joe Biden—helped back an ouster of a corrupt but democratically elected president, Yanukovych.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: So, let’s stop there. I mean, we are obliged to use this formula, “corrupt but democratically elected.”
AARON MATÉ: It’s true.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, yes and no. But there…which is more important? That he…I don’t even know what it means that he was corrupt. I mean, he siphoned off a lot of state money for himself…
AARON MATÉ: He’s corrupt.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: This is culture.
AARON MATÉ: Okay.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: This is a culture. I mean, the point here is, is that we, since the end of the Soviet Union, have said that we want to promote democracy and particularly constitutionalism, right? As opposed to political caprice in the former Soviet territories. You agree, that’s been official American policy. Why then would you, you, you depose…support the overthrow by a street mob—whatever you call it, I don’t care what democratic banners they were carrying because there were plenty of neo-fascists among them, too—who had been a leader, who had been by all ratifying European monitoring organizations freely and fairly elected? It had been a fairly clean election, especially when he had already agreed to move elections up. I think within nine months you could vote him out.
The US –including Joe Biden—helped back an ouster of democratically elected president, Yanukovych, who called the effort a “coup.”
Why would the United States, therefore, immediately, within hours, this being President Obama, support was for essentially a street coup? I mean, it’s a blow to constitutionalism, the very cause that we claimed to be promoting, so we need to think about that. That was a turning point. It sent a message about what the United States really was prepared to send. I mean, that’s a little digression on my part, but it was a very important moment—and it was very wrongheaded.
AARON MATÉ: It was. You had John McCain and Victoria Nuland visiting Ukraine, Nuland passing out cookies to protesters. We can imagine if, say, Russians went to Mexico City, helped back a coup there and changed the government, and then talked about having Mexico City join a military alliance with Russia, which was the talk about Ukraine joining NATO.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: I fully agree, but I just keep coming back in my mind and replaying these events, that this idea that maybe democracy and constitutionalism could take root in these areas that really hadn’t had much of it, right? And this is a pivotal moment because Yanukovych, then the president, had by all counts been freely and fairly and constitutionally elected. Mind you, he had also signed an agreement brokered by the, I believe this is right, by the British, the French and the Americans, to have early elections, which happens in some systems. In other words, to have new presidential elections, not in a year and half but within nine or ten months.
AARON MATÉ: This is after that Maidan crisis began…
STEPHEN F. COHEN: As it began [crosstalk], a negotiation with the protesters, but okay, stop occupying the building, stop trying to drive me out of office, I will agree to new elections.
AARON MATÉ: But it doesn’t matter, he’s overthrown anyway.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Stop and think what was at stake there. Every person who wishes constitutionalism and democracy, well, in that part of the world, should seize that opportunity. Now, it is said that Putin and Obama had a conversation, and it is said that Putin said to Obama, “Do you agree to this solution? New elections?” Obama said, “I do.” Thirty-six hours later Yanukovych was driven out of office by a coup. So apart from it being it’s wrong, it’s bad, it’s stupid on the face of it, but it’s consequential, it sets precedence for American behavior. So now people are ragging on Trump about Ukraine. But we’ve forgotten what was really the turning point. I mean, it’s just been deleted.
AARON MATÉ: What was the interest, what was the motive? I mean, you asked me, but I’m asking you, what was the motive of the Obama administration to do this, to have Victoria Nuland and the Ambassador to Ukraine—they were caught in a phone call basically talking about who they were going to install as the Ukrainian president—what was their…
STEPHEN F. COHEN: The story gets a little torturous here, and a little legalistic. The pretext for the overthrow of Yanukovych was, is that he had been offered this wonderful trade agreement, this partnership with Europe which would make Ukraine prosperous forever but excluded Russia. And yet Russia was Ukraine’s not only largest trading partner, and still is today, by the way, which is interesting, right? But if you go into the demographics, the number of inner marriages between Russians and Ukrainians, it runs in the tens of millions. I mean, I don’t want to say they’re, they’re not one people, I mean, there is a separate Ukrainian identity. Ukraine is a diverse country. Western Ukraine looks to Poland and Lithuania, not to Russia. But, nonetheless, much of central Ukraine and almost all of southern Ukraine look to Russia as brethren, as kinfolk, as family.
Yanukovch, ousted by coup because he balked at bringing Ukraine into NATO, splitting it from Russia, its chief trading partner
To trespass in a family spat, which is not a good idea in our everyday lives, in geopolitics it’s a greater mistake. We went into something with profound cultural, familial, historical consequences that we didn’t understand. So, what was at stake at that moment was this, that the economic trade agreement that Yanukovych was offered, so-called European Partnership, I think it was, if you read it, and almost never…nobody bothered to read it. Other countries had signed it.
There was a clause that said that if you signed it, you agreed to adhere to the procedures, rules and norms of NATO. Very few people know that was included, but the Russians knew, they’ve got a lot of international lawyers. No, there…what this was, was an attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO, via the back door without saying, well, really, this is really a way of getting into NATO, it’s just benign. But it wasn’t benign. So, when Yanukovych balked, and by the way he balked also because financially it was not advantageous to him.
AARON MATÉ: He would have faced massive protests over the subsidies, the fuel subsidies that he would have had to have cut.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: With, I would then add, he, having already agreed to an early election, which meaning he would have lost the election.
AARON MATÉ: Right.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: But, nonetheless, coups are not good things in general. But in this country, with this legacy, with this notion that democracy is a really viable, viable alternative, and we, the United States represent that alternative, it was utterly discredited. Except by people…I mean, I’m not going to name the names of people who write fairytale stories about what happened, but, you know who they are, they’re very influential, they’re on television a lot, but it’s a fairytale, it’s not what happened. And, you know, to be candid, with Trump as our president, Obama looks a lot better to a lot of people than he did at the time, but the truth is, is that Obama was an exceedingly unsuccessful foreign policy president, and one of his failures of foreign policy was this, the way he handled this whole Ukrainian thing.
Trump impeachment inquiry
AARON MATÉ: Well, it’s interesting there, though, because here you had…you mentioned earlier that Obama did not want to send this lethal military aid to Ukraine out of concerns about it fuel… further fueling this proxy war that he helped start and about the weapons falling into the wrong hands. Trump gets into office and he actually adopts a more hawkish policy in the sense that he’s not facing all this pressure, because he’s being accused of being a Russian agent and a traitor. So, I think it’s fair to deduce that in response to that, to help get that off his back, he approves, he approves the lethal aid to Ukraine that Obama rejected. So, he, in fact, went further than Obama and actually acceded to the demands of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in Washington, which, that leads us to this moment here, because then he puts a brief freeze on that military aid and now he’s facing impeachment.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: And he’s facing impeachment not because of the military aid but because he appeared to want something for it.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: The Biden stuff.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: It goes back to the question, why are we in Ukraine anyway? What were the Bidens doing there? Why were we there? The short answer is obviously, I mean, let’s do what you just pointed out. Ukraine is really far away. It represents no particular national interest or a threat to us what happens there. As you say, it’s not like our border with Canada or Mexico. For Russia, again, to make my point, it is absolutely vital. It’s simply…there’s no more existential area abutting Russia than Ukraine, whether you talk about families, shared history, military threats and all the rest.
AARON MATÉ: So, in terms of what could actually solve this, assuming that Ukrainegate doesn’t derail the prospects for peace in Ukraine, the prospects of talks between Ukraine and Russia, first of all, do you think that Russia ever gives back Crimea?
STEPHEN F. COHEN: No. No.
AARON MATÉ: That won’t happen.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: No, well, “never” is a capacious word. Not in my lifetime and not in your lifetime. The reason is, is that even though Russia acquiesced into Crimea’s kind of assignment to Ukraine, nobody in Russia actually thought it was real. And to tell you the truth, if you have look at the lack of investment or caring about Crimea, it wasn’t clear Ukraine even cared about Crimea, but the reality is, is that in…in history, in folklore, in sentiment, in culture, Crimea has always been, in the Russian mind, Russian. But it hasn’t been exclusive. I mean, they understood that Ukrainians, Tartars, Crimeans lived there, and for the most part, you know, harmoniously. So, it’s a kind of tragedy the way Ukraine got plucked out of its history.
Ukraine ethno-linquistic map/By the Business Insider
But no, no Russian leader in your lifetime, I—we should never say never, one thing I’ve learned, never say never—but it’s hard to imagine any circumstance where Russia would say Crimea goes back to Ukraine. However, a little diplomacy could go a long way, that the relationship between Ukraine and Crimea should be fulsome. By the relationship, I mean particularly, particularly involving the natural resources Ukraine has…the Crimea has a lot of resources, from fresh water [to] the minerals. There’s no reason why because it’s now legally part of Russia [that] Ukraine should be excluded. So, and I was in—I guess it’s okay to say that I was in Crimea—and I talked to the leader of the Crimean Republic, and I said, “I don’t see any reason why the best outcome isn’t a fulsome economic, cultural and political relationship between Russia, Crimea and Ukraine.” And he said, “I agree. Go convince Putin of that.” So, there’s resistance in the Kremlin, of course.
AARON MATÉ: Why?
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Well, because it’s been raised to this geopolitical stake by the outside world.
AARON MATÉ: If they give ground there then they’re giving ground to Washington.
STEPHEN F. COHEN: Yeah, but it’s gonna happen, I think. I mean, I don’t know if Putin has to leave power, if it’s that far down the road. But all the rational, whether they’re human or economic or cultural, the factors are, is that [Crimea] is kind of, belongs to both, and there’s no reason why it should be one or the other no matter whose map it’s on, if you see what I mean. And I think that’s going to happen. The, the number of tourists when I was in the Crimea two years ago, it’s hard to tell the nationalities of a lot of tourists because so many people speak Russian, but it still seems to be a very popular Russian tourist spot, obviously for Russians because Putin’s made a big effort of cheap flights and all the rest, but Ukrainians come, too, which is as it should be. There’s actually no reason to have this, this conflict over Crimea. None. Crimea has fallen victim to larger geopolitics.
AARON MATÉ: Do you think the people who drove this in Washington DC, who helped spark the Ukrainian crisis, who backed the coup, who I guess had visions of bringing Ukraine into NATO, as crazy as that sounds, do you think that they’re willing to give ground? And do you think that they can be overcome here?
Handout picture released by Cuban newspaper Granma of Cuban militiamen manning an anti-aircraft battery of Czechoslovakian-made M53 12.7 mm quad guns at Havana’s Malecon during the 1962 missile crisis. AFP PHOTO/Granma
STEPHEN F. COHEN: It would be a struggle because their perspective is, is what’s bad for Russia is good for us, so, this kind of reasoning. And we went through this from the previous Cold War, and after the Cuban Missile Crisis there was a kind of…I wouldn’t say transformation in American thinking about that Cold War, but a shift where you began to see more and more important people that say, people who could influence policy, whether in the media or politics or whatever, beginning to say maybe it’s time for us to think more about what we have in common, what we can do together. Because that was really dangerous, the Cuban Missile Crisis, you know, we almost went to war with Russia.
We need some galvanizing force like that, I guess, and I’m afraid it might come, I mean, I can imagine easily. I mean, my anxiety, which I talk about in this book, War with Russia? question mark, is a Cuban Missile Crisis-like situation between the United States and Russia. Not in Cuba, but it could be in Syria, could be in Ukraine, where we’re eyeball to eyeball militarily, right? One can imagine something going wrong or not going wrong, by intent, by provocation, because there are a lot of provocateurs out there running false flag operations. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but false flag operations exist. So, say we get into a Cuban Missile Crisis-like situation. Kennedy had all the leeway he needed, and did Khrushchev, the Soviet leader then, to negotiate us away from war. Would Trump?
Stop and think. Here’s Trump, who’s routinely and pointlessly and idiotically referred to as a Russian puppet, right? That hasn’t gone away. I still get campaign solicitations from Democrats that say, “Send me to Congress so I can get rid of the Russian puppet.” And this lingers like a cancer in the system, it’s a malignancy. But imagine this crisis, and it’s easy to imagine in Syria, in Ukraine, wherever we’re eyeball to eyeball militarily with Russians. We now ask Trump to do what Kennedy did: to negotiate with Khrushchev’s successor Putin, away from war. Would Trump be permit… even if Trump knows how to do it, would he be permitted to do it? Because a large part of the American political class says Trump is not a legitimate president. To say that—and there’s no reason to say it, by the way, there’s no evidence that he isn’t by our rules legitimate—but to say that and keep saying it, then you have to ask yourself: and what if it came to a Cuban Missile-like Crisis? Would he be legitimate enough to negotiate the way Kennedy did, away from war? I think about that, really often.
AARON MATÉ: Well, let me ask you then, quickly, as we wrap. Is part of this, the point then is the aim of portraying Trump as this Russian puppet, is the utility of that for these people, to actually take away his ability to make peace and make détente with Russia?
STEPHEN F. COHEN: I think there’s probably a small faction in Washington that really likes cold war and the more the better with Russia. Whether it’s for economic reasons, they sell a lot of weapons; whether because they were raised that way ideologically; whether because Russophobia is a major factor in American politics; whether because they have—I don’t want to denigrate anybody—they have a lot of Ukrainians in their constituency where they’re from; or whatever reason. But it is exceedingly dangerous and getting more dangerous by the, by the week, by the day. Trump has to be free in a crisis to negotiate as a legitimate president on behalf of the United States, and a crisis could come at any time. And if he’s not, all bets are off.
BELOW: VLADIMIR PUTIN INVOKES LOVE FOR THE PEOPLE OF RUSSIA. HOPE FOR PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS FUTURE IN WAKE OF END OF USSR
I mean, I have to say to you, Aaron, that in four, maybe more decades of studying Russia, studying Russian-American relations, I never really took seriously the possibility of war between the United States and Russia. I never thought it was ever a…had a high probability. Today I think it’s a very high probability, partly because of this Russiagate nonsense, partly because the lack of American leadership. And I guess you could be called a Putin apologist, but I will say again as I’ve said to you on other occasions, that what Putin came to power to do was to modernize Russia, and that does not involve a cold war with the West. Period. End of story. That’s his mission. He wants to go down in history as the man who did this.
Cold war, not to mention hot war, is spoiling what he sees as his mission. He’s there for the having. And even if Trump wants to do it, it’s not clear he knows how to do it or that the people around him would advise him or even forbid him to do it, it’s not clear even with the departure of Fiona Hill and some of the other hawkish members of his administration. Because we have to remember that the one area where an American president who really has almost not autocratic but exclusive powers making foreign policy, short of doing a treaty there’s almost nothing, to use a double negative, they can’t do for better or worse. And there’s a golden moment now to be had for everybody’s security, and it’s been thwarted by this mindless…I mean, you can hate on Trump all you want, but there’s got to be a higher priority and that’s got to be international American security, and we’re letting that opportunity slip away, I fear.
AARON MATÉ: Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton and NYU, author of several books including his latest, War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate. Professor, thank you.
Aaron Maté is a journalist and producer. He hosts Pushback with Aaron Maté on The Grayzone. He is also is contributor to The Nation magazine and former host/producer for The Real News and Democracy Now!. Aaron has also presented and produced for Vice, AJ+, and Al Jazeera.
DETROIT:THE WRONGUL CONVICTION OF C. EMMANUEL SQUIRES ON THE WORD OF COP WILLIAM ‘ROBOCOP’ MELENDEZ, CONVICTED LIAR AND MURDERER
Below VOD’s local story on the Squires case is the USA TODAY article: HUNDREDS OF POLICE OFFICERS ARE ALLEGED LIARS. SOME STILL HELP SEND PEOPLE TO PRISON.
Kym Worthy, Circuit Court Judge for 10 years, denied motion based on cop’s history of false reports.
The late Cornell Squires and community members march on the DPD 4th Pct. against brutal, corrupt cops, in 2003. His son Emmanuel Squires was falsely convicted in 2000 of “assault with intent to rob (armed)” on the word of DPD officer William “Robocop” Melendez although no gun was ever found. He spent 2 years in prison.
Then Judge Kym Worthy denied a post-conviction motion by the defense for a new trial after it was discovered that Melendez had been convicted of “filing a false report,” a four-year felony. In 2004, the US DOJ, with the assistance of the Detroit Law Department, charged Melendez and other officers from the 3rd and 4th precincts with numerous felonies involving extreme brutality, false arrest and frame-ups. For the first time in memory, nine Black officers broke the “blue wall of silence” and testified AGAINST the white and Hispanic officers charged. Many convictions were overturned, but a jury returned a “nullification” verdict of “not guilty” on the cop gang after a defense attorney focused on the civilian victims, saying, “Would YOU want people like these living in your neighborhoods?”
Floyd Dent after beating by “Robocop” Melendez et al on Jan. 28, 2015.
In 2017, the story of Melendez’ brutal beating of Black motorist Floyd Dent in Inkster, Michigan went viral, and he was convicted on those charges. Melendez had been hired by both the Inkster and Highland Park Police Departments, If Worthy had stopped him in his tracks in 1999, his subsequent offenses including a murder in Inkster could have been prevented. Dent was nearly killed by Melendez in the beating. Melendez planted drugs in the trunk of his car, but those charges against Dent were later dropped. Melendez was later sentenced to 1 to 10 years in prison, but served only 14 months.
William ‘Robocop’ Melendez
Cornell Squires commented, “Now he has a criminal record, now he will get to feel what it is like to be on the other side. But he’s still getting preferential treatment—this is the second time they didn’t put handcuffs on him when they led him off. How many people has he put in jail, maimed and destroyed their lives, like he framed my son and gave him a record? He should have been locked up a long time ago. They need to revisit every case he had a part of; everyone should be exonerated.”
Video above:William Melendez is the officer on the left who drags Floyd Dent out of his car and then proceeds to punch him in the head and elsewhere multiple times. Dent suffered permanent injuries.
On Oct. 31, 1999, Detroit police officer William “Robocop” Melendez, acting in plainclothes, arrested the 18-year-old son of Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality member Cornell Squires, Emmanuel Squires, and falsely charged him with attempted carjacking and assault with intent to rob (armed). The teen was standing on a street corner near his southwest Detroit home with two friends, where he lived with his father, with two friends. He faced a sentence of up to life without parole.
Earlier, the younger Squires had witnessed a brutal attack on his father by DPD officer Robert Feld, who threw him through the door of their home on S. Electric because he asked why the police were questioning his son on the street, and began beating him. Cornell Squires’ father and mother, who lived across the street, ran to their son’s defense and forced Feld to stop the beating. But afterwards, the grandfather Eugene Squires Sr. suffered a heart attack which contributed to his death months later. The younger Squires was very close to his grandfather and traumatized by that event.
When the younger Squires was accosted later by Melendez, his father ran to his defense and videotaped the arrest. In the videotape, dozens of DPD officers are seen searching the area for the gun Melendez claimed the younger Squires threatened him with, with no success. At trial, Melendez testified to the alleged armed robbery, while the younger Squires’ friends were threatened with charges if they testified on his behalf. The presiding judge was Kym Worthy, now the Wayne County Prosecutor.
She allowed the videotape to be shown only without sound, which would have revealed police expressing doubt about the existence of the gun, and an officer in charge telling Squires that his son would be charged only with disorderly conduct. The younger Squires, weeping, said at trial only that he missed his grandfather. The jury found the younger Squires not guilty of attempted carjacking, but guilty of assault with intent to rob (armed). Worthy sentenced him to 24 mos. to 10 years in the MDOC, despite his clean record.
Subsequently, defense attorney Shaun Neal discovered that Melendez had been convicted of “filing a false report,” a four-year offense. That was never disclosed during the trial. Neal filed a motion for a new trial, which Worthy denied, and the younger Squires was shipped off to the MDOC, where he spent more than two years. His experience in prison further traumatized the young man. After a lifetime of advocacy for the people of Detroit, his father died of a heart attack in 2016, leaving his son and the two grandchildren he called his “baby bears” without a significant guiding force in their lives.
Across the USA, prosecutors aren’t tracking officer misconduct, skirting Supreme Court “Brady” rules and leading to wrongful convictions–USA TODAY
BySteve Reilly, and Mark Nichols, USA TODAY
Updated 3:26 p.m. EDT Oct. 17, 2019
(Some photos, videos added by Voice of Detroit)
Revat Vara should not have gone to prison.
One night in 2006, Houston police pulled him over for a missing license plate and told him to walk a straight line.
Houston DWI Task Force/FB
Vara said that he hadn’t had a drop to drink and that he passed the sobriety test. Officer William Lindsey said otherwise.
At trial, jurors were told about Lindsey’s expertise evaluating drunken drivers. They were told about Vara’s two previous DWIs.
What jurors weren’t told: Officer Lindsey had been found guilty of misconduct by his department 35 times. He was investigated for padding his overtime – by manipulating DWI arrests so he would have to be called to testify – among many other violations.
Revat Vara spent 11 years in prison because of a missing front license plate and prosecutors’ failure to disclose the disciplinary history of the officer who testified against him. Since his exoneration, he’s been living in Houston.
In a case that came down to one man’s word against another’s, jurors believed the police officer. Because of his prior offenses, Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
What happened to Vara has been unconstitutional for more than 50 years.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that prosecutors must tell anyone accused of a crime about all evidence that might help their defense at trial. That includes sharing details about police officers who have committed crimes, lied on the job or whose honesty has been called into doubt.
A USA TODAY Network investigation found that widespread failure by police departments and prosecutors to track problem officers makes it impossible to disclose that information to people whose freedom hinges on the integrity of law enforcement.
Reporters for USA TODAY and its partners, including the Chicago-based Invisible Institute, spent more than a year gathering Brady lists from police and prosecutors in thousands of counties to measure compliance with the landmark 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland.
The investigation found:
Thousands of people have faced criminal charges or gone to prison based in part on testimony from law enforcement officers deemed to have credibility problems by their bosses or by prosecutors.
At least 300 prosecutors’ offices across the nation are not taking steps necessary to comply with the Supreme Court mandates. These places do not have a list tracking dishonest or otherwise untrustworthy officers. They include big cities such as Chicago and Little Rock and smaller communities such as Jackson County, Minnesota, and Columbia County, Pennsylvania.
In many places that keep lists, police and prosecutors refuse to make them public, making it impossible to know whether they are following the law.
Others keep lists that are incomplete. USA TODAY identified at least 1,200 officers with proven histories of lying and other serious misconduct who had not been flagged by prosecutors. Of those officers, 261 were specifically disciplined for dishonesty on the job.
Protest after brutal killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO
The inconsistent compliance with the Brady requirements comes amid a nationwide debate over law enforcement tactics. A string of killings by police over the past five years in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere have sparked unrest and a reckoning that put pressure on cities and mayors to crack down on problem officers.
The revelations also come as reversals of wrongful convictions pile up. The National Registry of Exonerations shows that cases overturned because of perjury and official misconduct by prosecutors or police have more than doubled from 2008 to 2018.
Houston man spends 11 years in jail studying law to prove his innocence
Revat Vara was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He spent 11 years in jail studying law to overturn his conviction.
USA TODAY talked to dozens of prosecutors and police officials across the nation.
Two county prosecutors promised to alter their policies or procedures for complying with Brady’s requirements in response to inquiries from USA TODAY.
Maui County Prosecutor John Kim
“Now that you have raised this issue, we will consult with our corporation counsel and our circuit court supervisor about creating and maintaining a list,” Maui County Prosecutor John Kim told the newspaper.
Most prosecutors who don’t keep a Brady list said they don’t need one because they know all of their police officers well.
“I do not have a so-called Brady list. I do not have a written policy,” said Steve Giddens, the district attorney in Talladega County, Alabama. “I do not need one to follow the law.”
Others raised concerns about unfairly jeopardizing law enforcement officers’ jobs by placing them on a list based on minor or unfounded accusations.
Unions representing law enforcement officers have been especially outspoken opponents. In California, the union representing Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went to court to stop the department from disclosing 300 deputies with misconduct histories. The state Supreme Court ruled against the deputies in August.
The lists are not designed to track people who should not be officers. Rather they are a tool prosecutors use to identify those whose past conduct might raise questions about their fairness or truthfulness as a witness in a trial – and require disclosure to defendants.
The argument about maintaining the lists or making them public has led to political battles, especially in cities where newly elected prosecutors have made fighting police misconduct part of their platform.
A training manual for Brady disclosure in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office states that the general rule is “Disclose. Disclose. Disclose.”
The tack has put the prosecutor’s office at war with the Philadelphia police union, which called the office’s maintenance of a Brady list a “witch hunt.”
Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby
In Baltimore, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby started forcing officers who could be witnesses to disclose their internal affairs investigations. Mosby is noted for filing charges against nine Pittsburgh police officers in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, Jr.,at the height of the national “Black Lives Matter” protests across the U.S.
Mosby appointed a “criminal discovery liaison” to review all court-related requests for officers’ internal affairs information and send detailed records to prosecutors and other parties within 48 hours.
Mosby said the effort was necessary to increase trust and transparency in the city’s criminal justice system after years of scandal around corrupt police units and the increased tension between residents and police since the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in 2015.
Last year, the state’s attorney’s office started reviewing court cases involving at least 25 Baltimore police officers because of misconduct charges against them.
Prosecutors recently began asking the courts to vacate nearly 800 convictions that involved testimony or investigations by these officers – and more could be coming as the office continues to gather information.
Freddie Gray during his arrest by Baltimore police later charged with his death.
More than 530 Baltimore police officers have been added to an internal notification system, and defense attorneys are contacted if those officers are considered by prosecutors as witnesses. That list includes 183 officers who, because of their backgrounds, are automatically disclosed to the defense.
For Vara, who spent a decade behind bars for a crime he said he didn’t commit, an easily available Brady list could have changed his life.
At the time of his trial, Houston police and the Harris County prosecutor’s office were aware of Lindsey’s history of misconduct. As part of its last investigation into Lindsey, the police department asked the prosecutor’s office to charge him with a crime. The officer resigned rather than answer more questions – months before Vara’s trial.
Vara’s attorneys said the case boiled down to Lindsey’s word against Vara’s.
“There’s no breath test, no blood tests,” said Celeste Blackburn, who represented Vara on appeal.
Blackburn said Lindsey was the only police officer present that night to testify that Vara was drunk. In fact, court records indicate the other two officers said the smell of alcohol could have come from the passenger – a drunken buddy with whom Vara had gone out that night to give a safe ride home.
Neither Vara nor his defense lawyer knew about Lindsey’s history at the time of trial.
“It’s crazy and it’s scary how these guys got the power to change your life like that,” Vara said. “The badge and that uniform gives them the power to do that.”
A police union attorney informed the Houston Police Department in 2006 that Lindsey would not respond to the allegations, department records show. At Vara’s trial, Lindsey testified that he left law enforcement to pursue his love of teaching. He could not be reached for comment for this article.
For decades, U.S. courts have set a high standard for prosecutors when it comes to disclosing problems in police officers’ pasts that might raise questions about their honesty and integrity as witnesses.
Building on Brady vs. Maryland, a landmark case that exonerated a wrongfully convicted Maryland man, courts have repeatedly held that prosecutors must tell defendants what they know about law enforcement officers’ backgrounds.
In a series of separate rulings, the Supreme Court has said that means prosecutors should know the backgrounds of the officers they rely on to put people in prison – and they must tell defendants what they know, whether they ask or not.
“Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted, but when criminal trials are fair,” Supreme Court Justice William Douglas wrote in the Brady decision.
Legal scholars have generally interpreted the rulings as a requirement that prosecutors create a list of officers with credibility problems.
But there is no comprehensive rule for what kind of behavior lands an officer on a list and few repercussions for police and prosecutors who flout the requirement.
Some prosecutors include only officers who have lied in court or falsified evidence. Others list those who have committed crimes, including drunken driving, or shown racial bias on the job. USA TODAY found wide variation in the level of documentation or investigation underlying officers’ inclusion on the list. Some might have been convicted criminally or flagged by judges for lying in court. Others had been found guilty in internal investigations. And many have been accused of wrongdoing and their cases are pending. In some cases, prosecutors’ lists don’t even say why an officer’s name is there.
VOD asked Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office if she keeps a Brady list, and if not, why not. No response was received.
In Miami-Dade County, internal training presentations obtained by USA TODAY show prosecutors being taught legal tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories.
The documents say prosecutors don’t have to go out of their way to disclose, and the burden of proving they covered up a questionable officer’s history is on the defense.
Prosecutor training in Miami
In Miami-Dade County, internal training presentations obtained by USA TODAY show prosecutors being taught legal tactics to avoid disclosing officers’ histories. The documents say the burden of proving they covered up a questionable officer’s history is on the defense. The end of the slideshow casts disclosure as a game of strategy between prosecutors and the defense.
“Mere speculation by defense that information MAY be exculpatory is not enough to trigger state’s obligation to disclose,” the presentation states.
The end of the Miami training slideshow casts the strategy of hiding officer misconduct as a contest between prosecutors and the defense.
“You were happily playing Scrabble … but now you’re playing Chess,” one slide reads. “THAT’S A GAME CHANGER, SON.”
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the elected state attorney in Miami-Dade County, contended the presentation does not provide instructions on avoiding disclosure of Brady material and said the chess game comparison in the slide was an attempt to “add a level of attention-getting levity to a very serious subject.”
M-D County Atty. Katherine Fernandez Rundle refused to charge 4 prison guards with murdering prisoner Darren Rainey by throwing him into a scalding hot shower for two hours. She also refused to bring charges in the police murder of Latino graffiti artist Israel Hernandez.
“The problem with levity is that it does not always accomplish its intended goal,” he said. “This appears to be one of those situations.”
Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor and now Pace Law School professor, said the courts have made it clear the burden is on prosecutors and leans heavily toward disclosure. Failing to disclose is not a game to be won, Gershman said, but a duty designed to protect the integrity of the court system.
“It’s dishonest if that’s the way they’re presenting the obligation of Brady,” he said.
Gershman said the lack of tracking and policies about disclosing officers’ misconduct is troubling because it’s at the heart of the legal system’s promise to provide every defendant a fair trial – a standard prosecutors are sworn to protect.
“If you’re putting a witness on the stand – whoever the witnesses, but particularly a police officer – and you have doubts about his credibility, doesn’t that raise a question of whether you’re prosecuting a guilty or an innocent person?” Gershman asked.
USA TODAY sought records and comments from nearly every state prosecutor in the country to compile the first national view of where Brady lists exist and don’t.
Nearly half the prosecutorial districts that responded reported not keeping an official list. More than 1,000 did not respond to the requests at all.
Laquan McDonald with autopsy results showing he was shot 16 times by Chicag0 police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014, one of numerous killings which caused the USDOJ to launch an investigation. At least 20 complaints and two lawsuits were filed against him before he slaughtered McDonald. He was charged with McDonald’s murder and sentenced to 7 years in prison, the first time in 50 yrs. for any Chicago cop.
In Chicago, the Cook County State’s Attorney, the second biggest prosecutor’s office in the country, said it does not keep a Brady list.
Instead, the office sends individual memos to its prosecutors when it learns a police officer was convicted of a crime or was found by a judge to have lied under oath, telling them to avoid using the cops if possible or to notify defense attorneys. The system leaves individual prosecutors in the sprawling jurisdiction with America’s second-largest police force on their own to track officers with credibility issues.
The result: A USA TODAY analysis found that dozens of [Chicago] officers flagged by judges or convicted of crimes were summoned to testify at trial in recent years, with no assurance the defense was notified.
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 27: Demonstrators protest the shooting of Laquan McDonald along the Magnificent Mile November 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
In at least four officers’ cases, criminal court judges found the cops lied under oath during a trial. Court records show those four officers alone were listed as witnesses in at least 48 cases after prosecutors began receiving notices about them.
Overall, officers who appeared in notification memos were called to testify in cases resulting in more than 100 felony convictions from 2013-2018.
Across the country, thousands of defendants have gone to trial with no clear way to know that law enforcement witnesses had a history of misconduct.
David B. Green was among the officers who continued to patrol the streets despite a history of misconduct.
In 2011, Little Rock police suspended Green after he bashed a handcuffed suspect’s face into the ground during an arrest, then lied about it.
Former Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas
Green claimed the suspect resisted him by trying to stand up during the encounter. A department review of body camera footage showed that the suspect didn’t try to stand. Two other officers were holding the man down while Green beat him.
Green was suspended for 30 days for untruthfulness and excessive force. His personnel file includes at least 19 suspensions and reprimands for offenses including domestic violence, excessive force and neglect of duty.
Green, who unsuccessfully appealed the charges against him, could not be reached for comment. In an interview conducted as part of an internal affairs investigation, Green did not deny the allegations against him but expressed dedication toward his job. “Even though I get to work and I may not go home, I still love this job,” he said. Department records show he is a military veteran and received commendations in 2000 and 2005 for taking lifesaving actions.
Until November 2015, Green continued to patrol Arkansas’ largest city. His word was relied upon to arrest and help convict defendants.
Little Rock cop Josh Hastings, who had long record of misconduct and was the son of a former Little Rock police captain, killed Bobby Moore, 16, in 2012. A civil jury found him liable.
Former Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas disclosed in legal proceedings that his agency doesn’t inform anyone at the courthouse about problems with his officers.
“We don’t maintain or forward a result of every disciplinary action to either the U.S. attorney or the state court,” Thomas said in a deposition in 2013. “I’m not aware that we provide a list or a continuing update or anything like that.”
USA TODAY reviewed discipline files for Little Rock police officers going back 15 years, then compared them with court records. The analysis found officers who the department determined lied or committed crimes were witnesses in at least 4,000 cases.
Officer Kenneth Thompson filed a report falsely claiming no one was injured after he knocked a suspect off his chair in 2005, despite video evidence to the contrary. He was suspended by the police department for 30 days. His sworn testimony has been used in at least 687 criminal cases since then.
Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson
Pulaski County Officers James Stanchak and Michael Terry were suspended in 2011 after they were caught on body camera video conspiring to lie about using force while arresting a man at a football game. Stanchak’s sworn statements have since been used in 222 cases. Terry’s have been used in four.
Officer Eugene Gray was suspended for 30 days in 2008 after he lied to internal affairs investigators about an off-duty arrest he never reported. During that arrest, he seized a cellphone that was never turned into the police department as evidence. Gray’s word has been used in 256 prosecutions since 2009, court records show.
Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson
Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson, whose office prosecutes cases in Little Rock, said the prosecutor’s office handles cases properly when it is aware an officer participating in a criminal proceeding has been disciplined.
“When this office is made aware of disciplinary actions by an officer (and) they’re going to testify as a witness,” he said, “we disclose that to the judge and let the judge make an independent finding as far as whether or not something is admissible pursuant to Brady.”
Failing to disclose officers’ past lies and bad acts can lead to wrongful convictions.
National Registry of Exonerations: 987 people exonerated in cases involving prosecutorial misconduct and perjury or false report by police
Since 1988, data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows 987 people have been convicted, then exonerated in cases that involved a combination of official misconduct by prosecutors and perjury or a false report by police and other witnesses. They spent an average of 12 years each behind bars.
The registry shows a rapid increase in exonerations in such cases. There were 112 in 2018 stemming from government misconduct in the prosecution – up from 48 in 2008.
Debra Milke cries as she is embraced by Attorney Lori Voepel, right, during a news conference, March 24, 2015, Phoenix. Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. In 2013, Milke was freed after 25 years in prison.Matt York, AP
Among those wrongly convicted was Debra Milke.
After returning from a trip to see Santa Claus at the Metrocenter mall in Phoenix, Milke’s 4-year-old son, Christopher, asked her if he could go back.
Phoenix Det. Armando Saldate, Jr.
Milke sent Christopher back to the mall with a friend, James Styers, who drove him to a nearby ravine and shot him three times in the head.
Styers and another man were convicted of the murder, but so was Milke, on the word of a Phoenix detective, Armando Saldate Jr., who interrogated Milke and concluded she plotted the killing.
During Milke’s trial, evidence was withheld from her and her attorneys: Saldate’s police personnel file, which detailed eight cases in which indictments or convictions were thrown out because Saldate lied or otherwise violated a defendants’ rights.
In 2013, Milke was freed after 25 years in prison.
Revat Vara, left, who spent 11 years in prison for a wrongful DWI conviction, speaks with his lawyer Maverick Ray, right, in Houston. Vara studied the law in prison as he worked with his legal team to win his release in 2017.Scott Dalton for USA TODAY
For Revat Vara, the cost of 11 years behind bars has been heavy.
Vara’s father died one week after his trial. His mother contracted leukemia while he was in prison, and he was unable to care for her. Two years after his release, he struggles to pick up his life.
“Once the structure of the family goes … pretty much everything starts falling apart,” he said.
Vara said he grew up in a low-income community in Houston, and his formal education ended at eighth grade. He made his living before his arrest working odd jobs in a convenience store and at a plant.
Once he found himself behind bars, Vara said, he began contacting attorneys to ask for help with an appeal.
He couldn’t afford the legal help, but one lawyer sent him information about Lindsey’s history of misconduct – which was well known among local defense attorneys.
Vara researched how to file legal appeals on his own.
“I knew I could never trust nobody again,” he said. “The only way that I’m going to do this is I got to study the law. I’ve got to get in that law library and fight for my freedom.”
Vara said he spent two hours every day in the library. He was allowed a double session on Thursdays and Saturdays. He convinced one corrections officer to spend her lunch in the library to give him an extra hour.
It worked. But Vara is still trying to put his life back to together on the outside.
Still living in Houston after his release from prison, Vara said he hopes to attend law school or start a nonprofit group to educate youth in his community about the law. He said he is not angry at the officer whose testimony put him in jail, but he is frustrated that the criminal justice system allowed the cop’s misconduct to go on in secret for years.
“It wasn’t Mr. Lindsey’s fault, it was the public’s fault,” Vara said. “Mr. Lindsey was allowed to do what he did because they allowed him to do it.”
REPORTING AND ANALYSIS: Mark Nichols, Eric Litke, James Pilcher, Aaron Hegarty, Andrew Ford, Brett Kelman, John Kelly, Matt Wynn, Steve Reilly, Megan Cassidy, Ryan Martin, Jonathan Anderson, Andrew Wolfson, Bethany Bruner, Benjamin Lanka, Gabriella Novello, Mark Hannan
FROM THE INVISIBLE INSTITUTE: Sam Stecklow, Andrew Fan, Bocar Ba
EDITING: Chris Davis, John Kelly, Brad Heath
GRAPHICS AND ILLUSTRATIONS: Jim Sergent, Karl Gelles
PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY: Phil Didion, Christopher Powers, David Hamlin, Robert Lindeman
DIGITAL PRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Spencer Holladay, Annette Meade, Craig Johnson, Ryan Marx, Chris Amico, Josh Miller
SOCIAL MEDIA, ENGAGEMENT AND PROMOTION: Anne Godlasky, Alia Dastagir, Felecia Wellington Radel, Elizabeth Shell
Protesters march at Frank Murphy Hall in support of Thelonious Searcy and other wrongfully convicted prisoners, on Nov. 14, 2019.
Quintasha McCroy, Thelonious (Shawn) Searcy’s fiancée, speaks at rally to free Searcy in front of Frank Murphy Courthouse Nov. 14, 2019.
UPDATE: VIDEO COVERAGE OF FEB. 14 RALLY AT FRANK MURPHY HALL!In wake of victories for Charles Lewis, Darrell Ewing, Derrico Searcy, others, families gather to broaden fight for all state-kidnapped loved ones
Estimates of innocents in MDOC around 30%; exoneree Mubarez Ahmed: “dozens and dozens” more remain behind, due to corrupt judicial system
Nearly 2/3 of state’s juvenile lifers still behind bars serving sentences declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court
National fight opens to end life without parole (death by incarceration) in Lansing and across the U.S.
BY DIANE BUKOWSKI
NOVEMBER 13, 2019; UPDATED NOVEMBER 15, 2019
Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy’s friends are broadly circulating this text for the Nov. 14 rally.
DETROIT — An extensive network of friends of Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy initiated the call for a rally to free him Nov. 14, to begin at 9 a.m. at the Frank Murphy Hall at 1441 St. Antoine, and continue with a town hall meeting sponsored by the Detroit People’s Task Force at 11:30 a.m. That rally will address multiple cases and issues in a system the Task Force believes is severely corrupted, seeking only convictions regardless of guilt or innocence.
The Task Force is asking for donations at the door to help with the cost of refreshments, as its funds are extremely low.
The rally comes on the heels of a stunning victory in the case of juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, freed Oct. 17 after 42 years in prison with a reduced term of years sentence. His attorney and other experts including a polygraph examiner expressed their beliefs that he is likely innocent of the murder of a police officer in 1976.
He and his family endured three and a half years of re-sentencing hearings in front of Judge Qiana Lillard, during which the clerk’s office declared that his original file was lost and Lillard illegally ordered the defense to turn over its attorney-client privileged documents to the prosecution to construct a “facsimile” file. Lewis was subjected to unproven and slanderous allegations from the prosecution that he had somehow been instrumental in losing the file and forging a document dismissing his case signed by then Third Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain on April 3, 2000.
On Oct. 24, 2019, Darrell Ewing and Derrico Searcy, incarcerated for nearly 20 years on murder charges, won a new trial based on Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway’s declared opinion that their original trial jury had been corrupted by extraneous internet material brought in by several jurors, and that the case against them was deeply flawed otherwise. One of the flaws was that another man confessed repeatedly to the murder involved.
Sonya Dodson, mother of Darrell Ewing, his aunt and father celebrate new trial.
The packed courtroom exploded with cheers from their families and friends. The case had been pursued through the federal district court to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and back to U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood, who ordered an evidentiary hearing related to the allegations about juror misconduct.
Ewing’s mother Sonya Dodson had exhausted her resources paying for attorneys, but said the victory was worth it. The prosecutor said they plan to appeal the ruling, but defense attorney Phillip Comorski said he was confident of final victory.
In Searcy’s case, the road after a stunningly convincing evidentiary hearing held through the first six months of 2018 has been unexpectedly rocky and trying for him as he yearns for his freedom. Judge Timothy Kenny, now Chief Judge of the 3rd Circuit Court, ruled afterwards that evidence at the hearing would not have changed the minds of the original jurors and denied Searcy’s request for a new trial. Defense attorney Michael Dezsi has appealed that ruling, now to the Michigan Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled 2-1 against Searcy, giving no reasons. Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens dissented.
AP Patrick Muscat testifies at Searcy hearing.
During the hearing, admitted hitman Vincent Smothers testified that he, not Searcy, committed the murder for which Searcy is serving life without parole, giving lengthy testimony with accurate details including the fact that he killed the victim with a .40 caliber gun. His testimony was borne out by the revelation from forensic records that .40 caliber bullets were found inside the victim, not .45 caliber bullets.
Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat had alleged that Searcy killed the victim with a .45 caliber gun, and the jury was later falsely told by Judge Timothy Kenny, then the trial judge, that the bullets found inside the victim were “unidentifiable,” according to the prosecution and defense. Muscat was also the AP during the trial of Davontae Sanford, 14, freed in 2015 after a false conviction of four killings also admitted to by Smothers.
Searcy’s attorney Michael Dezsi appealed Kenny’s ruling, but an appellate panel ruled 2-1 in favor of Kenny, with no reasons given. Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens dissented, an aspect Dezsi stressed.
Quintasha McCroy speaking on behalf of her fiancée, calls for the firing of Prosecutor Patrick Muscat and other corrupt officials Nov. 14, 2019.
EXONEREE MUBARAZ AHMED: ‘DOZENS AND DOZENS’ OF OTHER INNOCENT MDOC PRISONERS, SYSTEM ONLY WANTS CONVICTIONS
Below, exoneree Mubarez Ahmed expressed a highly pertinent opinion on his release that the entire system is thoroughly corrupt, noting that there are “dozens and dozens of prisoners just like me” who are innocent but still incarcerated, because the system does not care whether they are guilty or innocent. Ahmed was freed after serving 16 years in prison.
Among the “dozens and dozens” of prisoners still unjustly incarcerated in Michigan are about 200 juvenile lifers, individuals who were sent to die in prison when they were children. They are still serving what the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declared are unconstitutional sentences, “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Michigan and Louisiana are the two states that have most vigorously fought c0mpliance with the nation’s highest court.
Among them is another client of Michael Dezsi’s, Jonathan Belton. Dezsi told VOD that he and Geoffrey Fieger represented Belton at his murder trial in Oakland County, for killing white Oak Park police officer Mason Samborski in 2008. Belton, who was 16 at the time, is Black and from Detroit. Fieger argued that Samborski accidentally shot himself with his own gun during a tussle with Belton after Samborski drove him to the Rue Versailles Apartments in Oak Park subsequent to a traffic stop during which he found that Belton did not have a driver’s license.
Belton’s girl friend lived at the apartments.
Jonathan Belton tells his family he loves them, saying he and they know what actually happened, after sentencing in 2010.
The prosecution charged Belton with first-degree murder and the murder of a peace officer, claiming that Belton took Samborski’s gun from his holster and shot him with it.
“The gun was never recovered,” said an article in the Oakland Press. “Fieger insisted that the shooting was an accident and said there was no evidence to prove otherwise. He accused police and prosecutors of lying and fabricating evidence in an effort to make sure someone paid for Samborski’s death. He focused on a responding police officer’s use of a racial slur and said the case was filled with ‘innuendoes, assumptions, guesses and prejudice.'”
Tests for gunshot residue on Belton were negative. Fieger pointed out that Samborski had thrown Belton through a plate glass window at his girl friend’s apartment building, and said because a police officer had died, “Someone had to pay, even if it’s an innocent Black child.” The prosecution alleged without evidence that Belton was a gang member and said his father was serving time for second-degree murder. Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot said “theory is pure fiction” without evidence, although not in the presence of the jury.
Dezsi moved the court without success to sentence Belton in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on juvenile life without parole. However, Dezsi said, he will be representing Belton at a juvenile lifer “mitigation hearing” in March. He said he still believes in his client’s innocence, and has grown to know him very well.
Meanwhile, Michigan prisoner advocacy groups have joined a growing national movement to end what is being called “death by incarceration” (life without parole) for ALL prisoners. The U.S. is the only country in the world that sends children to die in prison, and it is also the only country that has true life without parole, resulting in a burgeoning prison population including thousands of elderly prisoners awaiting death behind the walls.
Posted: Oct 10, 2019 / 04:15 PM EDT / Updated: Oct 10, 2019 / 05:07 PM EDT
LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – At the state Capitol today, more than a hundred people gathered outside to rally for prison reform, specifically for those who receive life sentences.
“The justice scale is different for our people, and it’s unfair.”
“He has done the time for the crime he had committed, but he’s still in prison,” said Patrice Ferguson.
Some of hundreds at rally for 19-year-old dad Terrance Kellom, executed by Detroit/ICE police in April, 2015.
Ferguson is talking about her husband. He was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder back in 1984.
She says his prison sentence just isn’t fair.
“Life really doesn’t mean all your life, I believe life means 20 years, my husband’s done 37 years,” said Ferguson.
Right now in the United States, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports almost 2.3 million people are in prison and if the country’s prison population were a city, it would be the fifth largest in the U.S.
William Hawkins, whose father is currently serving a life sentence, says that’s a problem.
“He’s been rehabilitated for years, he’s been in prison my entire life, over 30 years, but he hasn’t been given the just opportunity to prove himself as a rehabilitated citizen,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins hopes by speaking out, lawmakers will continue to take action.
“The numbers are definitely, you know, not adding up, so let’s go ahead and figure out why and let’s fix the system, cause we shouldn’t have a quarter of the prisoners in the world locked up in one country,” said Hawkins.
FREEDOM FIGHTERS JOINED STATE CAPITOL RALLY
By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD staff writer
Among those converging on the State Capitol to attend the long anticipated Rally For Lifer Law, Prison, and “Real” Criminal Justice Reform were a bus load full of supporters advocating for those voices that have been silenced due to their incarceration. That actually amounts to over-incarceration of countless individuals who have served 35, 40, 45, 50 + years on parolable sentences that the Michigan Parole Board refuses to move toward a positive parole action on.
The event was organized and spearheaded by Virginia Hudson, David Hudson-Bey, Shelita & Kimball Gaskin-El, and others of the National Lifers Association. Among the people who took the one hour or so trip to Lansing, Michigan, in order to speak up and show support for the masses was Kenneth Foster-Bey, who himself served over 40 years on a parolable life sentence before finally being paroled in 2014.
He (Foster-Bey) was the main plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of roughly 850 parolable lifers by the University of Michigan Law School for those who were being arbitrarily denied consideration.
Since the initial granting of the Foster-Bey lawsuit over 400 parolable lifers have been paroled from 2009 to date, and none have reoffended. Another attendee at the October 10th rally was modern day Revolutionary Lawrence D. Rider-El, an advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals left in the trenches to languish with sentences equating to Death-By-Incarceration. Rider is calling for the fair and equal treatment of everyone impacted by the Criminal Justice System.
He states, “Until this so-called system of justice is revamped and reformed to reflect a fairness to every citizen then we will continue to see a criminal injustice system, which not only discriminates and strategically excludes a certain portion of our society from the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, it will continue subjecting them to an unequal playing field and likely impact those who are incarcerated as well.”
He also mentioned to a news reporter that (myself) “Ricardo Ferrell, a parolable lifer has served 38 years, who’s incarceration has cost taxpayers $1,500,000.00.” Some of the Freedom Fighters in attendance who spoke up in support of their loved ones and friends were: Shelita Gaskin-El, Patrice Ferguson-Booker, Kimball Gaskin-El, Micheal Bailey, Lawrence Rider-El, Shawanna Vaughn, Amani Sawari, Richard Griffin. Also organizations like: Safe & Just Michigan, MCCD, AFSC, MI-CURE, MCPR, ACLU, CFL, LIFELONG CURE, and other advocacy groups supported the rally and have long called for reforming the prison & criminal justice systems.
Several State Representatives spoke at today’s rally voicing their concerns. Rep. Tanya Garrett, and others strongly take the position that some sort of reform should be applied for those who have served at least 20 or 25 years on their sentences, which basically means those shown to be good candidates to parole.
PENNSYLVANIA RALLY TO END DEATH BY INCARCERATION OCT. 23, 2019
VOD EDITOR: This well-researched story from Pro Publica focuses on Dan Gilbert’s relationship with the Trumps, which handed Gilbert tax breaks to build his empire in Detroit, but Gilbert had equally strong ties with the previous Obama administration. Those ties led up to the Emergency Manager takeover of Detroit and the subsequent bankruptcy filing which devastated the country’s largest Black majority city. For background on the ProPublica story, read VOD’s earlier story on Gilbert’s financial crimes under Obama, at http://voiceofdetroit.net/2013/09/11/dennis-archer-former-consultant-to-detroit-lender-ubs-ag-meets-with-top-obama-aides-execs/
Partners in corrupt Detroit financial management under Pres. Barack Obama, including (r to l) former Mayor Dennis Archer, billionaire investor Dan Gilbert, and former Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder initiated Michigan’s Emergency Manager laws which led to the takeover of Detroit and other majority-Black cities in the state. Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr as Detroit’s EM; Orr promptly led the city into the disastrous Detroit bankruptcy filing of 2014. Pres. Barack Obama and U.S. Atty. General Eric Holder remained silent despite the pleas of the late U.S. Congressman John Conyers and others as this attack on the nation’s largest Black majority city was unleashed.
Published 6:14 p.m. ET Oct. 24, 2019 | Updated 11:33 a.m. ET Oct. 25, 2019
Billionaire Dan Gilbert has spent the last decade buying up buildings in downtown Detroit, amassing nearly 100 properties and so completely dominating the area, it’s known as Gilbertville. In the last few years, Gilbert, the 57-year-old founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has also grown close to the Trump family.
Ivanka Trump joins Dan Gilbert at 2017 forum on computer science development.
Quicken gave $750,000 to Trump’s inaugural fund. Gilbert has built a relationship with Ivanka Trump, who appeared at one of his Detroit buildings in 2017 for a panel discussion with him. And, last year, he watched the midterm election returns at the White House with President Donald Trump himself, who has called Gilbert “a great friend.”
Gilbert’s cultivation of the Trump family appears to have paid off: Three swaths of downtown Detroit were selected as opportunity zones under the Trump tax law, extending a valuable tax break to Gilbert’s real estate empire.
Gilbert’s relationship with the White House helped him win his desired tax break, an email obtained by ProPublica suggests. In February 2018, as the selection process was underway, a top Michigan economic development official asked her colleague to call Quicken’s executive vice president for government affairs about opportunity zones.
Campus Martius Park with white Chase Building/Quicken Loans HQ in rear center, both owned by Dan Gilbert.. Ernst & Young (r), a global professional services firm with $36.9 billion in revenue, played major role in disastrous Detroit bankruptcy filing in 2014, which stripped city of all its public assets.
“They worked with the White House on it and want to be sure we are coordinated,” wrote the official, Christine Roeder, in an email with the subject line “Quicken.”
The exact role of the White House is not clear. But less than two weeks after the email was written, the Trump administration revised its list of census tracts that were eligible for the tax break. New to the list? One of the downtown Detroit tracts dominated by Gilbert that had not previously been included.
Wall Street bond ratings agency said only six percent of Detroit land mass is eligible for triple AAA rating, warned of condition of rest of city.
And the area made the cut even though it did not meet the poverty requirements of the program. The Gilbert opportunity zone is one of a handful around the country that were included despite not meeting the eligibility criteria, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
Several weeks later, the Michigan governor selected all three of the downtown Gilbert tracts for the program.
Gilbert influenced the local selection process, as well, other emails obtained by ProPublica show: Quicken’s top lobbyist was so enmeshed in the process, his name appears on an opportunity zone map made by the city economic development organization, recommending part of downtown be included in the tax break. No other non-city officials are named on the document.
The result has likely been a boon to Gilbert: Multiplestudies have found that property values in opportunity zones increased because of the tax break. Gilbert has put an estimated $3 billion into buying and renovating properties in Detroit, the vast majority now in opportunity zones.
In addition, even though the law was designed to incentivize new investment, Gilbert has several already-planned developments in the area that could benefit from the tax break, experts said.
The upside for an investor such as Gilbert “could be huge,” said Steve Wamhoff, director of federal tax policy at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a liberal-leaning think tank. “This seems to be a situation where someone is going to get tax breaks for something they were going to do anyway.”
The White House, Treasury Department and Quicken Loans all declined to answer repeated questions about Gilbert’s interactions with the Trump administration regarding opportunity zones. Roeder didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation declined to elaborate on the email mentioning Quicken’s work with the White House.
In a statement, Jared Fleisher, Quicken Loans vice president of government affairs, acknowledged Gilbert’s companies gave input to the state but said they “did not exercise any inappropriate influence.”
The companies “joined a wide range of stakeholders in providing feedback into the Opportunity Zone selection process,” he said. “The State of Michigan engaged interested parties, asked for their input, and encouraged participants to share the State of Michigan’s request for input with other potentially interested groups.”
Opportunity zones were created by the 2017 Trump tax code overhaul. The idea, touted by members of both parties, is to grant lucrative tax breaks to encourage new investment in poor areas around the country. The Treasury Department determined which census tracts were eligible for the special status, based on poverty and income levels, and then each state’s governor picked 25% of them as zones.
But the program has been widely criticized as a giveaway to the rich that will not bring the promised revitalization in needy areas. There is no mechanism to track the program’s results, from how much new investment comes to the zones to how many jobs it creates.
Here’s how the tax break works. Say you’re a hedge fund manager, you purchased Google stock years ago and are sitting on $1 billion in gains. If you sell, you’d send the IRS about $240 million in taxes on the capital gain, less than you’d pay in ordinary income tax but still a lot. To avoid paying that much, you could sell the shares and put the $1 billion into an opportunity zone. That comes with three generous breaks. The first is that you defer that $240 million in tax, allowing you to invest more money up front. Plus, you can hold the investment for several years and you’ll get a significant reduction in those taxes. What’s more, any additional gains from the new investment are tax-free after 10 years.
The exact value of the tax breaks for any individual will likely never be publicly known because the program has no disclosure requirements. Gilbert’s holdings, managed by his firm, Bedrock Detroit, are private.
Bedrock Detroit wall around Gilbert-owned J.L. Hudson site brags of his plans to profit from highest skyscraper development in downtown Detroit. The Shinola hotel building owned by Gilbert is at left. Photo: Clarence Tabb, Jr. Detroit News
Experts say two of the downtown Detroit tracts are islands of wealth in the city, one of the poorest in the nation. They are significantly wealthier by median income than the surrounding area. They include Gilbert-owned office space with high-end tenants including Microsoft, JP Morgan and Quicken Loans. The boutique Shinola Hotel sits in another Gilbert property that is now in one of the opportunity zones.
While the tax break is supposed to generate new development, Gilbert already has several long-planned projects located in the newly designated zones, including the construction of a glass-and-steel skyscraper on the historic Hudson’s department store site.
Gilbert at the 2017 groundbreaking of a skyscraper planned for the former site of Hudson’s department store, now in an opportunity zone. He owns so much downtown Detroit real estate, some people call it Gilbertville. (Photo: AP, file)
“These areas are not distressed,” said Conrad Kickert, an urban design academic who wrote a book about downtown Detroit. He noted that Gilbert also helped create a new streetcar line in the area, named the QLine after Quicken Loans. The area is much wealthier and whiter than Detroit as a whole, according to recent census estimates.
This year, Gilbert’s opportunity zone push has continued; his firm has been lobbying the Treasury Department on the regulations for the program, which are still being hashed out two years after the law was signed. The CEO of Bedrock sent a letter to the agency pressing the administration to adopt lax technical rules for real estate projects of the type Gilbert is pursuing, according to a copy obtained by ProPublica.
“We believe that the purpose of the [opportunity zone] legislation is best achieved through large-scale, multipurpose real estate development projects that transform and revitalize entire neighborhoods and communities,” wrote Bill Emerson of Bedrock, appearing to describe the firm’s mixed-use Monroe Blocks project. Therefore, he argued, the department should loosen the rules around how quickly opportunity zone investments have to get under way.
Dennis Archer Jr. (left) and Bill Emerson, Bedrock CEO, chat on the stage of the theatre at the Grand Hotel on May 29, 2019. Emerson filled in for Gilbert after he had a major stroke. Emerson claimed Gilbert empire is functioning well as he allegedly recovers. Dennis Archer, Jr.s’ role follows that of his father former Mayor Dennis Archer Sr. under Barack Obama administration. Crains Detroit Business photo
VOD: The above tweet from reporter Charlie Langton shows part of Dan Gilbert’s message to his employees on Aug. 2, 2019 after his stroke. Although the tweet claims Gilbert is doing much better, Gilbert’s speech does not seem to sync with his lip movements, as if someone else is reading his speech for him. To date (Nov. 8, 2019), nothing more has been seen of Gilbert in the media. Questions have since been raised about the ongoing progress of the development of his empire in Detroit.
Gilbert’s rise in Detroit started in 2010 when he moved the headquarters of his mortgage firm, Quicken Loans, from a suburb to struggling downtown Detroit. His companies employ more than 10,000, and his influence is so immense that Politico named him to its list of the most interesting mayors in America, the only non-mayor on the list.
Gilbert’s downtown developments have already received city and state subsidies with few strings attached, a recent Detroit Free Press investigation found. Along with myriad tax breaks, Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority, for example, sold an important lot to Gilbert for $1. (He has also been advised in his Detroit strategy by another Michigan native and prominent Trump supporter, the billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross of Related Companies.)
Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with new bride Louise Linton, is a former hedge fund manager and owner. Gilbert met several times with him beginning in June 2017.
As Gilbert was expanding his Detroit portfolio, Facebook billionaire Sean Parker was embracing the idea for what would become opportunity zones: give investors a tax break on their capital gains if they agree to invest the money in needy areas. Parker set up a think tank, the Economic Innovation Group, to promote the idea in Washington. In 2015, Gilbert joined the group’s “Founders Circle.”
He hasn’t spoken publicly about opportunity zones, but his real estate holdings and businesses in Detroit were clearly in areas that would be well positioned to benefit from the tax break that Parker wanted to create.
In June 2017, Gilbert met with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the administration’s point man on the tax bill that included opportunity zones. Gilbert also had a phone call with Mnuchin, last November, according to public calendars. It’s not known what Gilbert and Mnuchin discussed. (Spokespeople for Quicken Loans and the Treasury Department declined to comment on the communications between Gilbert and Mnuchin.)
Despite his relationship with Trump and the administration, Gilbert has tried to publicly dissociate himself from the president. He is in a particularly sensitive position because Detroit is a majority African American city where Hillary Clinton beat Trump 95% to 3%. Before the event he held with Ivanka Trump in 2017, Gilbert released a statement disavowing electoral politics.
In December 2017, Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which included the Economic Innovation Group’s opportunity zone idea. That prompted a scramble by state and local officials across the country to assemble nominations for the program.
By mid-February 2018, Gilbert’s lobbyists had joined the fray. They communicated with both Michigan and Detroit officials about opportunity zones, according to emails obtained by ProPublica through public records requests.
On Feb. 15, an official at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation instructed a colleague at another state agency to reach out to a lobbyist from Quicken to discuss opportunity zones.
The colleague, Brian Mills of the state housing authority, confirmed that he had a call with a representative at Quicken. The company was interested in how the state would select zones, Mills recalled. He advised the company that officials in cities like Detroit would have a lot of sway in the process.
A week later, a top economic development official in Detroit emailed maps of areas that the city wanted to nominate for the program to state officials. One of the maps reflected the input of Gilbert’s lobbyist, Jared Fleisher, who is named on the document.
Properties owned by Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate (in orange) in downtown Detroit in tracts included in opportunity zones. /Map by ProPublica
Curiously, the city’s recommendations shown on the map included a downtown tract that the Treasury Department had deemed ineligible for the program because it was too wealthy. Its median family income was almost 1 1/2 times higher than the opportunity zone eligibility requirements allowed, according to census data. Gilbert owns more than 10 buildings in the tract.
Days after the city sent the map to state officials, it proved prophetic. The Treasury Department released a revised list of eligible tracts. The downtown tract was now, for the purposes of the law, a “low-income community.”
Asked why the name of a lobbyist for Quicken Loans appeared in the legend of the map, a spokesperson for the Detroit Economic Development Corporation told ProPublica that “Jared Fleisher was just one of the experts we consulted on how the Treasury regulations worked.” She added the city “consulted with numerous experts” to assess which tracts would be eligible for the program, and that the city itself wanted the riverfront tract in the program.
It’s not clear why Gilbert’s lobbyist believed that the tract would end up being eligible for the program. Fleisher did not answer questions on the issue but said in a statement that Gilbert’s companies had not “engaged in advocacy activities (monetary or otherwise) regarding the eligibility of certain areas.” A Treasury Department spokesman said only that “the Treasury officials that typically work on opportunity zone issues had no knowledge of this matter.”
In a statement, Fleisher declined to comment on the nature of his interactions with the city, but he told ProPublica, “Ultimately, the City of Detroit — not (Gilbert’s) Rock Family of Companies or any other respondent to the open call for comments — made the recommendations to the state about which census tracts in Detroit should be selected.”
Two weeks after the Treasury Department issued its revision, the city recommended the tract for the program, along with several others in which Gilbert had substantial investments. They did so even though those tracts were not included in a list of recommendations for Detroit that the Michigan State Housing Development Authority had assembled and shared with the city.
In the end, the state deferred to the city, and in April 2018, the downtown tracts in which Gilbert had poured so much capital officially became opportunity zones.
An analysis by ProPublica found that one of the tracts only became eligible through a provision in the law that was intended to allow areas that had been designated for a Clinton-era anti-poverty measure to be included in the program. However, experts told ProPublica that the Treasury Department’s mapping analysis was deeply flawed, and that it erroneously allowed a handful of areas to become opportunity zones. As ProPublica previously reported, a similar loophole allowed a tract largely owned by Kevin Plank, billionaire CEO of Under Armour, to take advantage of the opportunity zone program for his development in Baltimore.
Community groups in Michigan have criticized the selection process, contending it favored wealthier areas that are already seeing redevelopment at the expense of more impoverished areas of Detroit. Of the 10 most impoverished areas in the city that the governor could have picked, only two made the cut. Of the 10 least impoverished areas, six were picked. Those include downtown tracts in which Gilbert has substantial investments.
Former Gov. Rick Snyder, who made the ultimate selections last year, declined to comment.
In an email, a spokesperson for the city of Detroit said its recommendations centered on areas where investors could make a return. “The City recommended the eligible areas where it believed developers were most likely to find profitable investments. To do anything else would have been pointless under the opportunity zone law.”
Jeff Ernsthausen is a data reporter at ProPublica. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Elliott is a ProPublica reporter covering politics and government accountability. Contact him at email@example.com or via Signal at (774) 826-6240.
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism for use by other media outlets. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.
U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (D) Detroit/Official website photo
CONGRESSWOMAN RASHIDA TLAIB ASKS FOR INVESTIGATION ON OPPORTUNITY ZONES
Rep. Tlaib Request Comes After Findings Of Billionaire Involvement In Selection Of Opp. Zones
November 7, 2019
DETROIT – Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) sent a letter to the chairmen of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, and the Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to request they hold investigative hearings into whether political campaign contributions influenced the designation of opportunity zones in her district and across the country.
Opportunity zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 supposedly to encourage new investments in poor areas by providing tax breaks to investors.
The request comes after a ProPublica article published in October showed that opportunity zones were created in areas that did not meet the legal criteria, at least in part thanks to lobbying by billionaire developers and political donors. For example, an opportunity zone in downtown Detroit did not meet the poverty requirement to be designated an opportunity zone and is in an area into which billionaire Dan Gilbert has poured billions for real estate. Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans company also donated $750,000 to President Trump’s inaugural fund, and the ProPublica article details Quicken lobbyists interacting with city, state, and federal officials in pursuit of an opportunity zone designation.
“This is yet another example of how corporate greed and the influence of billionaires have infected our government like a disease,” said Rep. Tlaib. “Residents in my district have witnessed time and time again how the desires of wealthy individuals are put before their needs—enough is enough. This is not how our government, or our democracy should work. We must take action to uncover the truth.”
ProPublica’s reporting also found unqualified census tracts designated as opportunity zones in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Oklahoma. In Baltimore, for example, an opportunity zone was designated in an area where billionaire Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank and Goldman Sachs plan heavy investments, despite that area not meeting poverty requirements and only being designated an opportunity zone on a technicality after developer lobbying efforts.
“Public trust in our federal government is eroded when the rules are applied unevenly and seem to reward the wealthiest and best connected amongst us,” said Rep. Tlaib in the letter. “It appears that a tax program supposedly designed to benefit the poorest amongst us is now being used to reward political donors and wealthy investors.”
The letter was sent to Chairman Richard Neal (Committee on Ways and Means), Chairman Al Green (Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation), and Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (Economic and Consumer Policy). It can be viewed here.
Derrico Searcy (l at defendant table) and Darrell Ewing (r) listen as Judge Michael Hathaway outlines opinion on hearing and orders a new trial for both
Some of the many supporters who cheered Judge Hathaway’s ruling for a new trial Oct. 24, 2019.
Judge Michael Hathaway gives order Oct. 24 after evidentiary hearing
Ruling not only due to trial jury’s illegal use of internet, but also to lack of “overwhelming evidence of guilt”
Prosecution says they plan to file application for leave to appeal, meeting of lawyers with judge set for Nov. 22
Ewing, Searcy remain in MDOC pending further developments
By Diane Bukowski
October 27, 2019
Defendants Derrico Searcy and Darrell Ewing listen to testimony of former jurors Aug. 26, 2019.
DETROIT – A courtroom packed with family members and friends of Darrell Ewing and Derrico Searcy erupted in cries of joy Oct. 24 as Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway ordered a new trial for the two young men in a murder case for which they have spent nearly two decades in prison.
Judge Hathaway’s order capped an evidentiary hearing held on the trial jury’s use of Facebook and other gang-related internet research during their deliberations. U.S. District Court Judge Denise Page Hood ordered the hearing after the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court partially struck down her original order for a new trial.
Ewing and Searcy were convicted of murdering J.B. Watson Dec. 29, 2009, in an allegedly gang-related shooting at Harper and Van Dyke. They have been in prison since 2010. Afterward, another prisoner, Tyree Washington, came forward repeatedly to declare under oath that he, not Ewing and Searcy, committed the murder, but it was the juror misconduct that led to Judge Hood’s original order for a new trial.
Former Juror Kathleen Byrnes
Hathaway said regarding his assessment of the hearing, “. . .there was extraneous evidence that came into the deliberative process that was outcome determinative,” Hathaway declared. “It changed the vote of at least one juror.”
That juror was Kathleen Byrnes, who gave powerful, moving testimony during the evidentiary hearing about changing her vote during the 2010 trial. Weeping, she said she has felt that she did something terrible ever since.
Hathaway continued, “I am also obligated to observe under the Budzyn case whether or not the evidence of guilt was otherwise overwhelming . . . The trial evidence in this case was certainly not what we would call overwhelming. There was an identification made by a witness who claims to have seen the defendant through a side rear view mirror while he was crouching down, which is virtually impossible to imagine. There was a lot of other circumstantial evidence that still didn’t lead up to a case where the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. Then of course you had the statement against penal interest that came in where [Tyree] Washington supposedly confessed to the crime, so it wasn’t an ironclad case.”
Hathaway said he was therefore granting both defendants a new trial, issuing an order but not a written opinion. He sent both back to the Michigan Department of Corrections pending whether the prosecution files an application for leave to appeal to the Michigan Appeals Court within a 28-day limit. AP said they will definitely do so. Hathaway set a date of Nov. 22 for the attorneys and himself to confer on the status
Phillip Comorski, attorney for Ewing, shown in video above, said he felt the defense is now “in the driver’s seat.” He said he believed Judge Hathaway had thoroughly reviewed all the testimony from the hearing as well as transcripts from the trial and rendered a fair ruling. He added that they would deal with any appeal by the defense. Many have wondered how the prosecutor’s office would handle any new trial, since Tyree Washington, who confessed multiple times to the murder of J.B. Watson, is available to testify in person, which he did not do at the original trial.
Family members of Darrell Ewing, including his mother Sonya Dodson, wept with happiness in each others arms in the hallway after Judge Hathaway’s ruling.
Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono by folks on extremely limited incomes, going. We are among the few newspapers that covers cases such as that of Ewing and Searcy, cases which affect those who would otherwise receive no coverage. Black youth across Detroit and the U.S. continue to be funneled into the prisons, virtually anonymously, by an injustice system that should force this country to bow its head in shame.
Charles Lewis, now free after 42 years in prison since 17.
Recently, VOD played a large role in freeing juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, running 46 stories on his case including evidence pointing to his innocence, after he spent 42 years in prison. VOD focuses strongly on the issue of racist mass incarceration in the United States, which has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of it’s incarcerated population.
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Two women tell how they overcame abuse and established bright futures: Kia Faison and Erica Lynn Gillis
“Strike 3” Stage Play Sat. Oct. 26, 2pm &7 pm, Sun. Oct. 27 “Strike 3 is not just about me – it is about the maltreatment of all Black and Brown people in this country at the hands of a corrupt system, and understanding that nothing will change until we decide to fight back!” – Kia Faison
Erica Lynn Gillis: “7 Techniques of Healing”
By Ricardo Ferrell, VOD Staff Writer
This Voice of Detroit exclusive two-part article covers the constant pain and agony many women face after being taken complete advantage of by an overpowering male bent on causing absolute terror on his victims. It features two amazing women who solidifies what a pillar of strength looks like by how well they pushed beyond the harm of their past encounters by embracing techniques in the healing process.
Kia Faison, an author and playwright, a strong and courageous woman was brave enough to speak her truths by revealing to the world her horrendous experiences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and physical, mental and emotional abuse. In an effort to begin the healing process Kia knew she would first need to face, embrace, and express herself in order to erase the pain, torment and shame she felt by the hands of her abuser. In this article you’ll read the story of this remarkable woman who finally had enough of being taken advantage of by a man who only seen her as something to be used and abused.
The objectification of women in a negative paradigm has been going on in our society for centuries. More and more females are being subjected to unwanted physical and sexual abuse at the hands of strangers, their male companions, and sometimes their own family members contribute to this madness. For instance, a child’s own father repeatedly rapes her from the age of 7, till she becomes a teenager. Then learns what she’s experienced is all wrong, and shouldn’t have been happening. Kia knows all too well what that sort of experience looks like, because her daughter was violently molested by the same individual who was physically abusive towards her.
Kia Faison (l) with son, daughters at The Fist in downtown Detroit, 2018.
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH KIA FAISON, A CRIME SURVIVOR WHO HAD ENOUGH AND MADE IT OUT:
Q – RICARDO: WHAT WAS YOUR COPING MECHANISM DURING THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP(S)?
A – KIA: In the beginning I really didn’t have a way to cope with it; I just kind of absorbed the situation and took it for what it was. There came a point to where I realized it wasn’t going to change regardless to how many good days we had. At that point I began to hum “The sun will come out tomorrow” from the movie Annie. Doing that seemed to take me to another place mentally.
Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOU PULL YOUR STRENGTH FROM TO WALK AWAY AND NOT LOOK BACK?
A – KIA: Well, I actually went back after the first separation. I would do anything for my children, regardless of the affect my actions would have on me. I thought going back to be a family would make them happy. My children brought he and I back together, but also made me walk away for good. I felt like I could take anything that came my way, but you don’t mess with my children. The moment he abused my daughter was the final straw. In my eyes his choices were death or prison and I knew to him being back in prison was like death, so that’s where I sent him.
Q – RICARDO: HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD A STRONG FAITH IN THE CREATOR?
Maori carved painting of woman.
A – KIA: This is sort of a long story, but I’ll try to make it short lol. As a teenager, I knew there was something more powerful than man, but I also didn’t believe in anything I couldn’t see. When I got older, because I didn’t have a real understanding of spirituality or religion for that matter I drifted to the religious side because that is what was around me. I tried all kinds of churches; Black, White, big, small, different states and I always ran into the same problem. They were either greedy or the Pastors were perverts.
Outside of the church, I still tried to do the whole religion/Jesus thing, but there were always things that just didn’t sit right, why can’t I ask questions? Why is he clearly Black in your bible, but White everywhere else? Why is it that every living organism comes from the female, but you teach the Holy Trinity is two men and a spirit? I could never get these main questions answered, so I felt that wasn’t the way for me. Finally, information began to fall in my lap sort to speak. More spiritual people started entering my life feeding me information, I started reading different books and coming across different videos and interviews about spirituality, about My history, My ancestors and this information made all the sense in the world. So, to answer your question, I always knew there was something out here protecting me because I’m still here even after everything I’ve been through, but it took a long time to get to the place I am spiritually.
Q – RICARDO: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN EXPERIENCING THE SAME ABUSE YOU ONCE FACED?
A – KIA: My advice to anyone in an abusive situation is, unfortunately no one can force or convince you to leave, you have to be ready. In the meantime, find a way to separate yourself from the situation mentally; think of happy memories, sing/hum your favorite song, mediate on anything to take yourself away, even if for a moment. Doing this will help keep you sane. Find someone you can talk to, someone you can trust, someone who will not judge, but allow you to vent and then wait patiently for the call to let them know to come get you because you’ve finally found the courage to walk away for good.
Q – RICARDO: DO YOU FIND SOLACE IN WRITING ABOUT PAST ENCOUNTERS AND CHALLENGES?
A – KIA: Most of my writing comes from a painful place. I am a very private person (this is the first time I’ve spoken openly to this extent) so, instead of sitting down with someone and telling my whole story it comes out in my writing and there is no greater feeling than knowing my work is admired by not just family and friends, but strangers as well. Writing is extremely therapeutic.
Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM IN WRITING AND SHARING YOUR STORY?
A – KIA: I find it very difficult to write on demand, so if I have a new project it is more than likely because I just went through something or seen something that touched me.
Q – RICARDO: AS A PLAYWRIGHT WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT IMPROVISATION AND CREATING THEMES?
A – KIA: I think however it comes out ride with it and figure out the purpose and story later. Sometimes an image, or a title, or line may come to me and I have no idea what it is, or where its going, but eventually it turns into something purposeful, so I embrace whatever comes, how it comes.
Q – RICARDO: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN HOW HAS THEIR PRESENCE SOLIDIFIED YOUR AMBITION?
A – KIA: My children are my rock and I know they watch everything I do. Because of that I know I cannot tell them to follow their dreams, live in their purpose, or do what makes them happy, if I’m not doing it myself.
Q – RICARDO: IF YOU COULD PLANT SEEDS OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD WHAT WOULD THOSE HOPES BE LIKE 100 YEARS FROM NOW?
A – KIA: Unity, peace, love, strength & overstanding who they are and where they came from.
Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN AND GIRLS TO COME FORWARD AND SPEAK THEIR TRUTHS BY SHARING THEIR STORIES OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE THEY’VE EXPERIENCED?
A – KIA: I would definitely encourage anyone who have experience abuse to let it out whether writing about it, talking about it, finding some creative outlet, anything to release the pain. Allowing the pain to remain built up is like hot lava in a contained environment, some point its going to explode. Find your strength and regain control of your life.
Q – RICARDO: DO YOU REGRET ANY DECISIONS YOU’VE MADE BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER THE TOXIC RELATIONSHIP?
A – KIA: I used to hate myself for allowing this person to have so much control over my life. I play certain moments back in my mind, seeing the signs, seeing the opportunities to leave, seeing myself fall apart and wondering how did I get here. Going through the what ifs, but what I’ve learned is, I would not be who I am today, if I had not gone through what I’ve gone through. I would not have recognized my strength, I would not have unlocked the power of my words, I would not have positioned myself in a way that would have such an impact on the lives of others and a monster would still be walking the streets preying on women and young girls. I do not regret my decisions, however, I do wish the people who took this journey with me did not have to feel the pain that came with it.
Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU MIND SHARING ABOUT YOUR ASPIRATIONS IN PLAYWRITING AND A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PLAYS, AND HOW THAT CRAFT HAS HELPED YOU MOVE FORWARD?
Interim House library; the facility has been completely renovated.
A- KIA: I never set out to be a playwright. I used to be a volunteer at the YWCA’s admin office downtown. One day I was approached by a coworker with the idea of helping her write a play to help raise money for their Interim House (a shelter for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors). I had never written or even thought about writing a play before, but I figured “how hard could it be.” I did some research and started writing, by the end I had written majority of the script – not trying to take over, but I felt in tune with the process. After that play the ideas kept coming. I do not find topics to write about, they find me! The first play was entitled “A Mere Image” (a play about domestic violence/sexual assault), next was “Undesirable Pleasures” (a play about addiction), then “Secrets Untold” (a play about a dysfunctional family and a manipulative outsider).
All these plays, although I didn’t see the connection while writing, in some way mirrored my personal life, but this current piece, “Strike 3” is deliberate. Strike 3 is not just about me – it is about the maltreatment of all Black and Brown people in this country at the hands of a corrupt system, and understanding that nothing will change until we decide to fight back! Writing has always been my passion and now I realize it is my purpose. Whether it is a poem or play, everything I do has a meaning behind it. The universe guides my words, and I would like to continue to inspire others with my work, while at the same time heal myself as writing is my therapy.
RICARDO: So many women and young girls have gone through horrendous and traumatic experiences of being victimized in domestic violence situations, sexual assaults, and physical, mental and emotional abuse, even well known celebrities and others have been physically abused and sexually assaulted, the likes of Mary J. Blige, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Oprah Winfrey, Rihana, Toni Braxton, and countless others all have experienced an ordeal where they were either abused or sexually assaulted. Many of the women and young girls who are known and less known share something in common, they all have experienced an unwanted victimization.
This writer has interviewed many people whose stories are impactful, but haven’t until now, found one to be as compelling and powerful as that of Kia Faison’s. Here we have a woman who endured physical, mental and emotional abuse for years, only to come out victoriously triumphant over her abuser and situation. It goes to show how one can overcome insurmountable challenges and still hold their head high with dignity. Kia is a sterling example of someone who experienced an abusive situation and yet began a healing process by sharing her story and TRUTH, (Truth Really Unveiled The Healing) in an effort to help others who have went through a similar storm. Her coping mechanism, in part, can be attributed to how she embraced the art of written expression.
In her new book “Expressions of an Empress: Within the Heart of a Warrior” she writes – “Any journey traveled where there are lessons learned is never a wasted trip… Always remember, you are worth saving, you are worth protecting, you are worth more…” — Kia Faison
It’s absolutely amazing how our women have seemingly overcome the madness of degradation, abuse, neglect, trauma and sexual assault, yet still triumph over those difficult moments and find so much purpose inside of themselves.
In reading her book, I learned so much about the power of words, they (words) can create any kind of situation both good or bad. Kia utilized her hidden power and defeated a monster who abused her and her daughter. Kia is a phenomenal playwright and has appeared in at least three plays so far, with her sights on many other productions and projects. The upcoming play ‘Strike 3’ at The International Institute, which Kia is a part of, is sure to have people on the edge of their seats. Among the themes that stands out to me in ‘Strike 3’ is, “No longer accepting the unacceptable.” These sort of outlets have given Kia an avenue to travel further on her journey to not only help herself fully heal, but provide a space for others in their quest for healing as well.
Another notable quote I read in her book is: “If you never step out of the shadows to spread your wings you will never know how high you can soar.” — Kia Faison Furthermore, this writer usually ends articles with his final note, but in this exclusive interview he is giving the final word to the interviewee, Ms. Faison. Kia’s final thought and message to anyone in an abusive situation… “You are not alone, you don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed, stand strong and most importantly, [Survive] by any means necessary! The only “victims” are those who didn’t make it out… don’t let the bullies and the cowards win.”
TRUTH REALLY UNVEILED: The Healing – Part Two ERICA LYNN GILLIS
By Ricardo Ferrell
VOD Staff Writer
VOD: Part two of this exclusive article covers the amazing Erica Lynn Gillis, another survivor who embraced healing techniques in dealing with the abuse she faced, coming soon!!
In this part two of the TRUTH series, I interviewed Erica Lynn Gillis, an author, motivational speaker, podcast host and transformational coach, as she shared with me her journey through a dark place indicative of being physically tormented and disregarded as a human being. Erica also shared the following: “After coming out of a place of being stuck and struggling all these years, I’ve come to a point where I was tired of being broke, battered and abused. This is when God started turning things around.”
Excerpt from her book; 7 Techniques of Healing: “Erica knows all too well the effects of not knowing your value. Her life was spiraling out of control until she made the decision to get help. In this book she shares some of her personal experiences with abuse and abandonment.”
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW W/ERICA LYNN, A SURVIVOR WHO MADE IT OUT AND DIDN’T LOOK BACK:
Q – RICARDO: WHAT WAS YOUR COPING MECHANISM WHEN YOU WERE IN THE ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP?
A – ERICA: The coping mechanism I used when I was in my abusive relationship came in different parts, one was when I wasn’t pregnant, I stayed high on marijuana and alcohol. I was such a young girl, I really didn’t know any better. I just knew I didn’t want to be a statistic and have my children grow up without a father like I did. I sacrificed myself for my children.
Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOU PULL YOUR STRENGTH FROM TO WALK AWAY AND NOT LOOK BACK?
A – ERICA: My strength came when I turned 28. I woke up one day and it was like a light bulb flashed on. You see, I was working 3 jobs at the time to make sure I covered my family financially, my ex-husband and I were sleeping in the basement on 2 mattresses on the floor in my sister’s house and the kids shared rooms with her kids. I remember being so emotionally drained that day. He had come from working a temp job and set my keys on the dresser and walked away. Later on in the day he had come for the keys and they were gone. We looked all over for those keys and could not find them. He started cursing and getting angry about not finding the keys. Then all of a sudden the house was quiet and my womanly intuition said go outside. When I went outside, he had his friend jack up the car, burst open the steering column and put a screwdriver inside so he could drive to work. I remember standing in the middle of the street jumping up & down crying and yelling asking him why didn’t he ask me, it was my car. Why would your brain tell you to do something like this and destroy my property, which is all I have to make it through?
What happened next, is what changed my mind forever. I told him he had to go pack his stuff and leave my sister’s house. I had had enough, it is my responsibility to make sure these children have a chance in life. He sat me down on the bed and for four hours he poked me in the middle of my forehead like I was his pet. Telling me how much he loved me, then in the next breath degrading me and treating me like I was nothing. Then four hours later after crying my eyes out, I asked him, “Are you done?” He said, “Yes, are we going to stay together?” I dried my tears and took a deep breath and told him to get the hell out.
To answer your question my strength came from wanting the possibility of giving my kids a fighting chance to be something in life.
Q – RICARDO: HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD STRONG FAITH IN THE LORD?
A – ERICA: Although I was raised in church and had faith as a young child after I got older and men started tearing me apart I walked away from the church and my faith in God.
Q – RICARDO: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG WOMAN THAT MAY EXPERIENCE THE SAME ABUSE THAT YOU ONCE FACED?
A – ERICA: The advice I would give a young woman that experienced the same abuse that I once faced is don’t ignore the signs when they first show up in the relationship. Don’t bury yourself in your own mind because you will wake up one day and find that you don’t really exist. The most important thing to know is that there is sun at the end of the rainbow. Although things might be challenging now God looks over all of us and you will come through this and look back not to dwell, but to be a blessing for someone else.
Q – RICARDO: DO YOU FIND SOLACE IN WRITING ABOUT YOUR PAST ENCOUNTERS AND CHALLENGES?
A – ERICA: Yes, I find solace in writing about my encounters and challenges of my past because not only did it allow me to heal, but the feeling I received when men and women reach out to me to tell me how my book has blessed and inspired them.
Q – RICARDO: WHERE DID YOUR INSPIRATION COME FROM IN WRITING 7 TECHNIQUES OF HEALING?
A – ERICA: My inspiration in writing 7 Techniques of Healing first came from a concept of finding something to write about. I kept praying and praying and was working on myself and one morning I woke up and God gave me the word Healing. After writing it down, I took each letter and made a word out of it. H-Heal, E-Educate, A-Action, L-Learn, I-Inspire, N-Need, G-Growth. It was perfect. These are the steps I went through to get my own healing, now it is time to help all those I can to get their healing to.
Q – RICARDO: AS HOST OF 1 STEP BEYOND U PODCAST, WHAT TOPICS DO YOU DISCUSS?
A – ERICA: The topics I discuss started from me interviewing different guests on my show during the first season with titles such as: Living in Fear in Your Own Mind; Know Where You’re Going and How to Get There; Getting Fit and Learning Better Eating Habits; Blueprint for Success; and Getting God Involved – just to name a few. Now my subjects are: How to Find Your Balance, The Element of Elimination, Watch Your Words and I recently completed a 3 part series on Setting Your Goals. My podcast is: 1 Step Beyond U on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/1stepbeyonduEricaLynn/ and it play on my YouTube channel titled Erica Lynn Gilllis.www.youtube.com/channel/UCHERHLXmYOropS8LY96utVVg. Instagram @1stepbeyondu.
Q – RICARDO: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTER?
A – ERICA: I have three children, a 23 year-old son that lives in Taiwan, 21 year-old daughter that also lives in Taiwan, and 18 year-old son that lives here in the states. My children are all gifted and talented in music and the arts. It was a bit difficult at first to have three children that sing, dance, rap, make music, and model, they drove me nuts. If you know anything about creative children, you have to be a parent that thinks outside-the-box to allow their creativity to flow. My oldest son Q’lante has a full four- year scholarship to Taiwan University; he also is a rapper and make and mixes beats, he is a force to be reckoned with. His passion and hobby is b-boy dancing. My daughter Deja is a model, a singer, an actress, an excellent writer, and a blogger. She originally went to Taiwan first on a 4 year scholarship to college because she speaks fluent Chinese. My son Jalen is a professional skater, he recently came in first place in a big competition and was named champion.
Q – RICARDO: IF YOU COULD PLANT SEEDS OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD – WHAT WOULD THOSE HOPES BE LIKE 100 YEARS FROM NOW?
A – ERICA: They would look like a place of happiness and forgiveness. Sometimes in order for God to move you to another level you have to forgive yourself first in order to forgive someone else. When that is done, a place of peace, happiness and joy will take over your world. I heard a pastor once say, joy will come in the morning, things may not seem like they will change in your favor, but as long as you will have faith, things will change and your joy will come in the morning.
Q – RICARDO: WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE MORE WOMEN & GIRLS TO SPEAK THEIR TRUTHS BY SHARING STORIES OF PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE THEY’VE EXPERIENCED?
A – ERICA: Yes, absolutely, I would definitely encourage more women and girls to speak their truth by sharing stories of physical, mental and emotional abuse because when you hold it in, you hold yourself in bondage. Bondage to the nightmares, bondage to the pain and negative thoughts. When you open up not only do you become free, but you allow someone else to walk you during your time or healing. When I shared a secret with my sister Darlene at 43 years of age, she said, “First of all, I’m sorry that happened to you, but I want you to know you are no longer alone and I will walk with you.” You see, the devil wants you isolated, this is where he can attack your mind the most, but when you open up you allow God to send his people to bless and help heal you, this is when the unity begins.
Erica’s healing started the moment she came to the realization that she had to do more than sit around and wait for her pain and abuse to go away. She connected to the core essence of her healing by identifying and becoming the best version of herself. One particular technique she utilized was deep concentrated breathing exercises, where she would inhale & exhale and say to herself, “I forgive myself” or “I forgive the other person.” This proved to be invaluable, in that, she found power in forgiveness, which catapulted her into a brand new space of letting go of the pain that had held her captive for so long. In her pursuit to find herself, Erica began a new journey inclusive of changing her thinking, as well as an adaptation to a new attitude about life. What she discovered was that her behavior started to change as she embraced the renewed way of thinking. She soon realized that her dependency on drugs & alcohol started to fade away and she had now stepped into her healing process.
Quoting something Erica wrote in 7 Techniques of Healing, which caught my attention and made perfectly good sense; “On this journey of self-discovery, you will learn a lot about yourself and when you’re able to stand in your truth, own it and move on, then you would have reached another level.” This is so true and if anyone out there is struggling to heal from their pain, agony, abuse and self-destruction – you only need to search within yourself to find the answers and solutions to your problems. Erica mentions the road to discovery is the road you seek. Do not stop when the lesson gets hard and you feel like balling up, and shutting down and crying. It’s okay to cry according to Erica Lynn, “But do not let your tears consume you and stop you from learning your lesson. Avoid living in your fears, live past them. I think that is such a powerful statement because all too often, we let fear stop us, we let fear dictate to us that we cannot go forth and be one of God’s greatest creations,” says Erica.
In the Action part of the healing technique, Erica writes: “Have you ever met someone that says they want to lose fifty or one hundred pounds? But, every day, you see them smoking, partying, drinking, and catching the munchies in the mental daze of life. This person lacks self-control, using the kids as an excuse to cook unhealthy fatty foods. They barely exercise since working out and getting high at the same time don’t quite mix. And people would often remind this person of the enormous potential they have and that they have to realize it for themselves.”
“That person was me until I began to take action in my life and change all the things that had been holding me back for years, which quite frankly was myself,” says Erica. We must applaud women like Erica Lynn Gillis and Kia Faison because despite their past encounters and challenges in dealing with abusive relationships replete with domestic abuse and sexual assault, coupled with physical, mental and emotional abuse, they are still standing and have survived some of the worse situations a human being can endure. Erica Lynn is CEO of 1 Step Beyond U, LLC and uses that platform to allow people to air their concerns and not be judged for sharing intricate and sensitive aspects of their lives.
Erica shared how it was when she unveiled the real truth was she able to begin her healing. Among the lessons/exercises you’ll find in 7 Techniques of Healing is in the Educate/Empower section, where the author (Erica Lynn) lays out some steps for those seeking to change their situation as follows.
“I want you to write down three situations or things that have held you back. These situations or things have most likely held you back in life and are what you need healing from. It could be something obstructing your pathway to the next level in your career. It could be a family situation that you cannot dust off your shoulder. Whatever it is, write it down. This is your first step towards education and empowerment. You have made an agreement with yourself that it is time to let go of what is stopping you and lay it in God’s hand.” — Erica Lynn
Another message in her book that resonated and caught my attention towards the end was when Erica referenced my man Shawn Carter, writing, “In the words of rapper, Jay-Z, ‘Gon’ dust your shoulders off,’ and move on. Move into that level of growth that when someone sees you they say, “something is different about you, I just can’t put my finger on it.”
Writer’s final note, let me say this, Erica, you have shown all of us who have read your story and followed your journey that we too have the power to change our lives for the better and we definitely can move one step beyond ourselves and embrace our true purpose in life. Thank you for sharing your story with me and everyone here at Voice of Detroit. I would also like to extend a special shout out to your best friend since the sixth grade, Novah Jackson for her assistance in this interview with the electronic messaging.
ERICA LYNN; KEEP HEALING, YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE DEPENDS ON IT!!
Charles Lewis, in prison 42 years for a crime he did not commit, stands proudly Oct.17 to hear that he is now a free man, as Judge Qiana Lillard reads her decision on his juvenile lifer case. With the 37-60 year sentence, and his prison good time, he was released the following day. With him are (l to r) defense investigator Michael Lynch, mitigation expert Jessica Carrier, defense attorney Sanford Schulman.
LEWIS RE-SENTENCED TO 37-60 YRS; WALKS OUT OF PRISON NEXT DAY
Courageous decision by Judge Lillard in face of pros. request for 50-100 yrs.
Joyous mother Rosie Lewis: “God shined his light!”
Polygraph expert J. P. Carey (former criminal investigator) says conflicting police reports led him to believe Lewis likely innocent, though not yet exonerated
“When I was sentenced in that court at 17, I vowed to learn the law to win my freedom;” — Lewis, who helped many others as jail-house lawyer
Now meeting with friends to make plans to resume musical career; as expert musician he organized, played in prison bands across Michigan
By Diane Bukowski
October 20, 2017
Atty. Kenneth Cockrel, Sr.
Judge Joseph Maher
DETROIT–In November, 1977, skilled young Black musician, student, and family caretaker Charles Lewis, 17, stood before Recorders Court Judge Joseph Maher, who the late attorney Kenneth Cockrel Sr. termed a virulent racist, to hear that he would spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he and eyewitnesses swore he did not commit.
On October 17, 2019, 42 years later, he and his legal team led by defense attorney Sanford Schulman stood before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard. She told Lewis he is now a free man, resentenced to 37-60 years, under U.S. Supreme Court rulings banning mandatory juvenile life without parole. His good time credits, restored to Michigan juvenile lifers as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Michigan ACLU, led to his immediate release from the Macomb Correctional Facility the following day, no strings attached.
Above: Judge Lillard announces 37-60 year resentencing after thoroughly reading file documents; cites inhuman treatment of Lewis in prison, other discrepancies; role Miller v. Alabama factors played in childhood
It was a courageous ruling by Judge Lillard, in particular because Lewis was convicted of killing off-duty police officer Gerald Sypitkowski (despite testimony by the officer’s partner and eyewitnesses who identified a different perpetrator). Judge Lillard paged through reams of documentation as she gave her ruling. It included a prison disciplinary record cited by the prosecution, which defense witness Michael Stapleton, an MDOC expert, said was typical of youth thrown into a hostile environment. Stapleton said Lewis is no threat to society. She condemned in particular a 1989 incident where officials put Lewis in the hole because he refused to kneel and spread his cheeks for no reason.
She also noted defense investigator Michael Lynch’s work, derived from 1970’s newspaper articles describing attacks on Black students whose families, like that of Lewis, had just moved into a mainly-white enclave on the city’s northeast aide. Lynch located many of Lewis former neighbors, including Michael ‘Mo’ Hollis, a childhood friend who went on to a prominent musical career and is now assisting Lewis to resume his own.
ABOVE: Channel 4’s Koco McAboy interviewed Lewis and his attorney Sanford Schulman the morning of his release. Both Channel 4 and Detroit News reporter Oralandar Brand-Williams have faithfully covered Lewis’ 4 year struggle, as shown in Channel 4’s multiple videos from hearings through those years. See Brand-Williams article linked below story.
Lynch also unearthed the true origins of the neighborhood youth group police and media claimed Lewis belonged to, the “Kilbourne Killers,” a/k/a the “K.K. Capones.” One neighbor termed it a self-defense “anti-racist alliance” and others said it was NOT a gang. Lewis’ stepfather Herbert Lewis said that his family thought they were moving into a better neighborhood, but it turned out they had moved into a “powder keg.”
Polygraph examiner/ investigator J.Paul Carey: Lewis’ exams inconclusive due to heart condition, length of incarceration; but inconsistent DPD records show Lewis likely innocent.
Defense attorney Schulman’s team also included mitigation expert Jessica Carrier, forensic polygraph examiner/former police investigator J.P. Carey, and psychiatrists Dr. Colin King and Dr. Daniel Keating. Atty. Schulman compiled the research into a stunning 81 page sentencing memorandum at
The MDOC evidently has not changed much since the 1989 incident where Lewis was sent to the hole for refusing to kneel and spread.
“They put me in the hole when I got back to Macomb Correctional Facility,” Lewis told VOD, despite the fact he was a free man at that point. He spent the night in a basement cell with a mattress and a blanket waiting to be processed out. His sister picked him up early the next morning and took him home.
“Tomorrow I plan to be on a G-5 Lear Jet on my way to Paris,” Lewis added with a chuckle, joking but seriously referring to his plans to resume his musical career,
Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis, who has fought for her son’s freedom ever since he was jailed, told VOD, “I’m feeling like God has shined on me, he’s just got the spotlight on me. It’s real, my son is alive, he’s well and he’s free. God made him, he didn’t make him to put his hand to no bullets to kill anybody. Lamont is humble, he is thankful.”
Rosie Lewis (center), mother of Charles Lewis and his supporters after Oct. 13, 2017 hearing.
Lewis’ family always called him by his middle name “Lamont,” which was his first name on his original birth certificate as Lamont Hilyard. He was later adopted by his stepfather Herbert Lewis.
Mrs. Lewis reported that her son spent the weekend with his two young grand-nieces, giving them one of his guitars and teaching them how to play it.
“They just love their uncle,” Mrs. Lewis rejoiced. She said he also spent time with his nephew “T.J.,” (Terrence Lewis) who helped Mrs. Lewis move to her daughter’s out-of-state home, where she is now living due to her medical needs. The Facebook video below was posted by T.J, showing Rosie and Herbert Lewis with Charles Lamont (right), sister Stephanie (left of Lamont), and baby Wendy Lewis.
During his decades of incarceration, Lewis, the oldest of five siblings who cared for them while his parents worked, always remembered their birthdays and those of his nieces and nephews, making sure to call each on their day. He also provided advice and guidance to them all.
The video above has song “I’m coming home” playing in the background. To hear video, start it, then click on the F (Facebook) icon.
Lewis has proposed joining his mother there for some time to give her joy in her remaining years.
Everyone VOD has spoken to regarding Lewis’ musical talents have said they are “world-class,” from a guard at Macomb who plays the bass guitar to prisoners who have heard him perform across Michigan, playing keyboards, guitar and numerous other instruments, writing his own music, and organizing concerts for prison bands. Lewis also sent a copy of a CD of his music, compiled by his brother David, to Judge Lillard. Judge Lillard expressed her appreciation of the skilled music she heard.
Michael Hollis, a childhood friend who went on to a successful musical career of his own, told defense investigators, “It makes me cry to think of my best friend who is every bit as good as I, maybe better, but for a twist of fate ended up in such a different place.”
The outline of this sketch was drawn in 1976 by a DPD evidence technician. Referencing testimony at second trial, VOD has added a red line with a white Lincoln Mark IV showing the path of that car. Also a green line showing route juveniles said they took at scene, stating Officer Sypitkowski was killed at bus stop to the right, where no forensic evidence found. Sypitkowski’s partner and other eyewitnesses said they were directly west of Barrett outside Oty’s Bar when they said they saw gunfire from the Lincoln Mark IV and Sypitkowski fall, mortally wounded.
Lewis’ potentially brilliant musical career was cruelly cut short when he was falsely arrested Aug. 2, 1976 for the murder of off-duty police officer Gerald Sypitkowski. The killing occurred in a Detroit northeast side neighborhood rife with racist attacks on Black youths by white civilians and police officers opposing the integration of the previously all-white enclaves.
Defense investigator Michael Lynch thoroughly combed the neighborhood to get statements from residents still living there, and others who had moved. They identified the “Kilbourne Killers/KK. Capones, termed a “gang” by police and media, instead as an “anti-racist” self-defense alliance.
The initial joy juvenile lifers across the U.S. experienced when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Miller v. Alabama in 2012, outlawing mandatory juvenile life without parole, was also cut short. Over half of Michigan’s juvenile lifers, 63 percent, have not yet been released.
Lewis faced a singularly uphill battle since he was convicted of killing a white police officer, albeit an off-duty officer in civilian clothes, who had just left a bar and would not have been recognizable as a police officer.
Henry Montgomery being booked
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Montgomery v. Louisiana, which declared Miller retroactive. The case was that of Henry Montgomery, a 17-year-old Black youth accused of killing a white deputy sheriff also dressed in civilian clothes. Montgomery, now 70, was resentenced to life WITH parole but so far has twice been denied release by the state’s parole board.
Most parole boards base their decisions on the original crime, not evidence of rehabilitation,” according to a study in Outline magazine, “The False Hope of Parole.”
“A nationwide survey of parole boards found in 2008 that the top two factors they consider are ‘crime severity’ and ‘crime type,’ writes author Katie Rose Quandt. “Five of the top ten factors relate to the original crime, and just one — “offender institutional behavior” — has anything to do with rehabilitation.”
She adds later, “Black youths suspected of killing a white person . . .make up about 23 percent of juvenile murder arrests — and more than 42 percent of juveniles serving life without parole.”
AP Tom Dawson argues for Lewis to be resentenced to 50-100 years.
Lewis, however, will never have to face a parole board, an issue which caused AP Tom Dawson extreme dismay.
Assistant Prosecutor Tom Dawson, red-faced, argued for a sentence of 50-100 years which would have forced Lewis to face the parole board. Dawson claimed that the “benefits” of re-entry programs during that time would help Lewis adjust.
Dawson’s proposed sentence is not authorized under the state’s juvenile lifer resentencing statutes, which limit term of years sentences to 60 year maximums.
Lewis has been in the MDOC Re-Entry Unit at Macomb Correctional Facility since Nov. 2018, after it appeared that prosecution would agree to a term of years sentence. He has taken numerous classes, including the well-known “Chance for Life.” But the sentence Dawson recommended would have forced Lewis to face a parole board that likely would NEVER release him.
Supporters from the Islamic Mellanic Palace of the Rising Sun gather outside Lewis’ courtroom Oct. 18, 2019.
Supporters who came to the second day of Lewis’ re-sentencing said NOTHING is offered to prisoners who leave on parole. Some also were at a packed memorial Oct. 19 for Morris Martin, Sr., founder of the Islamic Mellanic Palace of the Rising Sun, who worked tirelessly with Lewis and others to assist newcomers to the MDOC, educating and advising them on their legal and human rights, and assisting them with filing pro se appeals.
Dozens of those former prisoners, many who like Lewis spent more than 40 years in the MDOC, spoke out passionately at the memorial on what they learned from Martin. The Mellanic Palace recognizes as its true founder Nat Turner, the famed kidnapped African who organized a rebellion of slaves in Southampton, VA in Aug. 1831.
Martin passed away Oct. 5, 2019 after spending 48 years in prison, at the age of 69. He had been ill for some time, but continued fighting for his fellow prisoners, who said at the memorial that he woke up writing documents on his typewriter and went to bed the same way, while teaching numerous prisoners to become “jailhouse lawyers.”
Martin won many legal cases, including the noted Martin v. Department of Corrections, which said the rules of the MDOC had to be “promulgated,” meaning they had to be made known to all parties including prisoners.
Nat Turner led a famed slave rebellion on July 4, 1831, and was later hanged, drawn and quartered, along with many of his fellow rebels, for their heroic resistance. The rebellion called primarily for the human right to education and literacy. Others won many of its demands later.
One day out of prison, Charles Lewis sat at Martin’s memorial, paying tribute to his mentor and comrade.
Charles Lewis honed his prodigious musical skills throughout his years in prison, leading jazz, rock and rap bands, organizing concerts, playing and writing his own music. He hopes to revive his musical career on his release from 44 years in prison, unjustly convicted.
Final mitigation hearing after 3 ½ years Tues. Oct. 15 9 a.m—Judge Qiana Lillard, Rm. 502 FMHJ
Defense says Lewis is not “the rare child” who is irredeemable, files a stunning 87 pp. brief including expert testimony and research
Brief attests to extreme racist hostility that existed in Lewis’ neighborhood during his youth, Lewis’ efforts to succeed as student, musician in its face
By Diane Bukowski
Charles Lewis, now 60 yrs. old.
DETROIT – After 44 years of incarceration, and over 3 ½ years of juvenile lifer resentencing hearings, Charles Lewis may finally see his “light come shining” at his mitigation hearing Tues. Oct. 15 at 9 a.m. in front of Judge Qiana Lillard.
He said he is focused on building a bright future for himself and his loved ones, including a promising, likely brilliant musical career that was brutally cut short when Detroit police arrested him Aug. 1, 1976 for the alleged murder of an off-duty police officer.
“I don’t have any hate in my heart toward anyone for what has happened,” Lewis told VOD. “In fact I am glad that the three teens who testified against me didn’t have to go through what I have gone through in prison, because it is very hard for ANYONE to survive in here.”
Lewis was convicted on the strength of the teens’ testimony, elicited under threat they would also be charged. But numerous eyewitnesses at the scene, including the officer’s partner, testified that they saw someone else shoot the officer. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas noted in a 2006 opinion that the teens’ version of the shooting was “a scientific impossibility,” and that none of the eyewitnesses said they saw a group of Black teens at the scene.
One of the witnesses expected to testify at the Oct. 15 hearing is Michael Hollis, Lewis’ childhood friend who has had a long musical career and even played in front of two sitting U.S. Presidents. He says in his witness statement that he did not know what had happened to Lewis until his band played at one of the prisons where Lewis was incarcerated.
Hollis told defense investigators, “It makes me cry to think of my best friend who is every bit as good as I, maybe better, but for a twist of fate ended up in such a different place.”
Atty. Sanford Schulman
Lewis’ attorney Sanford Schulman filed a stunning, moving 87-page brief for this hearing, with affidavits from expert witnesses including a polygraph examiner, a psychiatrist, a mitigation expert, a sentencing expert, and others. They state emphatically that Lewis was not “the rare child” who deserves to die in prison, described in Supreme Court rulings outlawing juvenile life without parole. (Miller v. Alabama2012 and Montgomery v. Louisiana 2016.)
The polygraph examiner, a former police officer himself, reported that while results of lie detector tests about the crime Lewis was convicted of were “inconclusive” due to Lewis’ various heart-related ailments, he strongly believes Lewis is innocent.
The brief includes a lengthy history of the times and location where Lewis came of age, compiled by the various experts. It cites multiple newspaper articles describing extreme racist hostility toward Black families moving into the predominantly white Northeast side where Lewis and his family lived, and toward Black children, who were constantly harassed, threatened and robbed by white children.
“White children would chase Black students with cars, jump out of cars with canes, sticks, throw bricks, and chase Black students with dogs,” says the brief. It describes numerous instances of police harassment of Black children as well, stops during which police told them they were not supposed to “be there.”
Ruby Kennedy, the mother of Mark Kennedy (one of the teens who testified under duress against Lewis) told defense investigators that Black mothers recruited Vietnam veterans to defend their children.
It says white children in the area formed a gang called the “White Knights.” Robert Lathan, a neighborhood child at the time, said that a loose-knit association formed by Black children called the “Kilbourne Kapones Killers” was “an alliance against racism. I joined so I wouldn’t have to take the bullcrap.”
Other neighbors who were children at the time said they adopted that name as a means of frightening off their white attackers but denied that the group was a “gang.”
Some newspaper articles on the killing of off-duty police officer Robert Sypitkowski on July 31, 1976 described Lewis as a leader of the “Kilbourne Killers” gang. However, the brief says that after Lewis’ arrest, two adult prisoners in the Wayne County Jail threatened him with rape, but another adult prisoner read out loud a newspaper article about Lewis’ arrest for killing a police officer, to frighten them off.
That prisoner told Lewis to use the nickname “KK” to stave off future threats. Lewis is still known across the MDOC and among many former prisoners as “KK.” Many MDOC prisoners are known only by such tags.
The first newspaper article on the killing of Sypitkowski, done at the scene directly after the murder, identified only Sypitkowski’s partner and other white eyewitnesses to the killing, and their account of the perpetrator in a white Lincoln Mark IV. No Black teens were identified as present.
The next day, the Freep completely changed the story, with no by-lines, abandoned the white Lincoln Mark IV issue, and substituted Sgt. Hill’s version. White Boy Rick has said Hill covered up many murders.
Later, the Freep published an article on Lewis’ arrest and identified him as a member of the “K.K. Kapones” gang without substantiation.
The brief also describes vicious attacks by Detroit police on Lewis’ family after his arrest.
In one instance, it says, during a police invasion of the Lewis home on Kilbourne, police slit the throat of the “seeing-eye” dog belonging to Lewis’ younger blind brother, in front of his young siblings, 13, 12, 9 and 5, and hung it from a revolving ceiling fan so that its blood sprayed the entire family.
The home was thoroughly vandalized by police, forcing the Lewises to move and scattering the family.
Retired Detroit police officer Dennis Van Fleteren/Facebook
The brief also cites the testimony at Lewis’ second trial of Officer Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren, who said the two were off-duty, in street clothes, and had been drinking at Oty’s Bar on Harper and Barrett, off East I- 94.
“Van Fleteren testified that sometime before 1:30 a.m., Sypitkowski left the bar and headed down Harper Street,” says the brief, citing page numbers of the testimony.
“Van Fleteren testified further that he was talking to Sypitkowski when a white Mark IV pulled up on Harper with lights out next to Sypitkowski. He further testified that he saw Sypitkowski fall into the street and simultaneously heard a shotgun blast coming from the driver’s side of the white Mark IV. Van Fleteren testified that he ran into the street and attempted to stop the Mark IV by waving his hands and the driver of the Mark IV sped up and nearly ran him down. Van Fleteren testified that he crouched down . . .and memorized the license plate number. Van Fleteren testified that at the time of the incident he thought that the shot that killed his partner came from the white Mark IV. And, that there was no other traffic in the streets.”
The brief adds that Van Fleteren “stands by his testimony today.”
DPD Investigator report shows charges dropped for two of juveniles who testified against Lewis.
The brief says further that even if the testimony of the three juveniles was true, their actions that night were typical of the “impetuosity of youth,” and showed no intent to murder anyone, constituting only a “botched robbery.” It stresses that Sypitkowski “was off-duty that day and on vacation for two weeks. He was in civilian clothes, an orange shirt and blue pants. It would have been impossible for any stranger to identify him as a police officer.”
It notes further that weaknesses in the prosecution’s case included the fact that the three juveniles were originally co-defendants and served no time for the crime, and that no gun was ever found.
The brief says Lewis was turned in to an attorney, Gerald Lorence, by an aunt, for representation, but instead was confronted by then Detroit Police Sgt. Gil Hill and arrested. It says Lewis was never interviewed, never admitted to the crime, and never had his alibi witnesses checked out.
Ominously, it says that one of the juvenile’s stepfathers sent a note to Rosie Lewis through her foreman at the Mack Stamping Plant, where they both worked, the Friday before the officer’s killing but that she did not find it until Monday. Over the weekend, the stepfather was shot to death by his wife, Bernice Warren.
Husband and wofe Prosecutors Tom Dawson and Lori Dawson listen as defense atty.Clinton Hubbell argues for the sentence of 10 to 40 yrs. originally granted to juvenile lifer Cortez Davis by Judge Vera Massey Jones, who said she did not believe he was incorrigible. Davis was not the shooter in the crime he was accused at 16. and took care of himself and his homeless siblings. He went on to have a stellar record in prison and was also a staff writer for VOD. The Dawsons argued he should have received a 28-60 year sentence, but he was released after the 25 years the new judge imposed on him.
AP Tom Dawson does not include the testimony of Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren or anyone else who testified that his killer was driving a white Lincoln Mark IV, focusing solely on the three juveniles’ statements to police. It does not include any interviews with those who best knew and know Charles Lewis. It cites Lewis’ disciplinary record while in prison but does not cite MDOC Corrections Specialist Richard Stapleton’s report that Lewis’ disciplines were typical of youthful offenders who are placed in an extremely hostile adult environment, and over the years find ways of coping, leading to fewer disciplines. Stapleton recommended Lewis’ release and said he does not represent a threat to the community.
Parroting the Michigan Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling last year in Hyatt/Skinner, Dawson says:
“Neither the statute or Miller requires that the court make a specific finding of fact or that the People prove a specific fact prior to the imposition of a sentence of life without the possiblity of parole. “Indeed, there is language in Montgojmery that suggest that the juvenile offender bears the burden of showing that life without parole is not the appropriate sentence by introducing mitigating evidence.” People v Skinner, 502 Mich 89, 131 (2018). MCL 769.25 and Miller simply require that the sentencing court consider the factors enumerated in Miller as well as any other relevant criteria prior to deciding whether to sentence a juvenile offender to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ultimately, the court’s decision to impose life without the possiblity of parole is not a factual finding, but a moral judgment which is based upon a careful and considered review of the Miller factors and any other elevant consideration. see People v skinner, 502 Mich 89 (2018).”
Attorneys for the two defendants in that case are pursuing all available appeals, citing the Hyatt-Skinner’s deliberate defiance of the provisions of Miller and Montgomery.
Dawson says without proof that Lewis and the three juveniles who testified against him were members of “The Kilbourne Killer,” despite the fact that one disavowed any such membership, and others of Lewis’ contemporaries say the “gang” was actually an “anti-racist alliance.”
Judge Joseph Maher, Lewis’ trial judge, was a blatant racist.
Dawson says also that Judge Joseph Maher declared a “hung jury” in Lewis first trial, but there is no existing transcript that says that. Judge Deborah Thomas said she “thoroughly reviewed” the first transcript and found no evidence that either the defense or the prosecution had called for a mistrial, or any evidence that the jury itself reported it was hung.
The prosecution relies only on “clerk’s notes” in the scraps of the first transcript that are left, which state a hung jury was declared, with no evidence from the transcript.
The prosecution says, “The evidence shows that the Defendant was the leader of the criminal gang in his neighborhood. The evidence further demonstrates that the Defendant is the one that suggested that the group commit a robbery on this fateful night and that he directed the other young men and told them what to do. Thus, the Defendant’s family and home environment does not mitigate in favor of a term of years sentence.”
However, the defense’s statement completely contradicts that, giving a clear history of the origins of the so-called “Kilbourne Killers/Kapones” with two other youths in the neighborhood, and its purposes of self-defense against racist attacks.
Dawson paints Lewis’ early life as a storybook childhood, but interviews the defense conducted with his family show that it was far from that, with Lewis subjected to constant violence from his stepfather as well as enemies on the street and in the schools, and constant illnesses. The prosecution did not talk directly to any family members, all of whom are anticipating Lewis’ release with joy. Even his stepfather, in his witness statement, says he regrets his treatment of Lewis and his neglect of acting as a father figure for him.
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