“Truth” has been told, now investigate and charge those responsible for the wrongful incarceration of a 14-year-old child
Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Judge Brian Sullivan created false doubt about Sanford’s innocence in press conference, court order
Two cop veterans of “The First 48,” Michael Russell and Dale Collins, were involved in Runyon Street investigation. Russell conducted most of it.
VOD advisory: information about alleged drug dealers in this story should be taken in context with the fact that the CIA, the DEA, and U.S. banks have been thoroughly exposed as responsible for bringing drugs across the borders for decades to decimate Black and poor cities.
Read “Dark Alliance” by Gary Webb, an extremely detailed history of the introduction of crack cocaine into the U.S. His dedication in the book: “It is undeniable that a wildly successful conspiracy existed to import cocaine existed for many years, and that innumerable American citizens, most of them poor and black, paid an enormous price as a result. This book was written for them, so that they may know on what altars their communities were sacrificed.”
By Diane Bukowski
July 20, 2016
August 12, 2016: A CRUCIAL CORRECTION ON VOD’S DESCRIPTION OF JUDGE SULLIVAN’S ORDER: My apologies, but I neglected to read this order (linked at end of story) through to the end. JUDGE SULLIVAN DISMISSED THIS CASE ‘WITHOUT PREJUDICE’ MEANING IT CAN BE BROUGHT BACK AT ANY TIME THE POLICE, PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE WANT. THIS ORDER DID NOT EXONERATE DAVONTAE SANFORD; ONLY THE JUDGE’S GRANTING OF THE MOTION FILED BY THE INNOCENCE CLINICS FOR SANFORD’S EXONERATION WOULD HAVE DONE THAT (their motion is also linked below the story.) PROS. WORTHY AND ATTORNEY VALERIE NEWMAN AGREED TO THIS DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE, CONTRADICTING WHAT THE INNOCENCE CLINICS ASKED FOR. Diane Bukowski, Editor, Voice of Detroit
DETROIT – Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Brian Sullivan finally signed a formal order dismissing quadruple homicide charges against Davontae Sanford July 19. The young man’s record is now cleared so he can “move on with his life,” his fondest wish on coming home June 8, after nine years in prison for crimes he did not commit.
A Detroit Free Press headline trumpeted that Sullivan’s order urges a “probe for truth” in the 2007 “Runyon Street killings,” implying that Davontae may not have been justifiably exonerated. The order comes on the heels of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s refusal to charge former Detroit Police Commander James Tolbert with perjury in a capital case, and a press conference she focused primarily on evidence AGAINST Davontae.
In a 114-page report, the Michigan State Police had recommended warrants against Tolbert for lying about a sketch drawn of the murder scene, Vincent Smothers, who repeatedly confessed to the killings, and his named accomplice Ernest Davis. Worthy has issued none of these warrants.
Like Worthy’s press conference, Sullivan’s order is mean-spirited. It ignores and even contradicts facts revealed in the MSP report, as well as evidence compiled by two innocence clinics from Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, which leave no room for doubt about Sanford’s innocence.
Sullivan’s order questions why Smothers did not testify in court and face cross-examination. It fails to note that Worthy refused to give Smothers “use immunity” to testify during post-conviction hearings, although he was already serving 50-100 years for the murders of eight other people. Judge Sullivan also refused to allow Smothers’ attorneys to testify to what he told them. He ruled against the allowing the testimony of an expert on false confessions by children.In his order, Sullivan cites numerous factors that he still believes have not been resolved, casting doubt on Davontae’s innocence and subjecting him and his family to all manner of possible repercussions.Sanford’s mother Taminko Sanford-Tilmon told VOD that the family is distressed by reports that have surfaced about Sullivan’s order.Neither Sullivan’s full order nor the full MSP report have ever been included in articles in Detroit’s mainstream media. They are linked below this story, along with other pertinent documents.“This case is thick with speculation, conjecture, confusion and unanswered questions; far thinner on evidence,” Judge Sullivan wrote in his seven-page order. “The MSP investigation does not appear to answer or resolve the outstanding questions in this case . . . The facts need to be discovered through professional unbiased investigation to substantive conclusions, legal and factual, to wherever they lead, and to whoever may be implicated.”
Many, even the editorial board of the Detroit News, have agreed that an investigation does indeed need to happen—into the roles of Worthy, the Detroit police, and other players in this gross miscarriage of justice. The News asked for investigations by Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette and by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“[T]he Sanford case lends credence to other allegations of bungled justice against the prosecutor’s office,” its editorial said in part. “The University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic has a fat file of cases in which it believes Wayne County and Detroit cops either ignored evidence of innocence or distorted evidence to prove guilt. Schuette should review all those cases as well.”Finally, if Sanford’s wrongful conviction is an indicator of wider problems in the Detroit Police Department and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, this is fertile ground for a civil rights investigation by the federal Justice Department.”
Sullivan vacated Sanford’s conviction and sentence June 7, but had not yet finalized the dismissal requested in a joint stipulation by Worthy and Sanford’s attorneys June 8. Sanford was convicted of the four Runyon Street killings in 2008, after a confession evidently coerced by numerous police officers and by his trial lawyer when he was 14.Worthy cited contradictory testimony by then Detroit Police Commander James Tolbert about a sketch of the house on Runyon Street as the chief reason she agreed to stipulate to dismissal of charges in the case, but refused to issue a perjury warrant against Tolbert.One reason: she said Sgt. Michael Russell, who was also present when the sketch was drawn, backed Tolbert’s original testimony that Davontae himself sketched the house in both his original testimony and his interview with the MSP. Russell signed the sketch, and apparently played THE major role in the investigation of the case.In a blistering critique, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Sullivan’s decision on post-conviction proceedings. Although the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the appeals court ruling, it did so “without prejudice” to Sanford’s bringing his contentions of innocence back in a motion for relief from judgment.SULLIVAN’S ALLEGATIONS
SULLIVAN ALLEGATION 1: “Glover, the surviving eyewitness, testified one of the perpetrators entered and remained in the bedroom during the search of the house. He was dressed in black pants, was a “younger person” whose voice was ‘not deep.’”FACT: Glover gave a written statement to Detroit police Sept. 18, 2007, according to the MSP report. “Glover described the subject as a black male, no more than thirty to thirty-thirty five years old with a soft voice. Glover further described the subject as approximately 6’ to 6’1” tall with a slim build,” says the report.FACT: According to the MSP, neighbor Jesse King gave a written statement to the DPS Sept. 18, 2007 in which he “described the first subject as being 5’11”-6,’ brown-skinned, slim medium build, dark clothes . . . He advised the initial subject was carrying a long gun. King described the second subject as slightly shorter than the first with the same build and complexion. He advised that the subject was carrying a handgun.”The MSP investigator noted, “Both subjects are substantially shorter in comparison to the description of the suspects provided by Jesse King and Valerie Glover. The MSP later interviewed King themselves. He told them categorically that the killer was NOT Sanford, because he knew him from the neighborhood.
SULLIVAN ALLEGATION 2: “Sanford’s black dickies (pants) were seized. These pants tested positive for gunshot residue on both thighs.”FACT: The MSP report says, “According to the relevant Detroit Police Department “Gunshot Residue Test Information Sheet”, a gunshot residue test was conducted on Davontae Sanford on September 18, 2007, at 03: 13 by William Niarhos at 19741 Runyon. The subsequent laboratory analysis . . . states the following: GSR Kit #5038 was submitted, consisting of three aluminum SEM sampling stubs labeled Right Web, Left Webb, and Forehead/face. Significant amounts of Lead, Barium, and Antimony were not detected on any of the sampling stubs from Davontae Sanford.” Later, it says:“A Detroit Police Department Laboratory Analysis report (No. B0?-0631) shows that “A black T-shirt (Basic Wears brand, size 6XL)” “Taken from the B/R Closet at [address blanked out]. “Shirt was sampled for the presence of Gunshot Residue on the chest and abdomen. Significant amounts of Lead, Barium, and Antimony were not detected in either area.” The report also indicates that “A pair of black twill pants (Dickies brand, size 32 x 34) was submitted. Rustred stains on the left leg were tested for the presence of blood. Preliminary Testing: BLOOD Negative” Further, the “Pants were sampled for the presence of Gunshot Residue on the right thigh and left thigh. Gunshot Residue was detected on both thighs.”The Detroit police did not say in this report who the pants belonged to. Additionally, the first GSR test on Sanford was performed at 19741 Runyon, where the killings occurred, on Sept. 18, 2007, the day after the event. Any GSR on Sanford’s clothes clearly could have been picked up at this time.SULLIVAN ALLEGATION 3: “Sanford told the police he washed his gym shoes . . .the reason he washed them was he wanted to wear clean shoes to school, although he told the police he was not attending school at the time.”FACT: Although Rice pled guilty to perjury charges about his testimony in Davontae’s post-conviction hearings, the MSP report says that in separate testimony, Rice “explained that he wanted to make sure Davontae was in school the next day so at 11 :30pm he told Davontae to get dressed because he was going to personally take him to school the next day.”Additionally, the MSP interviewed witness Jesse King in 2015, and reported, “King indicated he did not believe that either subject [running from the Runyon Street house] was Davontae Sanford. He explained that he knew Sanford because he (King) used to volunteer at the local school where Sanford was a student. He advised Sanford was also well known in the neighborhood.”
SULLIVAN ALLEGATION 4: “The account of the only surviving witness of the multiple murders conflicts substantially with the multiple statements offered by Smothers. . . .Smothers’ account of the encounter with Glover doesn’t match that given by Glover. The words spoken to her were markedly different. Glover heard rummaging in the a bedroom next to the one in which she hid and in the basement at the same time the person was in the room with her with a “big gun” and stayed in the room the whole time, as others ransacked the house. There is evidence of several persons in the house.” (VOD note: a “big gun” is not the same as a “long gun.” Glover was clearly terrified and her memories may not have coincided completely with what happened. Smothers was an experienced killer who carefully planned out every detail and was more likely to remember actual facts.)FACT: SMOTHERS AFFIDAVIT 8/16/2012: “After we stopped firing in the living room, I told Nemo [Ernest Davis] that I had seen someone go to another room and wanted to clear the house. I gave him my AK-47 so that I could move more easily and quickly through the house and around corners . . . As I passed by Robinson on my way out of the living room, I took the .40 caliber pistol that was sitting on the cocktail table next to Robinson and put it in my waistband. I had my own .40 caliber Glock in my hands . . .”
Smothers said he went down the hallway to a bedroom where there was a child on a bed. His statement continues, “There was also a woman hiding under the bed. I assumed this was the woman I had seen run from the living room. She was also lying with her head towards Teppert and her feet towards Runyon, but she had turned her face away from the south wall. When I walked into the room, she said something like, ‘Don’t kill me.’ I told her that I was not going to kill her and told her just to stay in the room until we left. The entire interaction lasted only a few seconds before I left the room and went back into the hallway.”The MSP questioned why DPD had not further investigated Smothers’ confession.An MSP investigator says in the report, “I reviewed all of the above referenced reports relating to the investigation of Vincent Smothers and the investigation of the homicides that occurred at 19741 Runyon. During that review I could not locate any documented interviews or attempts of an interview of Ernest Davis AKA “Nemo”, Leroy Payne or the resident of [blocked out] Tamika Davis. Further, there does not appear to be any follow up or additional investigation conducted by the Detroit Police Department in relation to the statements made by Vincent Smothers concerning the homicides that occurred at 19741 Runyon.”
Smothers told police Ernest “Nemo” Davis was his accomplice in the Runyon Street killing, and that Leroy Payne, employed by drug kingpin Delano Thomas, hired him for the job.The MSP report says it requested warrants for Tolbert, Smothers and Davis. But Worthy said at her press conference that she wanted further investigation by the MSP before issuing the warrants. She later refused to issue a perjury warrant for Tolbert, although Worthy said Tolbert’s differing testimony about a sketch drawn of the house on Runyon Street was key to her agreeing to dismiss charges against Sanford. Her office did not respond to a VOD inquiry about whether she plans to issue murder warrants for Smothers and Davis. There is no statute of limitations involved there.SULLIVAN ALLEGATION #3: “Other conflicts exist. These include a gun matching the one Smothers later had; statement of other witnesses (Payne and Davis) that are not explained or accounted for; residue of gunpower on a pants of a participant named by Sanford.”
FACTS: 1) It is unclear what gun Sullivan refers to. The gun Smothers said he picked up in Robinson’s living room was later identified as the one he used to kill Rose Cobb, wife of Detroit cop David Cobb. This if one of the eight homicides for which he is serving 50-100 years (although he confessed at the same time to the Runyon Street homicides, but was not charged.) He has since said he will cancel his plea agreement for second-degree murder to testify on behalf of Sanders in open court.2) Residue of gunpowder on another participant named by Sanford: who? Sanford named two sets of accomplices in his statements typed by the DPS, according to DPD reports in the MSP report. Worthy never charged any of those witnesses; the second set was never identified or located. Guns are frequently handled in Black and poor communities.The MSP report says “On September 20, 2007, the Detroit Police Department submitted a warrant request for Davontae Sanford, Antonio Langston, Deangelo Gardner, and Santo Green. Only Davontae Sanford was charged by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, charges were denied for the other three suspects. Sanford was charged with four counts of first degree premeditated murder, one count of assault with intent to murder, one count of robbery armed and one count of felony firearm arising out of the robbery and murders that occurred at [Runyon] street. Angelo Gardner, Antonio Langston, Cary Dailey and Santo Green were not charged by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.”
WHY? That is the question Sullivan does not ask.3) Statements of Payne and Davis? What statements? None are included in the MSP report or in DPD reports. Worthy has never charged either in relation to the Runyon Street killings, despite Smothers’ statements that Leroy Payne, working for now deceased drug kingpin Delano Thomas, hired him and Ernest Davis was his accomplice.SULLIVAN ALLEGATION #4: “Then there is the uninvestigated perjury of William Rice. The defendant presented Rice—the former head of Detroit Police Homicide—as a witness for defendant. Rice subsequently pled guilty of perjury for presenting this false testimony on behalf of Sanford and is serving a prison sentence for that (and other) offenses. . . .No investigation into that deliberate presentation of false testimony appears to have been made as it relates to this case and no explanation of it has been presented to the court.”
FACT: According to the MSP report, they began investigating Rice and his girlfriend Cheryl Sanford (Taminko Sanford’s aunt) earlier on HUD fraud allegations. Worthy then asked them to investigate Rice’s testimony at Sanford’s trial as well (the only time she initiated an MSP investigation of the case.) After Worthy charged Rice, he did plead guilty to two counts of perjury in the Sanford case and is serving 2-20 years in state prison. It IS unclear why he did so, considering that other witnesses corroborated his testimony.The MSP report says Sanford’s mother and uncle Taminko and Nathaniel Sanford told police Rice had driven them, Sanford, and Sanford’s two sisters to Cheryl Sanford’s house for dinner around 9:30 p.m. and did not return until early the next morning. Sanford also told officers who encountered him outside his house late that night that his “uncle” Bill Rice had just dropped him off. Sanford’s grandmother Pamela Sanford later told the MSP the same version of events.SULLIVAN ALLEGATION #5: “Moreover, on the night of the initial investigation while Sanford was in contact with the police, eight phone calls were made by Detroit police Homicide Investigator Dale Collins to Rice [ranging until 8:30 the next morning). . . Rice denied on the record that he received those calls. The big question still looms as to why the calls were made and whether information about the case was conveyed all during the night. The MSP never interviewed Collins.”
FACT: The MSP report devotes many paragraphs to testimony given by Collins, from a transcript taken by DPD on July 13, 2010 with regard to the Sanford case, and an Oct. 30, 2012 interview with regard to People v. William Rice 3rd Circuit Court Case 13003607-01-FH.It summarizes, “Investigator Collins advised that he was working on September 17, 2007 and responded to the scene on Runyon Street. He followed the K-9 track along with Sergeant Russell and while conducting a canvass of the area on Beland, he observed Sergeant Russell speaking with Davontae Sanford. Collins stated that he then made contact with Sanford who informed him that he had been dropped off earlier that day by his Uncle Bill. Collins advised that he asked “Bill who?” and Sanford responded that it was Bill Rice. Collins informed Sanford that he knew Bill Rice and that he (Sanford) needed to help the police.
“Collins stated that Sanford told him that William Rice had picked him up from school and dropped him off. Collins assumed at his (Sanford’s) house. Upon questioning, Collins indicated that at the time of the incident he had worked with and known William Rice for over twenty years. William Rice had previously been the Inspector for the Detroit Police Department Homicide Section. Collins indicated that after discovering that Sanford was referring to William Rice he called Rice via his cellular telephone. Collins stated that he spoke with Rice and informed him that he was with a subject that claimed that he was his nephew and that he (William Rice) had dropped him off.”Rice informed Collins that Sanford was not his nephew “but he’s a young guy that know (sic) a lot of things that happens (sic) in that neighborhood”. Upon questioning, Collins indicated that the number of the cellular telephone that he called William Rice on that evening was ‘(blanked out).”Investigator Collins was also interviewed reference People v William Rice on October 30, 2012. Upon questioning he clarified his telephone call to William Rice. He stated “I called Bill Rice, and I asked him–or I told him that we were working on a triple homicide and that we were talking to a young fellow. And this guy said that he had been dropped off by Bill. And I asked Bill, I said well–Bill asked me well, what’s his name? And I told Bill his name is Davontae. He said, well, yes, that’s Cheryl’s nephew; that he had dropped him off over there. He also said that he was a young–he’s about 14 or 15 years old, and he’s a street guy. Anything out in the street he knew about. So if he tells you something, you can believe it.” Collins was questioned if Rice said anything else concerning Sanford. Collins stated “No. Basically whatever he told me, I could like believe what he said because he knew the streets. He also said that it was Cheryl’s nephew, not his nephew.”Bill mentioned to me that he was trying to get him in school because he was in the street, and he had supposedly dropped him off from the west side, took him to the east side where he lived at. He lived on (blank). “Only thing happened next was I told Bill we’re going to be talking to him. Well, he knew that. So the conversation basically ended.”WHO ENGINEERED SANFORD’S FRAME-UP, AND SMOTHERS COVER-UP?
It is clear from the MSP report that Sgt. Russell played THE major role in the frame-up of 14-year-old Davontae Sanford. Both Russell and Collins are shown as star on the website for A&E’s “The First 48.” That show stresses the importance of the police finding the guilty party within the “First 48” hours.Was Russell, aided by Collins, seeking to get the case resolved by tricking a 14-year-old child into a false confession? What did Russell, Collins, and others know about Smothers, hired by DPD officer David Cobb to kill his wife Rose Cobb later? Did Smothers perform other hits for the police?The MSP report says, “Email sent to Wayne Co PA investigator Cory Williams on 12/15/15 requesting either IS or Grand Jury for Ira Todd, Mike Russell, and James Tolbert. I was contacted via phone by Williams on 12-16-15 at approximately 1315 hrs regarding this issue. He advised that he would speak with APA Moran and get back with me. At approximately 1415 hrs Williams called back to advise that APA Moran wanted to have a meeting after the first of the year to discuss what specific questions we wanted to ask each of these individuals.”No such meeting was ever held. The MSP reported later “Investigative team met with WCPA on 1/11/16 at 1500 hrs to discuss Investigative Subpoenas in regards to Tolbert, Russell, and Todd. PA reluctant to issue IS’s. Inspector Menna and D/F/Lt. Powell in attendance w/ D/Sgt Corriveau.”
The MSP reported that they interviewed Detroit Police Detective Barbara Simon, who was assigned to be the Officer in Charge in the case. But she informed them that Sgt. Russell handled most of the case, and that he and other cops kept her out of the loop.
“Simon stated she was assigned the Runyon St case the day after the actual incident and was subsequently listed as the officer in charge (OIC),” says the MSP report. “She explained she did not respond to the initial crime scene. Simon acknowledged that even though she was the OIC, Sgt Mike Russell handled a majority of the information in this case. Simon said she remembers conducting a search warrant at Sanford’s residence where they recovered a pair of gym shoes. She also remembers a drawing, however she was not present when the drawing was made. Simon further explained she was the one who completed the investigators report for this case. We asked if she ever became aware of Vincent Smothers to which she stated she only heard of him after the Rose Cobb homicide. It was then asked if she recalled anyone ever bringing information to her regarding Vincent Smothers admitting or confessing to the Runyon St homicides.
“Simon stated she does not remember anyone coming to her with information about Vincent Smothers. Simon explained she would have taken further steps/ actions if she would have been made aware of Vincent Smothers being involved in the Runyon St homicides. She also stated that she would have remembered if someone informed her of such information.”According to the MSP report, officers present when the sketch of the house was drawn included not only Tolbert, who Worthy recently refused to charge with perjury, but Russell and others who drove Davontae around the neighborhood for several hours after Russell found him outside his house, around the corner from Runyon, in his pajamas. Russell signed the sketch. Russell also conducted the interrogations which led to Davontae’s confession, and signed those related documents.The MSP reported regarding Russell, “Sgt. Michael Russell testified on four occasions in reference to his involvement in the investigation of the homicides that occurred at 19741 Runyon on September 17, 2007. Sgt Russell testified at 36th District Court on October 01, 2007, for a preliminary hearing in People v Sanford. He again testified at trial in 3rd Circuit Court on People v Sanford on March 18, 2008. Finally, Sgt Russell testified in evidentiary hearings on People v Sanford in 3rd Circuit Court on July 21, 2009, and July 13, 2010. Note, there is no report authored by Sgt Russell reflecting his actions or involvement in the investigation.”WHO FRAMED DAVONTAE SANFORD AND WHY DID THEY COVER UP FOR VINCENT SMOTHERS IN THE RUNYON STREET MURDERS? WHO SHOULD BE CHARGED FOR FORCING A 14-YEAR-OLD CHILD TO ENDURE ALMOST NINE HORRENDOUS YEARS IN AN ADULT PRISON SYSTEM?Related documents and articles:Judge Brian Sullivan’s full order: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Sanford-Dismissal-Order.pdfVincent Smother’s 2013 affidavit: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Smothers-aff-3-6-13.compressed-1.pdfInnocence Clinics’ Motion for Relief from Judgment: DSVS motion pt1.compressed and DSVS motion pt2.compressed.Judge Brian Sullivan’s initial release order with stipulation from prosecution and defense: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Davontae-2016.06.07-Order-Granting-Relief-from-Judgment.pdfLink to full MSP report is in following story (too large to embed on this site): http://michiganradio.org/post/report-suggests-detroit-police-failures-put-innocent-kid-prison#stream/0Michigan Appeals Court Decision vs. Judge Sullivanhttp://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Sanford-appeals-decision-9-26-13.pdfMichigan Supreme Court ruling:http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Sanford-MSC-decision.pdfVOD stories: