George Rider in Macomb County Circuit Court Tues. Jan. 31 9 a.m. before MCCC Judge Joseph Toia after COA remanded case due to ineffective assistance by trial counsel, illegal phone seizure
“Evidence:” unauthenticated, profane, obscure text messages featured in sensationalized newspaper and TV coverage world-wide.
Warren police lied, falsified affidavits, guilty of “deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct” in repeated searches of cell phones,” –Appellate Atty. Christine Pagac in brief
Rider targeted by feds: History of Fine Arts Theater ownership in Detroit shows long pattern of federal seizure of Black-owned properties, convictions, murders of owners
Brother Lawrence Rider sentenced to 2 yrs. probation Jan. 17 in separate federal case targeting the Riders, using jail-house informant
By Diane Bukowski
January 27, 2023
Convicted of the 2017 murder of Julii Johnson in Warren, prominent Detroit businessman and community activist George Rider will return to the courtroom of Macomb County Judge Joseph Toia Tues. Jan. 31, at 9 a.m., fighting for a new trial.
He is asking that “evidence” produced from the seizure of a cell phone during a stop in which his car and his person were also seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Rider told VOD, “My attorney and the prosecutor knowingly allowed me to be convicted when they knew the phone was not admissible. Four judges on this case all knew that my warrant was unlawful. I’ve been in here six years for an unlawful warrant. It was a legal lynching.”
In his extensive coverage of the case, VOD Field Editor Ricardo Ferrell noted, “Never has anyone been convicted of First Degree Murder for two unauthenticated text messages,” (See links below.)
The chief “evidence” used against Rider at trial were unauthenticated, profane and obscure text messages featured in sensationalized newspaper and TV coverage world-wide. No physical or eyewitness evidence was ever produced against Rider. His prints were not on the murder weapon, and his DNA was not found on gloves near it.
Media world-wide covered the Julii Johnson murder, unashamedly reporting, for example, that Rider “drove the get-away car,” an allegation never introduced or proven at trial. (FOX 2) – George Rider was the getaway driver on a January morning in Warren when a woman hired a hitman to kill her ex’s new girlfriend. See: Convicted killer accused of arson for hire plot while in jail (fox2detroit.com)
VOD reported at the time: “This WXYZ news coverage is typical of many mainstream media stories, using unsubstantiated police comments, such as the one regarding an unidentified person leaving a vehicle (Warren police SAID he was George Rider), rumors and innuendo, to convict the defendants TWO YEARS before they were actually tried.”
The Macomb County prosecutor focused on the lurid text messages at trial, with the alleged texters never taking the stand. The Macomb Daily prominently featured the details of the texts again on Jan. 10 this year.
The Michigan Court of Appeals remanded Rider’s case back to Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Toia Aug. 18, 2022, agreeing that Warren police had no warrant to seize the phone, only a warrant for information from the cell phone company. The court said Rider’s defense attorney at trial was guilty of “ineffective assistance” by not contesting the warrant.
Toia held an initial evidentiary hearing Nov. 4, 2022 during which two Warren police officers, Sergeant Brandon Roy and Lieutenant Charles Rushton, testified on the events surrounding the stop.
On cross examination by Rider’s defense attorney Christine Pagac, they admitted that they stopped Rider and seized him, cell phones, and his Ford Explorer inside a Roseville car wash, not during a traffic stop as they falsely swore in affidavits.
Citing transcripts of the Nov. 4 hearing, Pagac wrote in a Supplemental Post-Ginther Hearing brief that Roy testified the phone, with number 4616, which belonged to Midtown Entertainment, LLC, “was the last one to text [co-defendant] Marcie Griffin the night before the murder and the first one to text her after the murder.”
She contends that Roy falsified a warrant to search the car obtained after its seizure, failing to note that police already had the 4616 phone which was the subject of the COA opinion in their possession before seizing the car.
Then, she notes, “Lt. Rushton directed the officers in the patrol car to ‘pin in’ Mr. Rider’s vehicle and said he had his gun pointed at Mr. Rider, and the other officers may have done the same. Mr. Rider was ordered out of the car, patted down, and two phones were taken from his person.”
“THE PROSECUTION IS WRONG”–Pagac brief http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/George-Rider-supp-brief-Pagac-3.pdf
In her arguments, Pagac writes, “The prosecution asserts that ‘exigent circumstances’ justified the seizure of Mr. Rider, his vehicle and all three phones,” Pagac says in a Post-Ginther Hearing brief.
‘The exigent circumstances exception . . .applies only where ‘the police did not create the exigency by engaging or threatening to engage in conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment’. . .The police here were only in a position to seize the phones after they illegally seized Mr. Rider and his vehicle, not during a traffic stop, but simply in Lt. Rushton’s words, ‘to get those items.’….The prosecution’s argument that exigent circumstances justified this stop would lead to the exception swallowing the rule.
“Finally, the evidence obtained as a result of the illegal seizure should be suppressed,” Pagac contends. “The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter ‘deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct.” Herring v. United States, 555 US 124, 142 (2009). . . . Suppression also ‘remains an appropriate remedy if the magistrate or judge in issuing a warrant was misled by information in a affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for this reckless disregard of the truth. United States v Leon, 468 US 897, 922 (1984).”
Pagac notes that warrantless cell phone seizures appear to be a regular practice of the Warren Police Department.
“The search warrant for Mr. Rider’s vehicle, Ex. 2 [obtained after the seizure], further shows that these officers appears to have a habit of seizing phones without making arrests or having warrants authorizing the seizure,” Pagac writes.
“[Monica] Bellamy refused to provide officers with the call or text messages from her phone while speaking with officers and Bellamy’s phone was seized as evidence. Ms. Bellamy described this as ‘stealing’ her phone. [Bellamy was a recipient of text messages sent by co-defendant Marcie Griffin.]
“. . .Finally, when Griffin invoked her right to counsel, her phones were ‘seized as evidence.’ Notably absent is any mention of the seizure being pursuant to a warrant. Repeated warrantless seizure of cellphones, entitled to heightened protection under recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent, is precisely the type of ‘deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct’ that should be suppressed under Herring.”
Pagac writes that the prosecution conceded Item 3 of the COA order (see box above), “to the extent that evidence was admitted at trial that should not have been admitted, whether there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of Mr. Rider’s trial would have different had the evidence not been admitted.” The prosecution contends that the seizure was pursuant to valid exceptions to the warrant requirement, or that if the seizures did violate the Fourth Amendment they were not flagrant and so the evidence should be suppressed. THE PROSECUTION IS WRONG.”
Decades-long history: U.S. seizures of Black-owned properties, convictions, related murders in Detroit
Rider and his supporters have long contended that his conviction is part of a pattern of corporate and U.S. government support for the white gentrification of downtown Detroit in the Brush Park and Cass Corridor district. He and his supporters say U.S. federal agents met with the Warren police the day of his arrest to coordinate their attack.
Macomb County and the Warren Police Department have failed to respond to repeated FOIA requests by VOD for Rider’s homicide file and documents related to that meeting. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/George-Rider-FOIA-Warren-Police-Dept-12-26-2022.pdf
Macomb County Asst. Prosecutor Jurji Fedorak, who presided over Rider’s trial in 2019, is married to Vera Fedorak, a U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent.
Rider is suing the U.S. and agents from the FBI, ATF, the Violent Crimes Task Force, and the Michigan State Police for the warrantless raid and search of his residence on Greater Mack in St. Clair Shores, on March 25, 2017, after the murder of Julii Johnson. It is owned by his girl-friend Gloria Ray, who lived there with Rider and their teen-age son. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/George-Rider-federal-motion-re-warrantless-search-and-seizure-of-his-home.pdf
Warren police tracked his vehicle from there to the Roseville car wash where they seized Rider himself, his car and three cell-phones without valid warrants or probable cause. U.S. District Court Judge Laurie J. Michelson ordered the government to respond to the motion, an order they ignored until recently when they asked for an extension.
Rider and his brother Lawrence Rider have also been targeted by federal informants in an arson-for-profit case allegedly initiated while he was in the Macomb County Jail for two years awaiting trial. The government earlier agreed to dismiss the case against George Rider, but without prejudice.
However, they have continued to pursue the case against Lawrence Rider, who moved to withdraw a guilty plea he said was foisted on him by a court-appointed attorney, after he was deemed partially blind. But U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin Drain denied his motion to withdraw the pleas,and sentenced him to two years probation on Jan. 17. See: http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Lawrence-Rider-motion-to-withdraw-guilty-plea-2-United_States_of_America_v_Rider_et_al__miedce-19-20831__0137.0.pdf
In 1998, Detroit police raided the Fine Arts Theatre, which Rider owned at one time prior to his arrest, storming it with SWAT teams and helicopters. Then run by Gwendolyn Washington, the theater was hosting one of many jazz concerts that drew audiences of middle-class, sophisticated Blacks. The police expelled them and illegally searched the theater as helicopters trained floodlights on it.
The pretext for the raid was an alleged deed violation, a civil matter, not a criminal issue. Detroit activists came out in droves to support Washington and the theater, occupying it for months as “liberated territory,” and holding crowded rallies inside, before they were finally driven out by police.
The now-defunct Michigan Citizen reported in great detail on the events, but currently its print copies are at the University of Michigan research libraries, and no other coverage by mainstream media can be found. Current coverage of Rider’s case ignores the raid. But this reporter was present at the rallies in question, before working for the Citizen.
The Michigan Citizen later published a series of stories by Ron Seigel covering the battle against the destruction by arson, foreclosures and other means of the Brush Park neighborhood. Gwendolyn Mingo, head of the Brush Park Community District Council, led the battle for years, until she was the last homeowner left. After heroic stand-offs, her home was finally stolen.
In an extensive history of the Fine Arts Theatre, Detroit Free Press reporter JC Reindl reported in 2015, “The theater hosted numerous events in the early and mid-2000s, including a Natalie Cole concert and a 2006 appearance by L.L. Cool J for Super Bowl XL.”
Reindl reported on the still unsolved murders of Fine Arts Theatre owners Joseph “DoDo” Foster, Bernice Johnson, and Valerie Atikian. Atikian was killed in 2007 a week before she was scheduled to give a deposition on a title dispute over the theater.
“Those in Detroit who remember Foster, known on the street as DoDo, say he owned several other properties in and around Brush Park and was known in the neighborhood as a paternal figure of sorts, despite his alleged drug trade involvement,” Reindl wrote. Rider has similarly been characterized as an “urban folk hero” by newspaper publisher Scott Burnstein, who has covered the case extensively, including in stories by Ricardo Ferrell.
Foster and Rider were both charged with drug trafficking by the federal government; their properties were seized under drug “forfeiture” laws. Foster was killed shortly before he was set to go to court on the charges, while the U.S. convicted Rider, who served two and one-half years in federal prison. Reindl reports on federal seizures of both Foster’s and Rider’s properties in connection with the charges, which paved the way for the Detroit/Wayne Stadium Authority, the construction of Comerica Park, Ford Field, and Little Caesar’s Arena.
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