Tragic divide between seniors, youth in Detroit highlighted in trial
30,000 homes on the chopping block in 2015 auctions; 85 percent in Detroit, 30 percent occupied
New state laws bar foreclosed homeowners from bidding on their own homes; they must pay all back taxes, interest and fees
Activists demand that auctions be stopped, say taxes illegal because required property value re-assessments not done for years
By Diane Bukowski
Sept. 4, 2015
DETROIT – On Oct. 7, 2015, one day before this year’s Wayne County Treasurer tax foreclosure auctions begin, Alonzo Long, Jr., 22, will face re-trial on first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Howard Franklin, the winning bidder on Long’s grandfather’s home in Rosedale Park in 2014, and his daughter Catherine Franklin.
The ferocity of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s pursuit of the case against Long, whose first trial ended in a hung jury, parallels the assault mounted on county residents by County Executive Warren Evans and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder has declared a “financial emergency” in the county, under Public Act 436, at Evans’ request, with cuts to workers’ wages and benefits on the table, along with the County’s repayment of delinquent property taxes to its cities.
Long charges derive from Nov. 2014 incident with bidders
Charges against Long derive from an alleged shoot-out with the Franklins on Nov. 28, 2014. After winning the October bid on the home at 15114 Piedmont, rented by Long’s uncle Gregory Fletcher, the Franklins did not follow legal eviction procedures by going to 36th District Court to remove Fletcher. Instead, they armed themselves and entered the premises that evening to order Fletcher and several young relatives helping him move to get out immediately.
Witnesses claim Catherine Franklin shot first, wounding Tamika Long. All armed parties had concealed pistol permits. Detroit police chief James Craig earlier recommended that all Detroiters should obtain the.
After five days of deliberations during the trial in July, 2014, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Alexis Glendenning declared a hung jury.
“This is a tragic situation,” Long’s new court-appointed attorney Lillian Diallo told VOD Aug. 14 after a brief pre-trial hearing. “There are people dead here. But we also have to look at it from the standpoint of the man who sits at the [defense] table. We cannot sustain a situation as a people and a society, where youths are automatically considered guilty in situations involving older people.”
Long’s mother Susan Long said the jury was multi-racial but largely older. She said three jurors were adamant in voting “No,” and that one hugged her and told her, “I couldn’t see sending another young Black man to prison for the rest of his life. I’ll pray for you and your family.”
Mrs. Long added, “Alonzo is the kind of person who, when people get into it at a party, he stays so cool and calm. He tells them, ‘hey man, just calm down.’ He was always the peacemaker in family disputes.”
The property at 15114 Piedmont, still listed under Franklin’s name despite his death, is not up for auction this year, but 30,000 other properties, 85 percent in Detroit and 30 percent occupied, will be.
30,000 foreclosed homes on auction block this year; homeowners cannot bid
Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz says on the county’s website that new state laws bar foreclosed homeowners from participating in the auctions to re-claim their own homes. Instead, they must pay the full amount of back taxes owing, plus interest and penalties. He has also said he will no longer limit the homes on the auction block to those owing large amounts.
Eric Sabree of the Treasurer’s office told VOD, “While it is not the responsibility of the Treasurer’s Office to give advice to auction purchasers, it does make all the sense in the world to relay the options that they have once they purchase occupied property. We will prepare something that the future purchasers can use as a guide. A new law (House Bill 5069, 5070 and 5071) allowing owners to request law enforcement assistance will also be referenced.”
The laws Sabree refers to were passed last year and relate to so-called “squatters,” people occupying vacant homes without the owner’s permission. Those laws caused much confusion in 2014, with many bidders assuming every occupant was a “squatter.” Sabree did not respond when asked if bidders would be told whether occupants are there legally, as in the case of Fletcher, or are “squatting.”
The auction is happening as Snyder, Evans, and the County Commission work out terms of a “Consent Agreement” confirmed in August pursuant to Public Act 436. That agreement confirms among other provisions that the County can transfer funds from its “Delinquent Tax Revolving Account,” consisting of bank loans backed by delinquent tax late fees and penalties, to its general fund.
Normally, the County, which takes over the process of collecting back taxes from its cities after one year of delinquency, later repays the cities from that fund. Instead, it will be paying off its debt to the banks as cities become further cash-strapped. The state, which has cut $7.2 billion in revenue-sharing to the cities in the last 10 years, is not promising any financial assistance to the county in the Consent Agreement.
Activists want 2015 tax auctions stopped, support for Alonzo Long, Jr
Activists are demanding a halt to this year’s tax auctions, period.
They claim the auctions are illegal because cities have not followed state law requiring annual re-assessments of property value, and because of numerous irregularities in deed preparation in the Wayne County Sheriff’s office. Others decry the continued devastation both mortgage and tax foreclosures have wrought on Detroit neighborhoods, in particular.
“This is nothing but outright criminal fraud and racketeering, because the tax bills people are being forced to pay are illegal,” Cornell Squires of We the People for the People said. “State law requires annual assessments, or at the very least, reassessments every five years. It is a CRIME to force people to pay these huge amounts. Instead, they should be reimbursed for overpayments for the last 20 years, and the politicians in charge should go to jail, not Alonzo Long, Jr.”
Meanwhile, members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to End Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shut-offs said at a “Peoples’ Assembly” Aug. 29 that they are planning a mass protest at the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office at 400 Monroe, in downtown Detroit, to stop the tax auctions.
The auctions are only held online, limiting access to those who have computers, but perhaps providing access to innovative protesters.
They are also calling for friends and supporters of Alonzo Long, Jr. to attend his trial to address what they say is a blatant miscarriage of justice. It will be held in the courtroom of Judge Alexis Glendenning in the Frank Murphy Hall at Gratiot and St. Antoine, but she is not expected to preside due to her pending transfer to family court.
Further details on Nov. 2014 shoot-out between bidders, Long, Jr.
On Nov. 28, 2014, the Franklins entered the Piedmont home twice. The Treasurer’s “bidding rules” tell winning bidders to obtain the occupant’s permission to enter. Earlier in the day, according to testimony at Long’s preliminary exam, the Franklins called the Detroit police to assist them. Officers who responded instructed them to leave and give the occupants time to get their belongings out, but the Franklins returned that evening.
On Oct. 8, 2014, they had also visited the home before any deed was issued in Howard Franklin’s name to tell Fletcher to move, according to Alonzo Long’s mother Susan Long. The deed was issued Nov. 11, 2014. (See deed at Howard Franklin QCD.)
Alonzo’s friend Taniqua Russell was one of those helping out that day.
“They [the Franklins] told us they didn’t want to wait all night,” Russell said. “I was helping Tamika pack things from the drawers and closets, and the men were moving the stuff into the U-Haul. Gregory and Aleta (his girlfriend) were helping Junior (Alonzo) move a mirror, and it accidentally broke.”
She said after the U-Haul left, she and Tamika got in their car to get warm, because it was cold outside and snowing. They even invited two maintenance men working for the Franklins into the car to get warm, but they declined, she said.
Russell she heard Gregory scream Alonzo’s name from inside the house. She said she and Tamika went into the house first to see what was going on. She said Catherine and Howard Franklin were there, with the elder Franklin pointing his gun at Fletcher.
“We asked them why do you all have your guns out,” Russell went on. “Catherine said ‘It’s time for you to go, ain’t nobody gonna be here all night.’ I said the police said we could have time to move. Catherine was yelling all day, telling us to ‘get the F— out of the house.’ Greg and the old man were arguing.”
Alonzo entered the home after the two young women, she said. She said she heard Catherine shoot into the ceiling and then Tamika was shot twice in the foot.
Russell said Tamika ran outside wounded, and fell off the porch, fracturing bones in her rib cage and arm.
“When the shooting stopped, we started running outside because we didn’t know if the two maintenance men had guns,” Russell said.
She said they passed Catherine Franklin lying on the porch with her gun still in her hand, then drove home as the police were turning onto Piedmont.
“It’s not just about this shooting, but about why it occurred,” Mrs. Long said. “The Treasurer should give explicit directions to bidders about what to do if a home is occupied.”
The Treasurer’s bidding rules last year did not tell winning bidders to take eviction cases to the appropriate district court, to be handled by officials.
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