Detroit – The City of Detroit, its police department and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office are apparently conspiring to stonewall a civil lawsuit against Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley. The officer shot 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones to death in her home May 16, 2010, as other members of a “Special Response Team” in an armored vehicle threw an incendiary grenade inside. The home, on Lillibridge, is in a desperately poor area on Detroit’s far east side.
Meanwhile, Weekley’s attorneys have filed documents blaming the child’s family and even her neighbors for her death and maintaining their client’s innocence.
“The First 48” TV series and its producer Kirkstall Rd. Enterprises of New York additionally have refused to provide their videotapes of the assault on the Jones home, which they were filming as it occurred.
“Plaintiff has been attempting to take Officer Weekley’s deposition since last year,” attorney Geoffrey Fieger, representing Aiyana’s parents, wrote Weekley’s attorney Kenneth Lewis on July 22.
“Defense counsel has stonewalled the discovery process at every turn, forcing the Plaintiff to file several motions with this court in an attempt to obtain the most basic information pertinent to Aiyana’s death. This Court has instructed the Defendant and the City to cooperate with the Plaintiff in the discovery process, yet there has been no substantive discovery to date.”
Fieger also said, “The prosecutor has not released investigative materials.”
In response, Lewis filed a motion for a “protective order,” which will be heard by Third Circuit Court Judge Daphne Means Curtis on Thurs. Sept. 1, at 2 p.m. in Room 1007 at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, 2 Woodward Ave.
The motion asks that depositions of Weekley and other police, as well as documentation from the prosecutor’s office, be kept secret, or “sealed.” It claims that Weekley faces possible criminal charges and sets strict limits on the contents of the deposition, which is to take only one hour. “No protective order, no deposition,” Lewis wrote.
“The Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee (JAJC) vehemently objects to this request on the grounds that the Detroit Police Department needs to provide transparency into what actually happened when Aiyana was killed by its officers,” said JAJC chief Roland Lawrence.
“The family of Aiyana Jones and the citizens of Detroit have been tortured enough and need some answers. Any reasonable person will conclude that the Detroit Police and Mayor Dave Bing and others are hiding something, and that ‘something’ does not smell good. Both the criminal and civil cases must move quickly to the center stage without further delay.”
Weekley’s attorneys, from the wealthy law firm of Plunkett and Cooney, are being paid unknown sums by city taxpayers. According to court documents, they have refused to present their client for depositions five times in the last year.
On March 1, Judge Curtis ordered that “depositions take place as soon as possible after completion of the Michigan State Police (MSP) investigation, or as soon as reasonably practical after May 6 regardless of whether the Michigan State Police investigation is concluded.”
In 2006, Judge Curtis ruled in support of the Detroit Police Commission when it blocked the promotion of three-time killer cop Eugene Brown to sergeant, but her ruling was overturned on appeal and Brown was promoted.
On March 5, the MSP announced that it had completed its investigation and turned over the results, along with a request for a warrant for an unidentified “male suspect,” to Worthy. Worthy has since said that she is conducting her own investigation and given no indication as to when it will conclude. In the past, her office has declared it is still investigating police killings cases long after they had closed the files.
Weekley’s attorneys claim a federal investigation is also open, based on media reports published in August 2010. But U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in May of this year, “We are currently awaiting the conclusion of the state process before we consider federal action.”
After their motion for a protective order, Plunkett & Cooney scheduled depositions for Aiyana’s family members, a move which Fieger’s firm blocked by requesting that they not be deposed until after Weekley’s deposition takes place.
Plunkett & Cooney previously filed a “Notice of Non-Party Fault,” according to documents in the court files.
“This was an attempt to spread the blame for his [Weekley’s] reckless shooting to eight individuals he claims are partially or entirely responsible for Aiyana’s death, including anyone present in the home and even any next door neighbors,” says a filing from Fieger’s firm.
On Dec. 10, 2010, Plunkett & Cooney alleged without proof that members of Aiyana’s family were engaged in “drug dealing, vehicle theft and illegal utility hook-ups.” They also accused Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, of participating in the previous shooting death of 17-year-old Je’Rean Blake and said it is likely that he is the “male suspect” named by State Police in their investigative report.
They cited media reports that Chauncey Owens, who lived upstairs from Aiyana’s family and who was the individual police were seeking when they killed Aiyana, was to testify that her father gave him the gun used to kill Blake in exchange for a lighter sentence. In fact, Owens’ court files show he named another individual. His sentencing, originally set for this past May, has been postponed until Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 9 a.m. in Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Richard Skutt’s courtroom at the Frank Murphy Hall.
Plunkett & Cooney additionally claimed Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones “interfered in the execution of the search by unlawfully touching the defendant and causing his weapon to accidentally discharge.”
Jones was arrested and held for several days after she watched her beloved granddaughter die in front of her eyes. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, at the time an assistant chief, publicly withdrew the contention that she interfered with Weekley and released her without charges at the time.
The family’s actions “created unsafe living conditions for Aiyana Stanley-Jones and placed her in extreme danger,” Plunkett & Cooney wrote. “If Plaintiff Aiyana Stanley-Jones sustained any injuries or damages as alleged in the amended complaint, same were caused in whole or in part by the aforementioned Non-Parties.”
Various elements in the city, including talk show hosts Mildred Gaddis and Angelo Henderson, have encouraged such speculation. As a result, there has been no mass outpouring of rage in Detroit against the child’s killing by police, although there is outrage around the world.
In a letter to Fieger’s firm, Davis, Wright & Tremaine, LLP, on behalf of Kirkstall Rd. Enterprises, the producer of “The First 48,” refused to comply with a court-ordered subpoena for the film of the incident from Fieger’s office.
They claimed that the subpoena could only be issued through New York courts, and even then, they would not produce it because they claim to be covered by “New York Civil Rights Law 79-h(c),” known as the “Shield Law,” which allegedly protects a reporter’s privilege.
The Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee is asking that individuals phone Judge Daphne Means Curtis at 313-224-2240 to express their opposition to the protective order.
Detroit-based journalist Diane Bukowski, publisher of The Voice of Detroit, “the city’s independent newspaper, unbossed and unbought,” where this story originally appeared, was an investigative reporter for the past decade for the Michigan Citizen newspaper and has been an activist in union and people’s struggles for 40 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.