GO FUND ME SITE FOR MARYANNE GODBOLDO’S ONGOING CAMPAIGN:
GO FUND ME SITE FOR MARYANNE GODBOLDO’S ONGOING CAMPAIGN:
Housing already built in allegedly polluted east side area, I-75 at Ferry
City Council has now voted to put new “Criminal Justice Complex” there
By Ron Seigel
March 17, 2018
DETROIT — In late January Brenda Jones, council president of the city of Detroit, announced she was running for the congressional seat in the 13th district, formally held by retired Congressman John Conyers.
She declared in a colorful way, “My platform for congress is the same urban agenda I have always championed JONES –Jobs, Opportunities, Neighborhoods, Education, and Safety.”
Last year, well before she ran for congress, Hilanius Phillips, a former Detroit Head City Planner attended a public meeting she organized and raised some very serious questions about public safety.
Phillips warned that air pollution in the area slated for housing on the east side of Detroit around East Ferry and the I-75 Expressway could produce the same health problems as the water pollution that caused the Flint water crisis.
He has specifically said that because residents would get air pollution from the medical waste incinerator, a liquid waste plant, and traffic from the expressway, those living there could face sickness, breathing problems, and lead poisoning, while the children could also develop learning disabilities.
At that particular meeting Jones claimed the city never approved the housing there and she publicly promised to investigate the matter.
For months as a free-lance reporter I made continuous calls to Jones’ council office to find out about the investigation she promised to make. She was always unavailable. After many attempts to get information, I was finally referred to an aide, who told me she knew nothing about it and could not speak for the council president.
The housing was built in that area. Then, last summer Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans set up a land deal, where a new Wayne County Criminal Justice Complex would be built precisely in the center of the area Phillips warned about, the intersection of East Ferry and the expressway.
The location was unanimously approved by the Detroit City Council, with Jones herself voting for it. Before this issue can go forward, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners also has to approve putting the complex there. One hopes there will be some serious deliberation before they make such a decision.
If Phillips is correct about the environmental hazards of the area, anyone incarcerated in the Criminal Justice Complex, employed there, or even entering it to testify, could be affected.
Phillips, who is African American, is particularly concerned about how Black people will be affected.
“As a disproportionate number of inmates are Black as are those in the newly constructed housing,” he said, “it appears that beyond [brutal] policing, Black lives do not matter, when it comes to environmentally racist land projects.”
However, as John Donne and Ernest Hemingway would have put it, no racial group can say the bell only tolls for other groups. It would toll for all of them.
It would seem that blue lives wouldn’t matter, since the complex would contain guards, a sheriff’s office and police working there eight hours a day.
The complex would contain a court with prosecutor, lawyers, court clerks, secretaries and witnesses. It would even have high officials, such as the warden, the sheriff and the judges.
To some extent this may turn out to be an equal opportunity disaster, a catastrophe affecting all.
If these projects are indeed dangerous, Council President Jones may be facing criminal charges. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette declared the Flint Water Crises occurred because officials in charge of the water system failed to “placed the health, safety, and welfare of citizens first” and had a “preoccupation with data, finance, and cost” at the expense of average citizens.
A number of state officials involved in the Flint situation have faced prosecution from the Attorney General’s office on charges of involuntary homicide.*
If the same conditions develop in Detroit at the East Ferry housing or the Criminal Justice Complex, Detroit officials may be in the same boat.
In her congressional campaign, Council President Jones must answer whether anyone investigated the environmental safety of the eastside area, as she promised, and if so what they discovered.
The voters have a right to know.
*RELATED STORY ON FLINT–JAIL SNYDER, CORPORATE CRONIES
Judge Millender stops eviction, finally acknowledges documents showing Mingo’s mortgage paid off in 2006, after 3rdCC refused to do so
Atty. for Madison Capital Funding, LLC threatens Mingo before hearing, but loses anyway
By Diane Bukowski
March 16, 2018
DETROIT – On the brink of eviction from her classic Brush Park home due to a fraudulent mortgage foreclosure, community leader Gwendolyn Mingo finally got a judge to acknowledge documents showing that her mortgage was paid off in 2006.
Thirty-Sixth District Court Judge Pennie Millender thereby stopped her eviction by Madison Capital Funding, LLC, a company with $9.1 billion in assets. The judge set the next hearing on the matter for April 5 at 10 a.m. A jury trial is still possible though not likely.
“Your honor, the mortgage was paid in 2006 when my husband passed,” Mingo told Judge Millender March 14. “We had what you call credit life insurance which paid the whole mortgage to Washington Mutual. I have documents that have never been seen by any judge or ruled upon. The U.S. Constitution provides that no citizen shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.”
As head of the Brush Park Citizens District Council, Mingo led a decades-long battle to save the homes of the region’s Black majority residents from a white supremacist takeover.
During this hearing, she was up against Madison Capital Funding, LLC, a national finance company with $9.1 billion in assets, represented by Southfield-based attorney Eric K. Wein. Wein appears to have been an independent hired gun for Madison Capital, unassociated with any law firm. Prior to the hearing, Mingo said, Wein took her outside the courtroom and brutally threatened her. She said the company has been harassing her daily with multiple phone calls.
In her answer to Madison Capital’s eviction complaint, Mingo noted among other issues:
Judge Millender reviewed Mingo’s documents and read them into the record, actions which Third Judicial Circuit Court judges earlier refused to take. The documents consisted of two simple letters from Washington Mutual and Chase Banks. Washington Mutual said in its letter, “You have paid off your mortgage and the mortgagee no longer has an interest in your home.” (See filing by Mingo at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Gwen-Mingo-documents.compressed.pdf .)
Mingo explained that while her case was in circuit court, Judge Robert Ziolkowski was about to rule in her favor, but was suddenly removed from her case by then acting Chief Judge Patricia Fresard, who assigned the case to Judge Lita Popke. Mingo said then the key documents went missing from her file, and later the entire file disappeared.
Then the Michigan Supreme Court instituted a mandatory e-filing procedure for several Circuit Courts including the Third Circuit.
“Judge Fresard wouldn’t acknowledge the hard copies that I gave her; she said they had to be e-filed,” Mingo said. “I asked her could I read them into the record. She denied me the opportunity to read them into the record. All I’m saying your honor, if you have documents saying your mortgage was paid off the court should consider those documents. That is a denial of due process.”
Mingo said she tried to e-file the documents 27 times, but the system rejected them 27 times. She said later Chief Judge Robert Colombo ordered that the e-filing be waived, but her judge refused to comply.
“She would not recognize his order,” Mingo said. “She would not entertain these documents. She said she would lose her job if she even recognized that they exist.”
Wein sputtered that there had been a sheriff’s sale, he had the sheriff’s deed, and Madison Capital had bought the property at auction. They waited out the six-month redemption period during which Mingo would have had to pay for the house again, and then took eviction action.
But Judge Millender said, “It does seem there are documents that she paid the mortgage so I don’t think I have any jurisdiction over this matter. . . .you guys have to do a quiet title action. I am looking at two documents, one reads ‘the mortgage is paid off, the mortgagee no longer has an interest in your home,’ issued Jan. 29, 2008. There’s something in here from Chase that reads $0 is due on all charges.”
Millender added later, “I’ve had a couple of cases where the Wayne County Treasurer sold properties they didn’t even own.”
Millender adjourned the hearing until April 5 at 10 a.m. to give Mingo a chance to get a copy of her verification of mortgage, and give Wein the opportunity to double check the documents Mingo presented.
Afterward, Wein approached Mingo and her niece Courtnee Seely again, complaining about the cost to his company of getting needed documents, and saying he needed her Social Security number.
After VOD threatened to tape the conversation, he went away.
Mingo told VOD thousands of Detroit residents continue to be summarily removed from their homes using similar illegal methods.
“For years I fought the illegal displacement of the residents of Brush Park,” Mingo said, referring to the time she was head of the Brush Park Citizens District Council. “It seemed to follow a pattern. The residents were all packed up, but they were really homeless with no money to move and no place to go. They were supposed to get $18,000 each in moving expenses from the city but they never did. There was supposed to be a relocation office set up in the neighborhood, but it never was. Most of the people forced out from Brush Park and the Brewster projects didn’t live long afterward.”
Mingo, who was a teacher, said she had worked all her life and was mortified to be victimized by the fraudulent eviction action taken by the banks and courts.
“Leaders across the nation have to come together to stop this,” she said. “There is no middle class anymore, just the super-rich. They are exterminating us, like they did in the concentration camps.”
By Diane Bukowski
March 13, 2018
Vincent Smothers repeatedly confessed on tape and in written affidavits to the murder for which Searcy has served 14 years
Searcy has fought for exoneration during all those years, also based on police use of “snitch” witness and false crime lab reports
Send letters of support for Thelonious Searcy, #535985 to Presiding Criminal Judge Timothy Kenny, at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, #602, 1441 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226
DETROIT–A long-awaited evidentiary hearing during which Thelonious Shawn Searcy, a/k/a “Skinnyman,” and his court-appointed attorney Michael R. Dezsi will challenge his 2004 first-degree murder conviction is currently set for Mon. March 19, 2018 at 9 a.m. in front of Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny.
“An ever present peril for the criminal justice system is the conviction of an innocent person,” Searcy says in his July, 2016 motion and brief asking for the hearing.
“Under our judicial system, two propositions are clear: Justice is the search for truth and the judicial system is staffed by fallible human beings who inevitably err. As a consequence of these two conflicting propositions some means must exist to exonerate those legally guilty but actually innocent—balancing the interests in finality and efficiency with the interest in fundamental fairness.”
Searcy, 38, has been in prison for 14 years for the murder of Jamal Segars and the wounding of Brian Minner during a crowded “Black Party” Labor Day weekend event in the streets around Detroit City Airport. He and his family have always maintained his innocence, testifying that he was with them at a family barbecue at the time of the killing. But it was not until his grandmother Edna Richardson hired private investigator Scott Lewis, formerly a well-known investigative news reporter, that a break in his case finally came.
Lewis interviewed Vincent Smothers, a self-confessed hitman who committed the four Runyon Street murders in 2007 for which Davontae Sanford was wrongfully convicted. Smothers admitted on tape and in affidavits that he also killed Segars, that Searcy was not involved.
Since Smothers’ attorney Gabi Silver has advised him to invoke the Fifth Amendment, Lewis told VOD that attorney Dezsi expects him to take the stand to testify to the validity of his taped interview with Smothers, as well as the affidavits and other evidence he obtained in the case.
“Dezsi has held the title of Metro Times Best Attorney since 2011,” says his website. “He has been called upon to handle some of the highest profile and complex cases seen in the courts. Dezsi has appeared and argued cases all over the country in both state and federal courts. Dezsi has trial expertise in both high stakes criminal and civil trials with a reputation for aggressive strategies for his clients. He has recovered millions of dollars on behalf of his clients.”
Lewis interviewed Smothers on tape as below.
Searcy, who had no previous criminal record, had been fighting his case without success on a pro per basis since his incarceration. After filing numerous motions, he received a letter from Smothers sent through an intermediary, dated Aug. 22, 2015, stating that he had just become aware that Searcy was charged with a crime Smothers committed.
Later, Smothers executed a notarized affidavit dated Dec. 21. 2015 in which he said, “I’m coming forward with this information about the murder of JAMAL SEGARS, because I heard it’s a innocent man sentenced, for this crime. I want to tell the truth about every vile murder I committed in the city of Detroit. I want to give all my victims’ family closure for their loved one’s death.”
Smothers sent letters confessing to the Segars murder to Detroit police and prosecutors, along with several media outlets, without a response. He said he and a partner, Jeffery Daniels, who was killed two weeks after the Segars murder, were responsible.
Davontae Sanford is not the only common link between his and Searcy’s cases.
Detroit Police Investigator Dale Collins, known for his use of “jail-house snitches,” was involved in both, and Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat prosecuted both Sanford and Searcy. Searcy’s current prosecutor is listed as Thomas Chambers.
Meanwhile, Searcy filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing and new trial based on “newly-discovered evidence” July 22, 2016, citing Smothers’ confession as well
as allegations that the prosecution’s chief witness was actually a “snitch” whose charges in a gun case were dropped in exchange for his testimony. He says the “snitch’s” uncle executed an affidavit swearing that he heard a conversation between his nephew and a young woman offering to pay her for testimony that she saw Searcy commit the murder.
Neither of two Detroit police officers who engaged in a shoot-out with Smothers’ accomplice, nor Segars’ friend Brian Minner, who was in the car with him, could identify Searcy as the shooter in the case.
Searcy also contends that ballistics evidence used at the trial was faulty, produced by Kevin Reed, the Detroit police officer whose error-ridden work in the Detroit crime lab led to its shutdown in 2009. Reed was not qualified as a forensic ballistics expert at the time.
But Searcy’s motion lay dormant in his file until Judge Kenny belatedly ordered the prosecution to respond to the motion on June 8, 2017. The prosecution agreed in its response that an evidentiary hearing was in order and recommended that the court appoint attorneys for both Searcy and Smothers.
Kenny was still reluctant. His assistant told a family member of Searcy’s that he planned to issue an order without a hearing. Later, however, an official with the Office of the General Counsel confirmed that the evidentiary hearing would indeed be held.
Smothers was at a prelude to the full evidentiary hearing Jan. 29, 2018, during which the final date of March 19 was set. But Lewis told this reporter that Smothers’ attorney Gabi Silver recommended that he invoke his Fifth-Amendment rights when he takes the stand March 19. Therefore, Lewis said Searcy’s attorney Michael R. Deszi plans to put him on the stand to testify regarding the taped confession and affidavits given by Smothers to Lewis.
Smothers did not testify in Davontae Sanford’s case, either, despite his offer to do so and earlier, Silvers’ offer to testify in his stead. But the Michigan State Police investigator’s report on the Sanford case, which cited Smothers’ confession, as well as broad publicity and an ongoing campaign led by Sanford’s family, eventually forced Pros. KymWorthy to withdraw the charges against Sanford “without prejudice,” and Judge Brian Sullivan to agree. Both officials, however, continued to support their original findings in the Sanford case, Worthy in a live-streamed press conference and Sullivan in his order, which questioned the validity of Smothers’ confession.
Later, Sanford’s devoted stepfather Jeremaine Tilmon was killed in a highly questionable case, and Sanford himself was shot in the leg while at the Martin Luther King Apartments.
So it is clear that public support for Searcy will be vital during his hearing March 19 in front of Judge Kenny, Room 602 of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, 1441 St. Antoine at Gratiot.
BAR editor and senior columnist
March 7, 2018
VOD editor note: VOD earlier published a stock Vanity Fair review of this movie, but I didn’t see it until afterwards. I wish I had, because although I enjoyed the movie itself, I grieved for the death of T’Challa’s young cousin from California, Eric Killmonger, who believed that Wakanda’s resources of vibranium and technology should be spread across the world to his people through armed struggle. As he said, he preferred to die as did his ancestors on the slaveships rather than be taken prisoner.
In the end, T’Challa speaks in front of a United Nations-style forum to call on all nations to join together peacefully with the aid of Wakanda’s technology. Whether that is possible is highly unlikely. What would this murderous U.S. superpower do if it got its hands on vibranium? Same thing it did in Libya, under a Black president, by destroying a country that wanted self-determination for the African continent, and by viciously assassinating its heroic leader, Muammar Gaddafi. As Hilary Clinton gloated, “We came, we saw, he died.”
“Questioners are ‘hoteps’ who are too woke to have fun.”
The desire to see a black face in a high place is a legacy of slavery and the century of Jim Crow segregation that followed. The psychological impact of America’s apartheid is enduring, and unlikely to end without true revolutionary change.
Black people are loath to do anything that might dim the luster that emanates when one of the group becomes rich, famous or successful in some realm that was hitherto off limits. Celebrities, athletes, CEOs and presidents are exempt from question or critique and are protected by millions of people who feel affirmation through their presence.
Anyone who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s can recall when the sight of a black person on television was cause for celebration. The words “There’s a colored person on television,” were like magic. It isn’t difficult to understand why this would be the case. Black people were either absent from mass media altogether or were demeaned and demonized on the rare occasions when their existence was acknowledged.
“A CIA agent is depicted as being an ally to an African nation.”
In light of this sad history it is not surprising that the recently released Black Panther film has been such a huge commercial success and emotional touchstone. But the story line is problematic for politically conscious people. Among other things, a CIA agent is depicted as being an ally to an African nation. That plot point alone is questionable.
But any attempt to dissect the plot, discuss its political implications or do anything other than sit in rapt awe is met with contempt and even anger. The Black Agenda Report team is accustomed to the epithet “hater” being applied to any analysis of the black and successful. This time a movie, not even a person, stands in for millions of people and their desire for validation.
The release of this film was anticipated for months. Audiences immediately raced to theaters to ensure they missed nothing before plot spoilers ruined their experience. Some dressed up like characters or wore Afrocentric clothing. The cry went out, “There are colored people on screen!”
This columnist experienced personal blowback from a group who had not even seen the film. After informing them that there was some controversy about it I was immediately met with anger. I was reminded that the black actors and designers and producers and directors and make-up artists were all experiencing great success. I was also informed that advanced African societies did exist. I had not said otherwise but now the fictional land of Wakanda represents Egypt and Zimbabwe and Meroe and Ethiopia and any questions surrounding the fictional nation are now said to reflect on the real ones.
“This time a movie, not even a person, stands in for millions of people and their desire for validation.”
At least one Black Agenda Report reader felt compelled to warn against “picking each other apart.” Others point out it is just a movie and ask why we are opposed to entertainment. Questioners are “hoteps” who are too woke to have fun.
There are even some who decry purchasing bootleg copies of the movie. Millions of people who purchase counterfeit movies now refuse to do so lest the Disney corporation lose a few dollars and stop putting black people on screen. No one should care about their bottom line but millions of people do now because there is a new black face on high.
There are always serious issues surrounding imagery in media. If nothing else, Black Panther exposes the truth of Hollywood’s product. This movie is just one of 18 that are based on Marvel comics characters. Black Panther defenders rightly point out that they have already paid to see characters like Iron Man, a defense contractor, or Captain America, a creation of the military industrial complex, or Thor, a deity who is white and blonde. Do the politically conscious eschew these movies altogether or are they only problematic when black people are included in the dubious politics of fantasy action movies?
“Millions of people who purchase counterfeit movies now refuse to do so lest the Disney corp. lose a few dollars and stop putting black people on screen.”
The reaction to the Black Panther movie is understandable given the overall production quality of the film, and the attractiveness of the setting and the characters. But the lack of political education amongst ourselves is the bigger issue here. Without that the desire for justice and inclusion can be reduced to seeing people who look like us. We may ignore a problematic political message in a film or even worse support a president who destroyed the advanced African nation of Libya. That real life villain was a black face in a high place too.
Corporate produced entertainment is just one part of a corrupt system that tells us up is down and bad is good. We can’t separate our movie going experience from anything else. There are very few Americans of any race who know that Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with the help of the CIA. There are few Americans who know his name at all and therein lies the biggest problem.
We can’t stand on historical truth that we don’t know. We can’t decide when to succumb to the desire to have fun and when to ask hard questions if we don’t engage in serious political study first. The liberation movement was crushed two generations ago precisely because the masses questioned everything they had been taught to accept.
“There is no such thing as just entertainment.”
It is natural to want to see ourselves. It is beneficial to the psyche and the words “Wakanda forever!” are proof. But this limited experience can’t substitute for what we need, even in the context of wanting to have fun. In an ideal world black people wouldn’t depend on Disney at all. But we don’t own the means of production and we are left with whatever the corporate markets dictate.
Black Panther is not as defenders say, “Just a movie.” If it were there would not be so much discussion surrounding it and fans would not be so excited. There is no such thing as just entertainment. It is quite political but the politics won’t be good if that fact isn’t acknowledged. Perhaps we do need to reject most of the media we can access. That is a thorny issue and it is not for the faint of heart. And the people who pose the question should not be dismissed as haters because they dare to speak the words.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com . Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgendaReport.com
“Black revolutionary consciousness is merged with white and bourgeois “
March 10, 2018 10:59 AM EST
Harriet Tubman walked thousands of Black people out of slavery into freedom. She is truly the greatest freedom fighter to have ever lived. The idea of Harriet Tubman still inspires and motivates to this day. GirlTrek, a national public health nonprofit and movement, is honoring Harriet Tubman with an epic 100-mile trek from the Eastern Shore of Maryland crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Delaware also known as the Underground Railroad.
This trek is known as “Harriet’s Great Escape” and culminates today, March 10, 2018, on Harriet Tubman’s birthday.
Ten Black women from across the nation set out on March 5, 2018, for this freedom walk. Slavery may not be the main issue these days but freedom from disease, stress, and depression are reason enough to bring awareness to what GirlTrek is accomplishing.
“Now, it is even more important that GirlTrek works to re-establish walking as a healing tradition. We believe that, as women, we are going to have to also liberate, one, ourselves and then come back and be examples and liberate our family. And one of the things we say is that, if Harriet Tubman could walk herself to freedom, we can certainly walk ourselves to better health,” said Vanessa Garrison, co-founder of GirlTrek.
When we talk about superpowers many times they seem intangible or just out of reach; however, when we take stock of the strength and wherewithal that exists in the DNA of Black women, we have to salute and honor it.
“We realized that we can’t just talk the talk. We will show and prove that 2018 is about radical courage and unshakable sisterhood. We’re walking the Underground Railroad. To reach 1 million Black women by 2020, we knew we needed to be even bolder and hold this unprecedented trek. Harriet Tubman saved her own life first and then went back time after time to save the lives of others giving us the blueprint for the work GirlTrek does today. This is radical self-care at its core,” says GirlTrek co-founder, T. Morgan Dixon.
Today we honor the legacy of Harriet Tubman and support the 10 women who have taken on this great task of this 100-mile walk to freedom. They truly are our superheroes.
By Kevin Rector
March 10, 2018
Baltimore, MD–A portion of Wyman Park Dell was renamed “Harriet Tubman Grove, ” honoring Maryland native Harriet Tubman, an American hero and celebrated “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. The ceremony was held on the 105th anniversary of her death. At left, Council Member for District 14, Mary Pat Clarke addresses a large crowd. At right is Duane “Shorty” Davis, a founding member of Baltimore Bloc displaying a Harriet Tubman t-shirt he’s wearing. Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun Staff.
More than 200 local residents and elected leaders gathered in a tree-lined corner of Baltimore on Saturday to rededicate the space, which had long venerated two Confederate generals, to the famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman.
“We stand on the shoulders of this great woman,” said Ernestine Jones-Williams, 71, a Baltimore County resident and a descendant of Tubman who spoke on behalf of the family. “We are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed. Thank you, and God bless you.”
The ceremony in Wyman Park Dell, on the 105th anniversary of Tubman’s death, took place feet from the now-empty pedestal of a large, bronze, double-equestrian statue of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
The statue had stood in the park since 1948, but was removed in August amid a national reckoning with Confederate symbolism and monuments.
That reckoning began in large part in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine African-Americans to death in a church in Charleston, S.C. It grew in August after a white supremacist rally to protest the planned removal of a statue of Lee in Charlottesville, Va., led to the death of a counter-protester after a neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove into a crowd.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration removed four Baltimore monuments with ties to the Confederacy — the Lee-Jackson monument, a monument to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney at Mount Vernon Place, the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway — days after the Charlottesville rally in an unannounced, overnight operation, citing “safety and security” concerns.
At the event Saturday, city officials and local residents acknowledged the events in Charleston and Charlottesville, but largely focused on more local efforts to have Baltimore’s statues removed, including a grass-roots petition drive.
They said the removal of the statues has embued the spaces where they once stood — like the Harriet Tubman Grove — with their own symbolic power.
“Since the removal of the Lee-Jackson statue, this park has become a gathering place for city residents of all backgrounds to meet, talk and enjoy the location as a space that symbolizes hope and positive change,” said Ciara Harris, a Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks official. “Harriet Tubman Grove will provide the city an opportunity to correct historic injustice to a Maryland native. Our city is properly recognizing an African-American hero.”
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke called Tubman, who was born a slave on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but went on to lead many other enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a “heroine and beacon for all ages.”
Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, a longtime civil rights leader who has been working to get Tubman recognized in more official ways across the city for years, thanked the community for its work in renaming the grove.
“You did what needed to be done to say, ‘Yes, we need to move on,’ ” he said.
Jackson Gilman-Forlini, 28, of Abell, who is studying how society re-contextualizes monuments and memorials over time as part of a master’s degree in historic preservation at Goucher College — and who served on the task force formed by Pugh last year to study the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments — said the rededication was a great thing for the city.
“Monuments are seen as permanent, sort of monolithic structures, but inherently their meanings change over time, and really the removal of these monuments was not so much about monuments in general, but about the kind of values that we as a society want to promote,” Gilman-Forlini said. “This is now the next logical step in the process of asserting those values, those positive values of inclusion, of tolerance, of speaking out against prejudice.
“These kind of gatherings in many ways are much more powerful than new monuments may necessarily be, because these are about community action and about the experience of the individual working in a community to assert positive values,” he said. “In that way I think this is really the best thing that we could be doing right now as a means of healing past injustices.”
Judge Qiana Lillard adjourns March 6 hearing to Friday, March 9 at 9 a.m. without timely notice (Register of Actions says 9 a.m. although Lillard’s clerk says 10 a.m., but after unexpected adjournment, play it safe)
Dozens turned out for Lewis, along with mainstream media
“I heard a group of people praying on the line outside the courtroom, and they called out my son’s name.”—Mother Rosie Lewis
By Diane Bukowski
March 7, 2016
DETROIT—Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard unexpectedly postponed a hearing for Charles Lamont (‘K.K.’) Lewis, an innocent Detroit juvenile lifer, set for yesterday, until Friday, March 9 at 9 a.m, according to the court website. But what was likely meant as a tactic to undermine support for him and 246 other juvenile lifers in Michigan backfired.
Dozens of new supporters came out for Lewis’ hearing, including members of the Detroit People’s Task Force, Juvenile Lifers for Justice, and Vivian Kincaid, the sister of freed juvenile lifer Timothy Kincaid. A substantial turnout of his constant supporters, his former comrades in prison, also returned. All pledged to come back Friday.
“I was standing in that long line outside the court waiting to get in when I heard a group of people on the line praying and they called out my son’s name,” Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis said. “I was so happy, I no longer felt alone.”
Publicity about Lewis’ case went world-wide, from Atlanta, where the city’s Black Panther Liberation Front sponsored a radio show on his case, to the United Kingdom to Africa. Mainstream media showed up in force and said they would be back Friday.
“When I address the judge Friday, I will be telling her that I stand at the front of 247 juvenile lifers still incarcerated and sitting in limbo without sentences in Michigan, who will be watching what happens in my case,” Lewis told VOD. No official records of Lewis’ conviction of killing an off-duty Detroit police officer in 1976 remain. His entire court file was “lost,” and his Register of Actions from 1976 to 2000 was wiped out.
Lewis said the other juvenile lifers view his case as an indicator of whether the courts in Michigan will abide by two U.S. Supreme Court decisions declaring their sentences unconstitutional, “cruel and unusual punishment,” from day one. They are the two-thirds of the state’s 363 juvenile lifers for whom county prosecutors recommended new life without parole sentences, in violation of the high court’s decree that “only the rarest child” should be sent to die in prison.
Lewis said he and his counselor waited by the prison’s video room from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. for the scheduled video hearing, but no word ever came to them from the court. Judge Lillard’s administrative clerk said she sent notice of the adjournment to the MDOC scheduling office in Lansing Monday at 4:30 pm by email. When Lewis talked to VOD at 1 p.m. yesterday, he still had not been given the new date and time, which VOD confirmed with Judge Lillard’s clerk.
Lewis said he wants to know just what issues the judge plans to address, in the wake of the abrupt withdrawal of his paid attorney Victoria Burton-Harris from his case Jan. 31. Lillard filed an order granting the withdrawal, but none ordering Lewis to represent himself.
On Nov. 11, 2016, Lillard denied Lewis’ own motion to dismiss his case due to the loss of his official court records and Register of Actions, and denied a motion by SADO attorney Valerie Newman, now with the Prosecutor’s Office, to sentence him to 40-60 years. She left standing only a motion by Asst. Prosecutor Tom Dawson to re-sentence him to LWOP.
She then ordered the re-construction of his lost court file. Lewis has cited numerous U.S. and Michigan Supreme Court precedents that indicate a criminal case file cannot be reconstructed, and that the remedy for a lost file is case dismissal. Burton-Harris refused to raise those arguments.
“Judge Lillard has already ruled on my case showing extreme prejudice,” Lewis said. “She cannot hold a juvenile lifer mitigation hearing in the wake of that ruling. She also has a conflict of interest because she spent eight years as an Assistant Prosecutor working with other AP’s who handled my ongoing appeals, directly before she was appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Snyder.”
Lewis later filed his own motion objecting to the judge’s ruling June 23, 2017, which is on the court record, after Newman refused to appeal Judge Lillard’s denial of her motion and withdrew from his case.
Lewis’ sister Wendy Lewis, who lives in Atlanta, set up the radio show on his case with Cedric Sims of Atlanta’s Black Liberation Front Monday night.
“My brother got support from the Black Diaspora,” Lewis said. “Blacks in other places around the planet are watching Blacks here in the U.S. to see what’s going on with us. What happens to us draws on their heartstrings. They are concerned about what happens to Lamont. There were numerous comments on posts I published on Facebook pages, particularly from the United Kingdom and Africa expressing their support for Lamont.”
(Lewis’ family calls him by his middle name, while many who know him from the 41 years he has been in MDOC, since the age of 17, know him as ‘K.K.’)
Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis, who has stood by her son since his trials in 1977, called what the court system is doing to her son and others like him “genocide.”
“They have been barred from having children and grandchildren,” Mrs. Lewis said. “What happened yesterday was horrifying and frustrating. There is no accountability in our court system. They lost Lamont’s files, they have no records of what the jury decided in his first trial because the judge would not read their verdict, and no record of the official verdict from his second trial, which constituted double jeopardy. They are violating every right he has. I say to the judge and to Gov. Snyder that they are violating every duty assigned to them as their part of their jobs. Criminal charges need to be brought against them all.”
Marilyn Jordan of the Detroit People’s Task Force, whose son Kelly Nobles remains incarcerated despite falsified forensic evidence in his case, said their organization is reconstituting itself to fight wrongful convictions and wants to bring the mothers of all those suffering unjustly in MDOC’s facilities together as a united front. The Task Force had broad recognition after the closure of the Detroit Crime Lab, when they fought for an investigation of hundreds of falsified forensics cases independent of the prosecutor’s office.
Elena Herrada of Juvenile Lifers for Justice, which is led by juvenile lifer Efrén Paredes, Jr. said she is recruiting more of their members to return Friday and invited Mrs. Lewis to appear on her 910 AM radio show the Sunday after next, March 18. It airs from 6 a.m. to 8a.m. every Sunday. She said it was she who called out Lewis’ name during the prayer session outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice March 6.
Atlanta Black Panther Liberation Front at https://www.facebook.com/groups/113901215997900/about/
By Ron Seigel
February 25, 2018
In her speech after receiving a Golden Globe Award, TV personality Oprah Winfrey expressed gratitude to “all the women, who have endured years of abuse, whose names we’ll never know.”
On February 20, during Black History Month, a forum called “What Justice Really Is,” was held to honor an African American woman, Gwen Mingo, who for decades has been valiantly fighting for people abused by those in high places and has recently faced abuse herself from the American legal system. The forum took place at the Sacred Heart Church Activities Building, 3451 Rivard, in Detroit.
Those at the forum discussed Mingo’s 22 years of efforta to save her home, the homes of residents in her area of Brush Park and the homes of people in all Detroit neighborhoods.
Last year there has been a new awareness of how Detroit urban renewal programs forced thousands of people, mostly African Americans, out of their homes and left them with no place to go except overcrowded slums.
Many have said this was the number one cause of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, including George Romney, who was the Governor of Michigan at the time.
The current Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan, has urged a quick change of the name of the largest building in downtown Detroit, the Cobo Convention Center, because it was named after the late Albert E. Cobo, who started such racist policies.
“The Cobo Center is central to the City of Detroit’s image across America and around the world,” he said, ” and I felt that a center that meant so much to Detroit’s reputation ought not to be named for someone who didn’t provide fair play for everybody.”
However, there has not been much attention paid to those who have been challenging such policies and those who are still suffering from them.
Gwen Mingo exposed such policies as head of the Citizens District Council representing the historic area of Detroit’s Brush Park and later as the head of the Coordinating Council of all Detroit Citizen District Councils.
Under her leadership, her Brush Park Citizens District Council sued city hall and presented documentary proof that the only residents in their area slated for displacement were African Americans.
Their lawsuit revealed the city was violating the law, tearing down buildings that were officially designated for. historic preservation.
Years later, Mingo exposed environmental dangers, including the way city demolition procedures spread dangerous levels of asbestos, causing breathing problems and even death. Mingo noted that on a number of blocks people died just as the city tried to take their land.
Some believe Ms. Mingo herself faced harassment due to her campaign. Around 2000, when she was on her way to an important meeting of her district council, police arrested her, allegedly because of a late traffic ticket payment. They took her to a far-off precinct and held her through the night without giving her a chance to let anyone know.
Despite police physical resistance, she was able to get a phone call out. Only after the press and a member of a community organization got wind of it and appeared at the precinct around midnight, was she released.
A few months later the. courts dropped her traffic payment charge. Some felt there was the possibility of attempted assassination.
In 2005 the city’s Economic Growth Corporation started knocking down holes in the gas main near her house. Employees of the gas company stated this was a fire hazard and continuously fixed it. In the meantime members of different community organizations came to her home and held a vigil to prevent any further danger to her and her family.
A few years later some expressed doubts that it was sheer coincidence that a hit and run driver just happened to crash her car into a lamp post soon after Mrs. Mingo’s district council filed suit against city policies.
Now some believe that Ms. Mingo is facing harassment from the courts.
About eight years ago the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank foreclosed on her house. Mrs.Mingo had a document from the bank itself stating her mortgage was all paid up, but she ultimately was not able to get her document accepted as evidence.
Mingo stated she presented a copy of it to the office of the judge, who at that time was handling the case, Judge Robert Ziolkowski and because of this he was ready to dismiss the bank’s suit against her.
Then, she states, for some unknown reason, her case was abruptly transferred to another judge, Patricia Fresard.
About the same time, Mingo noted, her court file abruptly vanished. When it was finally recovered months later, all of her documents had disappeared, notably the one proving her mortgage was all paid off.
Mingo would have made new copies on a Xerox machine, but at that time the Michigan Supreme Court made a new ruling especially for the Detroit area. The judges forbade courts in Wayne and Oakland County and the 13th District to accept paper documents, and demanded that all documents be e-filed. In short, the court was ordering judges to reject relevant evidence.
Mrs. Mingo, like many poorer litigants, had difficulty getting documents e-filed. In her case, there were particular delays, because of mechanical problems with the machines. Mingo said that even though Judge Fresard knew that Mingo’s documents had been mysteriously removed from her court file and that she had tried 27 times to e-file copies to replace them, the judge refused to acknowledge her paper documents that revealed the mortgage was all paid off and even denied her the right to read them into the court record. Judge Fresard ruled Mingo lost her case, because her file was empty.
Judge Fresard dismissed the case “with prejudice,” so that this information could not be used on appeal, effectively preventing Mingo’s evidence from ever seeing the light of day in our courts of law.
As a result Mingo is likely to lose the place she called home for decades.
Retained atty. Burton-Harris withdraws; refused to fight for case dismissal despite legal precedents related to loss of file, dismissal of first jury, others
She is second attorney to withdraw after discussion with former Atty. Valerie Newman, now of the prosecutor’s office, who also withdrew
Homicide file has no forensic evidence tying Lewis to killing; Gil Hill used secret informants to contradict eyewitness reports of officer’s 1976 killing
SUPPORT CHARLES “K.K.” LEWIS AT HIS NEXT POST-CONVICTION HEARING TUES. MARCH 6, AT 9 AM, JUDGE LILLARD’S COURTROOM #502, FRANK MURPHY HALL ST. ANTOINE AT GRATIOT.
By Diane Bukowski
Feb. 20, 2018
COLDWATER, MI – On January 31, 2018, a prison guard called Charles Lewis out of his quarters at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI for a “hearing.” Lewis, 58, who has been in prison for 42 years on a first-degree murder charge, has become an accomplished legal scholar (“jail-house lawyer”) during that time.
He has told both Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard, the judge currently handling his hearings, and various defense attorneys, “I’ve been studying the law for 42 years, since before you were born.” He currently works as a clerk in Lakeland’s law library, assisting other prisoners.
“I asked the guard—hearing, what hearing? I don’t have any tickets,” Lewis said, referring to prison misconduct tickets.
But he was taken to Lakeland’s video room, where he was thrust unprepared in front of cameras beaming into Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard’s courtroom in Detroit. Lillard has been conducting hearings on Lewis’ case since 2016, beginning with a quest to find his lost case file in order to hold a juvenile lifer re-sentencing.
During the Jan. 31 hearing, Lewis’ retained (paid) attorney Victoria Burton-Harris announced she was withdrawing from his case. The only others present at the pseudo-hearing were Judge Qiana Lillard, Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Dawson, and according to court records, Atty. Robert Burton-Harris, husband of Lewis’ attorney.
Lewis says that although Burton-Harris had told him she was planning to withdraw, he never received a copy of her motion to withdraw or a notice of the date for the hearing. Likewise, Burton-Harris has never sent him copies of any filings her office has entered into the record on his case. Lewis adds that he has sent Burton-Harris a total of 22 J-Pays (prisoner emails) outlining legal strategies for dismissing his case, which went unanswered.
VOD obtained a copy of Burton-Harris’ motion to withdraw, which says among other matters, “There has been a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship between the defendant and counsel on how to proceed. Defendant wishes to proceed with this matter in ways that counsel believes may be unethical. Defendant has expressed his dissatisfaction with the advice and representation of his counsel.”
VOD has requested a transcript of the Jan. 31 public hearing, since there was no prior warning it would take place. Lewis also requested a copy of that transcript and previous transcripts of hearings in front of Lillard. He said she told him he would be provided with them.
To date, however, none has been provided to either VOD or Lewis. Lewis says that Judge Lillard berated and yelled at him during the hearing. Lillard was earlier admonished by an Appeals Court Judge for loudly and repeatedly calling another defendant, Harold Lamont Walker, a “clown,” and then sentencing him to three to 75 years on a weapons charge, above the maximum allowed, lending credence to Lewis’ description of events. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/COA-Harold-Lamont-Walker-dissenting.pdf.
Burton-Harris is the second attorney to withdraw from Lewis’ case after Atty. Valerie Newman, now of the Prosecutor’s office, withdrew. Both Burton-Harris and Attorney Nick Benton of the law offices of Gregory Rohl withdrew after negative discussions they or their partners admitted having with Newman about Lewis’ case.
“I suspect that during the time Newman represented me, she was already racking up points for the job she got with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office,” Lewis said. Lewis also cites Judge Lillard’s employment as an Assistant Wayne Co. Prosecutor for eight years prior to the time Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to the bench, during which she worked with assistant prosecutors handling his appeals, a possible conflict of interest.
Newman took a job as head of Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s “Conviction Integrity Unit” Nov. 13, 2017. Worthy announced the revival of the unit in July, 2017, predicting nonetheless that “the overwhelming majority of convictions” would stand. Newman represented Lewis until she withdrew from his case Feb. 15, 2017. She had refused his request to appeal a Nov. 11, 2016 ruling by Judge Lillard ordering the re-construction of his official criminal case file which had been lost by the Court Clerk’s office, along with the contents of his Register of Actions from 1976 through 1999. She then left her position as head of the juvenile lifer re-sentencing division of the State Appellate Defender’s office in June, 2017.
Lewis had cited multiple U.S. Supreme Court and Michigan Supreme Court precedents which said dismissal of his conviction was the only appropriate resolution for the loss of his file.
(Newman has always refused to respond to any requests for comment from VOD.)
Lewis is one of Michigan’s 247 juvenile lifers, two-thirds of the total 363, who prosecutors have recommended be re-sentenced to life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016) recommended that “only the rarest” child should be sentenced to die in prison. Only a few of them the “Michigan 247” have seen any court action on their cases.
Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the country; Wayne County has the highest number among counties in Michigan, 147, at least 70 percent of them Black. Prosecutor Kym Worthy has recommended new life sentences for 67 of them, 98 percent Black, the highest number of any Michigan county.
Although Lewis and his family have always maintained his innocence of the killing of off-duty Detroit police officer Gerald A. Sypitkowski in 1976, his legal arguments as conveyed to his attorneys do NOT stand on the innocence claim. Controversial 2014 Michigan state statutes relating to juvenile lifer re-sentencings allegedly do not allow re-consideration of the actual conviction, despite estimates by some that some 20 percent of the state’s juvenile lifers are innocent.
Among the 22 unanswered JPay emails to Atty. Burton-Harris citing various legal precedents that should result in the dismissal of his case, Lewis says he sent the message shown excerpted in the box at right prior to her request to withdraw
In his most recent JPays, forwarded to VOD, Lewis asked Burton-Harris to file motions to dismiss his case citing People v Benton, 402 Mich 47, 260 NW2d 77 (1977), and People v Fullwood, 392 Mich 75.
He said, “Fred Benton was convicted of armed robbery before Judge Geraldine Bledsoe Ford. The first trial resulted in a mistrial declared on the court’s own motion. At the second trial a motion by defendant to dismiss the charges on grounds of double jeopardy was denied.
He quoted the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling, “This Court accords considerable deference to a judge’s determination of whether there is manifest necessity justifying declaration of a mistrial. A mistrial may only be declared, however, after an on the record consideration and discussion of alternatives with counsel. The wishes of the defendant and his counsel can then be ascertained and a full exploration of the alternatives undertaken. In the instant case correct procedures were not followed. Had they been observed the insignificance of the error may have been discovered and discussion proper curative instructions given. Instead, an unnecessary mistrial was declared. We conclude that there was no manifest necessity to declare a mistrial. Reversed.”
He continued, “My case is on all fours with Benton. Could you please file a motion to dismiss my case based on Benton, supra? Also, on September 30. 2017, I JPayed you People v Fullwood, 392 Mich 75. My file cannot be reconstructed and pursuant to FULLWOOD should be dismissed. Could you file a motion to dismiss based on FULLWOOD?”
The Fullwood decision bars the reconstruction of criminal case files.
Among the lost portions of Lewis’ file is most of the transcript of his first trial, held in March, 1977 in front of Judge Joseph Maher. That jury trial was completed, but according to Lewis and his mother Rosie Lewis, when the jury foreman returned with the verdict form, Judge Maher did not read it for the record. Instead he called prosecution and defense attorneys to the stand, consulted with them off the record, and then dismissed the jury without cause. The verdict form is not in the small portion of the transcript that exists.
Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Deborah Thomas confirmed their version in her appellate opinion filed Aug. 16, 2006.
“Judge Joseph Maher discharged the jury on March 22, 1977 without conducting a hearing or making findings on the record,” Judge Thomas wrote. “This Court has thoroughly reviewed the transcript of the first trial looking for any possible reason to dismiss the jury. This Court could not find a reasonable, or logical reason to dismiss the first jury.
“This Court also thoroughly searched the first record looking for a request for a mistrial by the defendant. There is no request on record by the Defendant for a mistrial. The Court also looked for a request by the prosecution for a mistrial, and there is likewise no request by the prosecution for a mistrial.
“A thorough reading of the first trial transcript discloses no errors that would warrant a mistrial. There is nothing in the record that indicates either the Defendant or the prosecution brought a motion for a mistrial. Thus the court can only conclude from a silent record that Judge Joseph Maher dismissed the jury sua sponte. This court concludes that the unconstitutional discharge of the jury in the first trial was the equivalent of an acquittal.”
Judge Thomas said that meant double jeopardy attached, and Lewis should never have been re-tried. See Judge Deborah Thomas’ opinion at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/DThomasOpinion2-1.pdf.
Maher was well-known at the time for his unsuccessful campaign to take the law license of militant attorney Kenneth Cockrel, Sr. for calling Maher various forms of a racist in comments to the media. Maher also facilitated the acquittal of notorious S.T.R.E.S.S. (“Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets”) cop Raymond Peterson. Undercover S.T.R.E.S.S cops killed 22 unarmed Black men in the late ’60’s to early ’70’s. Peterson killed at least six of those. He was acquitted in the trial Maher handled, but later fired by the police department for the murder in question.
Lewis said when he first hired and paid Burton-Harris, he told her he wanted her to argue for the dismissal of his case, not hold a juvenile lifer re-sentencing based on controversial 2014 state statues.
“Prior to [my] October 6, 2017 SHOW CAUSE HEARING, the defendant explained to defense counsel that she needed to argue all of the OBJECTIONS cited in the June 23, 2017 pleading entitled OBJECTIONS and all four of the issues raised by the Defendant to preserve his right to appeal his objections to the reconstructed file and the four issues to the Michigan Court of Appeals,” he wrote to her. See Charles Lewis Objections document at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/C-Lewis-Objections-6-23-17.compressed-1.pdf.
Judge Lillard earlier announced that hearings would proceed based on issues raised in this document, after Benton withdrew. But after Burton-Harris came on board, the scenario changed.
“Victoria Burton-Harris assured the defendant that she was going to vigorously argue the objections and all four issues. However, at the hearing Victoria Burton-Harris did not argue or address any of the defendant’s objections to the reconstructed file. Instead she argued that Judge Lillard had the authority to order the reconstruction of the file pursuant to MCR 3.607. That argument was not approved by the Defendant, argued by the prosecution or accepted by Judge Lillard.”
He has also cited other precedents. They include the state’s refusal to vacate his conviction after its failure to hold a “Pearson” evidentiary hearing including witnesses Maher had barred from Lewis’ second trial, within the time limits prescribed by state law (another issue upheld by Judge Deborah Thomas.)
He has argued that the state refused to honor an April 3, 2000 order signed by Judge Gershwin Drain belatedly dismissing his case. (Drain denies any involvement, but the fraction of Lewis’ Register of Actions that remains shows Drain handled his case. One version shows he dismissed the conviction; a second version says Lewis was convicted in front of Drain on April 3, 2000.)
Lewis has repeatedly questioned why the Court Clerk’s office has not been reprimanded or otherwise held to account not only for the loss of his file and Register of Actions, but also for the loss of many other prisoners’ files. Since the state began juvenile lifer re-sentencings, many defense attorneys have complained that lifer files in particular have been lost or destroyed in whole or in part. Current Registers of Actions for many defendants are not kept up to date by Deputy Court Clerk David Baxter and his office.
Lewis also argues that since Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Edward Ewell, Jr. vacated his conviction and sentence in October, 2012, subsequent juvenile lifer state statutes passed in 2014 do not apply to him, violating ex post facto rules. He says that either Ewell or Drain’s successor Judge James Chylinski should be handling his current hearings.
Other juvenile lifers including Efren Paredes, Jr. have raised the same ex post facto claim in their appeals.
DPD homicide file on Lewis case
Regarding the issue of Lewis’ innocence, which is separate from his legal arguments for dismissal under current law, VOD obtained a redacted copy of his Detroit Police Department homicide file, as well as a copy of Sypitkowski’s autopsy report.
The homicide file shows that Lewis had NO PREVIOUS CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS at the time of his arrest in this case. It mentions juvenile offenses, but says that they were dismissed in court. Lewis at the time was a talented young musician who played numerous instruments, and took care of his four younger siblings to help his working mother during his stepfather’s two years out of town on another job.
The DPD file is full of eyewitness statements from Sypitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren, other police officers, and civilians on the street outside Oty’s bar near Harper and Barrett when Sypitkowski was killed. The majority of the statements report that the shots which killed Sypitkowski came from a white Lincoln Mark IV, with “three Black men” in the front seat. Detroit police pursued the vehicle and arrested its owner Leslie Nathanial. But then Sgt. Gil Hill released Nathanial after talking to him for several hours.
In one document, Hill claimed he received a call from an unnamed, numbered informant singling out Lewis as the killer. A Detroit News article by David Grant, oddly on teletype, is in the file, which specifies that the informant identified others as well.
It says: “Hill said the police were led to the three suspects by an informant who called the homicide desk . . .Hill said he later obtained the names of the three men after meeting with the informant in the Burger King restaurant on Gratiot near Conner. . . ”
The file contains statements from the three juveniles, Mark Kennedy, Ronald Pettway, and Jeffrey Mulligan, two of whom claimed they saw Lewis kill Sypitkowski. Their statements are handwritten in writing identical to that of Chief Investigation Officer Marvin Johnson and other police, shown at the top of the statements. They are only signed at the conclusion by them and their relatives. In return for their testimony, they were removed as defendants from the original case. (See report below.)
Also in the file are allegations that Lewis and his accomplices robbed and shot a pizza delivery man, Raymond Cassabon, just before killing Sypitkowski, but there is no police report or witness statement from Cassabon in the file, nor any medical records pertaining to Cassabon’s injuries. A separate court file pertaining to charges against Lewis in that case has also gone missing.
The DPD file does not include any forensic evidence against Lewis. Police claimed they found “1 piece of plastic buttstock” and “1 plastic forearm” they said were “common to shotguns manufactured by Savage/Stevens” in Pettway’s garage. Online records show shotguns with plastic (Tenite) pieces were manufactured only from 1947-1953.
Neither the shotgun pieces nor any gun were presented at Lewis’ court hearings, but his court-appointed attorney, M. Arthur Arduin, known for his ties to the Detroit mob, stipulated to their existence. There is no record in the file that police ever fingerprinted the shotgun pieces.
The medical examiner reported taking pellets and wadding from Sypitkowski’s head, but said “The 3 pieces of lead could possibly be pellets of buckshot. It was not possible to dofinitely determine the size due to their poor condition. The fiber wadding is comparable to that used by Winchester Western in the loading of their buckshot ammunition.”
An investigator named Parris from the WCME’s office commented at the end of the report:
Many believed Sypitkowski was the victim of a deliberate hit, as the ME’s report says, related either to the mob or to the police themselves. Leslie Nathanial worked at an auto plant with Lewis’ mother Rosie Lewis. Workers at the plant reportedly went to him to play their numbers; the mob controlled most of the city’s bookmaking at the time.
Significantly, an official listing of “Fallen Officers” from the Detroit Police Department does not include Sypitkowski. (See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/DPD-Fallen-Officers.pdf)
Hill said a second unidentified informant told DPD the location of the yellow Ford Gran Torino Lewis was accused of being in when Sypitkowski was killed. The only photograph of that car in the file shows it in the 7th precinct impound lot. There is no fingerprint evidence identifying Lewis or the juvenile defendants on that car. The white Lincoln Mark IV was also impounded. While in police possession, its windows were smashed out and other damage done, destroying possible evidence. Additionally, sugar was poured into its gas tank (note open gas cap).
Hill was later twice investigated by the FBI, but not charged, for his involvement in the cover-up of the 1985 drive-by murder of a 13-year-old child, Damion Lucas, allegedly by Detroit’s Curry brothers drug gang, and in 1991, for his alleged involvement in an FBI sting operation aimed at rooting out cops protecting drug dealers.
He is also singled out in a forthcoming documentary, “650 Lifer–The Story of White Boy Rick,” by a self-identified former hit man, Nate “Boone” Craft. Craft says, without proof, in a clip shown on Detroit’s Channel 4 News, that Hill offered him $125,000 to kill Rick Wershe, Jr., an informant for the FBI on Detroit police corruption, including Hill’s cover-ups in homicide cases.
Hill played a major role at Lewis’ trials, testifying instead of the chief investigating officer Sgt. Marvin Johnson, who was said to be in the hospital. Statements from the Lincoln Mark IV witnesses including Dennis Van Fleteren were taken, but ignored by court-appointed defense attorney Arduin in his opening statement and summation. (Lewis had earlier asked the judge to remove Arduin as his attorney).
Hill was also the prosecuting attorney in the notorious case of Eddie Joe Lloyd, framed up for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Detroit in 1982.
Lloyd was later freed by Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project after spending 17 years in prison. He died not long afterward.
February 6, 2018
Now showing in theaters
SPOILER ALERT: The following review contains mild spoilers for “Black Panther.”
Until now, whether they hail from the DC or Marvel cinematic universes, big-screen superheroes have traditionally been white dudes put on this earth (e.g. Superman and Thor, who each came from other planets) or fashioned by the U.S. military (à la Captain America and War Machine) to defend America from its enemies. Co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, “Black Panther” is a radically different kind of comic-book movie, one with a proud Afrocentric twist, featuring a nearly all-black cast, that largely ignores the United States and focuses instead on the fictional nation of Wakanda — and guess what: Virtually everything that distinguishes “Black Panther” from past Marvel pics works to this standalone entry’s advantage.
Before we get carried away, let’s be clear: “Black Panther” is still a superhero movie, which means that it’s effectively conceived for 10-year-olds and all those who wish a film like this had existed when they were 10. Except that the latter category is potentially bigger than ever this time around (for a Marvel movie, at least), since there has never in the history of cinema been a film that allows an ensemble of black characters to take charge on a global scale quite like this — and many have waited their entire lives to witness just such a feat (the way that “Wonder Woman” was a hugely empowering game changer for women).That alone would be reason to get excited, and Coogler makes good on the landmark project’s potential by featuring a predominantly black ensemble, casting some of the best young actors around — from Chadwick Boseman (who proved his dramatic chops playing James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall in recent years) to Michael B. Jordan (even more buff, and twice as charismatic, than he appeared in the director’s two previous features, “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) — as well as such legends as Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. But historical significance aside, what superhero fans want to know is how “Black Panther” compares with other Marvel movies. Simply put, it not only holds its own, but improves on the formula in several key respects, from a politically engaged villain to an emotionally grounded final showdown.
Opening in the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, “Black Panther” effectively anticipates President Trump’s alleged comments about “s—hole countries” whose refugees prefer the American way of life “to their huts.” Without disparaging the rest of Africa, Coogler and his crew suggest what the continent might have become had it never been stripped of its resources — and had those resources included highly advanced alien technology and ultra-efficient energy sources. Hidden from the world, Wakanda is home to the world’s most technologically advanced city, protected by a ruler with special powers (never fully defined, all-too-easily revoked) and a fearsome black panther costume.
Of course, Wakanda doesn’t really exist, but then, Europeans so exploited the continent that we’ll never truly know the full extent of what Africa could have taught the world. (No wonder Wakandans pejoratively refer to white people as “colonizers,” a not-unreasonable epithet that’s virtually certain to enter the national vocabulary from here.) As Prince T’Challa, Boseman plays the latest Wakandan leader to don the catsuit, a matte-black onesie that receives a nice upgrade courtesy of his tech-savvy sister, Shuri (scene-stealer Letitia Wright, whose irreverent delivery makes a welcome counterbalance to Boseman’s dead-serious attitude).
Truth be told, T’Challa is kind of a bore, even if the movie that surrounds him seldom fails to thrill: He’s prince of a utopian city with little interest in the fate of the world beyond his borders — until his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), is assassinated during a bombing at the Vienna International Centre (a flashback to “Captain America: Civil War”). Though the Black Panther who made his impressive, hyper-acrobatic debut in that film is one and the same as the character seen here, Coogler humanizes him to such a degree that T’Challa doesn’t feel like a superhero so much as a deeply conflicted world leader — albeit one who must defend his title via brutal hand-to-hand bloodmatches (in a ritual that suggests a considerably more primordial, and decidedly anti-democratic, form of governance).
Wakanda owes its utopian status to a precious extraterrestrial resource called Vibranium that the rest of the world covets (it presumably sits somewhere between Kryptonite and Unobtanium on the periodic table of elements, and far out-values the diamonds and uranium for which Africa has been plundered over the past century). Halfway around the world, an MIT-educated former black-ops soldier named Erik Killmonger (Jordan, sporting a modified Basquiat haircut) waltzes into a museum and steals a misidentified Wakandan relic. (When a curator objects to the theft, he quips, “How do you think your ancestors got these?”)
Because Black Panther’s skills seem to rely more on gadgets than fantastical powers, his standalone Marvel outing actually feels more like a James Bond adventure than a conventional superhero movie at times — as in the subsequent set piece, which was clearly inspired by the Macau casino scene in “Skyfall.” Accompanied by two spear-wielding warriors (Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o play members of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s elite female fighting force), a tuxedo-clad T’Challa attempts to go incognito while South African gunrunner Ulysses Klaue (a suitably thuggish Andy Serkis, ever the chameleon) makes ready to pass the pilfered treasure to a CIA agent (Martin Freeman, who may as well be playing 007 ally Felix Leiter).
An elaborate shootout ensues, conspicuously choreographed as a single-take “oner.” Unlike “Atomic Blonde” (the best use yet of that approach), the device calls a bit too much attention to itself here, cartoonishly inflating the action, rather than making it more realistic and relatable. Still, if it’s the cool factor Coogler is going for, the scene delivers, segueing into a stunning car chase across Busan, South Korea.
“Black Panther” may not have the most impressive action sequences or visual effects of any Marvel movie, but it boasts the best villains. As an arms dealer whose arm doubles as a Vibranium super-cannon, Klaue makes for a nasty henchman, while Killmonger keeps his cards up his sleeve until relatively late in the film but emerges as the most satisfying comic-book adversary since Heath Ledger’s Joker. Both characters have a ruthless anarchic streak, although Killmonger has more than just wreaking chaos in mind. He’s motivated by a feeling of deep political injustice, plus a “This time it’s personal” sense of vengeance, and he’s convinced that raiding the Wakanda’s stockpile of Vibranium could put genuine firepower in a worldwide black uprising.
It’s a compelling idea (enough to sway a key ally played by Daniel Kaluuya), and a reminder that throughout the African diaspora, the black-white power balance remains as it is courtesy of Jim Crow practices designed to keep minorities in check: persistent segregation, broken drug laws, racially targeted policing, disproportionately high incarceration rates — all of which are identified and indicted by Coogler’s truth-to-power script. Arm the oppressed, Killmonger passionately argues, and it won’t take a century for the system that produced “The Birth of a Nation” to grant a black artist the right to tell this kind of story — not that Coogler endorses the character’s lunatic ideas.
But he’s not about to waste the opportunity either. Rather than simply concocting another generic plan to save the world from annihilation, Coogler revives the age-old debate between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — between passive resistance and the call for militant black activism. Think of it as “Black Panther vs. the Black Panthers,” except you can’t have a nonviolent action hero, which puts T’Challa in a strange position. It’s not quite clear what he stands for, whereas his independent-minded ex-girlfriend Nakia (Nyong’o’s character) has ambitious ideas about how Wakanda could help the world — which means it’s up to her to spark his engagement with the outside world.
While far more mainstream — and by extension, kid-friendly — than such blaxploitation classics as “Foxy Brown” and “Cleopatra Jones,” “Black Panther” upholds the same tradition of celebrating strong, assertive black women. At the end of a big rhinoceros battle, a male character submits to Gurira in the film’s single most iconic shot, while an earlier scene in which she tosses aside a bad wig ranks as the most gay-friendly Marvel moment to date.
In their print form, comic books have led the way in terms of representation and inclusivity, long empowering non-white, non-male characters in their pages. Although previous big-screen examples certainly exist — among them Wesley Snipes’ “Blade” and Will Smith’s “Hancock” — “Black Panther” celebrates its hero’s heritage while delivering one of Marvel’s most all-around appealing standalone installments to date. Going forward, Black Panther will join the ranks of the Avengers, further diversifying their ranks. In the meantime, it’s awesome to see Black Power celebrated in such a mainstream fashion.
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Voice of Detroit is particularly interested in this movie as it brings to mind the plans that Muammar Gaddafi had for the great nation of Libya and a united continent of Africa. Among them were an African currency based on gold that would have competed with U.S. and European currencies on the market, an all-African army, and basically, a United States of Africa. See a sampling of articles published in VOD on the vicious U.S.–CIA invasion of Libya and the brutal assassination of its leader, revered all over the African continent, below.