By Diane Bukowski
DETROIT – “On May 3, 2010, at 3:38 a.m., Mrs. Danielle Jameson and Paul Jameson made a 91l call,” Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Trzcinski said as he set the scene in his opening statement Mar. 2 in the trial of Jason Alexander Gibson, 27, for the murder of Detroit police sergeant Brian Huff and the wounding of three other officers last May.
“The call was a report of a B & E [breaking and entering] in progress, shots fired,” Trzcinski said. Shortly afterwards, he reported, “Officer [Sgt. Brian] Huff, a large man, over 6 feet, and close to 400 pounds, with a large flashlight, gun still holstered, is on the front porch. [His partner Joseph] D’Angelo flips a chain wire fence to be in a position to see the backyard.”
“Officer [John] Dunlap hears Huff announce “Police,” and kick the door. He perhaps made it a few steps inside. Mr. Gibson is waiting on Huff . . . .Officer Huff never had a chance.”
Trzcinski then described how Huff, a 12-year Detroit police veteran, was shot twice in the head and neck, with one shot severing his brain stem. A slight man, Trzcinski dramatically acted out the scene, standing close to a jury of 15 members, including six African-Americans.
Gibson is facing 18 counts of murder, assault with intent to murder, and related charges, in the incident which included a wild shoot-out at 20263 Schoenherr near Eight Mile on Detroit’s east side. His trial is taking place in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway, who endured an assault from the daily media last year for giving Smith bond in a 2009 CCW case, which has not yet been adjudicated.
Some have contended that the duplex where Huff died was used to store drugs for distribution by the police, and that Huff may have been set up. A close friend of Huff’s said he reportedly blew the whistle on other officers for illegal deeds several years previously. (See VOD article, “More brutality and corruption likely under police chief Ralph Godbee,” at http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=5112 .)
Several weeks before his death, according to relatives, Huff and his family traveled to San Diego, possibly to seek other employment.
The scenario set up by Trzcinski, and testimony given by next door neighbor Paul Jameson on Mar. 3, contradicted much of the testimony from Gibson’s preliminary exam last June 3.
During that exam, Jameson testified that he reported “three thumps,” not gunshots, in the backyard of the house during the 911 call. Although Trzcinski entered into evidence hundreds of other items including photographs, bullets, shell casings and blood samples Mar. 2 and 3, the tape of the 911 call was not among them.
Huff’s partner Joseph D’Angelo testified at the preliminary exam that their car arrived on the scene first, and that he and Huff approached the house, Huff from the front and D’Angelo from the back, prior to the arrival of back-up. D’Angelo said he did not witness Huff’s shooting, but arrested Jason Gibson at the rear of the house and handcuffed him to a fence. (See article by this reporter, who covered the entire exam, at http://michigancitizen.com/answers-sought-in-cops-death-p8708-1.htm ).
However, during his opening statement Mar. 2, Trzcinski said a cordon of officers “embraced” (surrounded) the house prior to Huff’s entry.
Under direct questioning, Jameson greatly expanded on what he said at the preliminary exam. Two police officers in plainclothes entered the courtroom just before his testimony and sat in the front row of the audience.
Trzcinski avoided asking Jameson what he reported during the 911 call. Jameson, who lives at 20251 Schoenherr, on the south side of the house where Sgt. Huff died, said this time that he heard “loud kicks,” one of which he determined came from outside the house.
He said he exited his house, armed with a Smith and Wesson .45 pistol for which he has a CCW, looked over his privacy fence at the backyard of the duplex, but saw nothing amiss. He testified he then proceeded to the front of his house and took cover behind a tree there, dropping to one knee and holding his gun out with both hands.
“Then I can see lights moving throughout the house,” he said, noting they appeared to be flashlights on the first and second levels.
“I could hear a police officer vehicle coming down Schoenherr pretty fast, with no siren on,” Jameson said. “Its engines were revved up. It made a U-turn and came back in front of the house. At the same time another car pulled up in front of my tree and an officer got out and tapped me on the shoulder.”
He said he told the officer what he had observed and informed him he was the source of the call.
“More and more officers were coming to the scene in patrol cars,” Jameson said. “Some were unmarked, but pretty much all were uniformed officers.”
During the preliminary exam, undercover officers Joseph Dunlap and Brian Glover said they were present at the scene in a black unmarked van. A neighbor from the north side of the house told this reporter last year that the black van was parked in the driveway of the duplex, and that large garbage bags were outside the van.
Photographs of a white van in the driveway were included in the exhibits entered by Trzcinski, but no photograph of a black van or nearby bags was entered into evidence.
Although Dunlop and Glover testified last year that they saw Gibson exit the duplex, gun blazing, Jameson made no reference to seeing him from his prime vantage point, during his testimony Mar. 3.
“I saw officers gathering in front,” Jameson said. “Officer Huff was coming on the scene then. He kind of like took charge. He was rallying people behind him, in uniform, then pretty much looking through a crack in the door. Two or three officers were close behind. I think he was the only one on the porch.”
Jameson began sniffing and crying, although he did not cry during the preliminary exam. A deputy sheriff provided him with tissues.
“I remember Huff looking back and asking, ‘Are you guys ready?’” Jameson testified. “He said ‘police,’ kicks the door open, and I observed him go in the house. Almost immediately I heard two or three gunshots, inside. There was a brief pause, then there were multiple shots outside.”
Jameson testified that after he heard officers moaning that they were shot, he dragged one behind his tree, then helped another officer drag Huff out of the house down at least four concrete steps. He said he was holding one leg while the officer held another, and that Huff was on his “belly.” \
He said he observed blood coming out of Huff’s head after they got him on the ground.
Jameson testified that he and three other officers tried to get Huff into a police car, and he attempted CPR, which he learned while serving in the army. He said that an EMS vehicle “finally” arrived, and that he noticed Huff’s gun was still holstered when one of the EMS technicians told them to take Huff’s belt off.
At that point in the testimony, Melissa Huff, Huff’s wife, left the courtroom and could be heard loudly sobbing outside. Judge Hathaway adjourned the trial in the middle of Jameson’s testimony for the day, at about 3:40 p.m.
Prior to Jameson’s testimony, Police Officers Thomas Smith and Raymond Diaz, who are evidence technicians, spent most of Mar. 2 and 3 verifying items that Trzcinski entered into evidence.
On cross-examination by Gibson’s attorney Susan Reed, they said they arrived at the scene at 4:40 a.m., approximately an hour after the 911 call, and stayed until 3 or 4 p.m. They testified that two civilian forensics technicians did not arrive to dust for fingerprints until 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. that morning, and stayed for only a few hours.
Smith said that as evidence technicians, they select items to examine, sometimes at the direction of the officer in charge of the scene. He said neither a blue plastic container nor a large plastic baggie of marijuana, located in the dining room of the house, were dusted for fingerprints. He said the plastic container had a rough surface but could have been taken to the lab for fingerprinting using a different process. It was, however, left at the house along with beer and pop bottles and cans from which DNA samples were taken.
Smith and Diaz identified numerous bullets and shell casings from different weapons, including several from the 45 caliber automatic on which Trczinski said Gibson’s fingerprints were found.
(Huff’s partner Alexander testified at the preliminary that he saw no gun with Gibson when he chained him to the duplex’s backyard fence. But Officers Ernie Harris and Christopher Champaign, who arrived later on the scene, testified that a 45-millimeter Ruger 290 hand gun with its serial number shaved off was lying on the ground “a foot” from Gibson’s head.)
Many other items of evidence included 32 and 40 caliber Federal, Spear, and Winchester 45 bullets and shell casings, one of which wound up as far south of the scene as 20221 Schoenherr, confirming Jameson’s report during the preliminary exam that the area “lit up like Beirut.”
Smith also identified items of clothing, including a torn blue hooded sweatshirt and shirt, size 4 X, found in the street along with a cell phone and a large torn plastic baggie of marijuana several doors south of the murder scene. Testimony from officers at the preliminary exam was that Gibson exited the house and ran directly around the side into the backyard, nowhere near where those items were found.
Additionally, a large white towel with some bloodstains, and a pair of black and gray gym shoes, size 13, were entered into evidence. From observation, Gibson does not appear to wear a size 4X or size 13 shoes.
During his opening statement, Trzcinski said the duplex was occupied by a “Mr. Bolling.” However, Smith identified photographs of its interior which showed no beds, dressers or clothing in the closets in the upstairs bedrooms. The only furniture in photographs of the downstairs level were several metal and plastic chairs along with a refrigerator. Smith said the electric meter was missing from the back of the house and no electricity was on.
A short morning session was scheduled for Friday, with the trial expected to resume next week. Judge Hathaway indicated to the jury that it is likely to continue for up to three to four weeks. In October, Judge Hathaway granted a prosecution motion allowing witnesses including police officers from two previous cases against Gibson to be examined at this trial.
As he left the courtroom for the day, Huff’s uncle T.W. Bankston said, “My nephew is dead, we can’t bring him back. Our family is all praying people, and we pray that justice is brought and the right people are convicted, the ones that killed my nephew.”
Bankston and his wife attended the Mar. 3 session, along with Huff’s sister Tanise Blair. Various other relatives sat with his wife both days. Also in attendance both days were a man who identified himself as Jason Gibson’s father, and a woman who appeared to be his mother.