MCHR Statement on Police Brutality and Misconduct

The Michigan Coalition of Human Rights (MCHR) condemns the savage beating and arrest of Floyd Dent by Officers of the Inkster Police Department. We call for a sweeping and independent investigation of the Inkster Police Department by the Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division.

Floyd Dent deserves restitution for his injuries – both mental and physical. Those directly involved – including the Inkster Police Department itself — must be held personally and legally accountable for their actions. However, justice in this case alone is not enough.

We reject any depiction of this as an isolated incident or as the act of a lone “bad apple” or “rogue cop.” Sadly, it is just one example of the systemic and institutionalized police misconduct and brutality that has plagued our nation’s law enforcement agencies, including Detroit and the surrounding area, for decades. This case, along with several other recent high profile cases, have brought national attention to realities of our justice system that have long been familiar to communities throughout the country.

The change in policing practices that is needed in Inkster, Metro Detroit and across the country requires a transformation of our law enforcement culture from one that treats us like threats to be neutralized, or as sources of revenue, to one that treats us like charges to be protected and served.

Commitment and action at all levels of government – federal, state and local – is needed to restore faith in one of society’s most vital institutions.

MCHR calls on leaders and the communities they serve to organize and mobilize peacefully until an enduring and permanent resolution is reached.

Background Material on Officer Melendez, Officer Randazzo and Chief Yost:

Officer Melendez has been a central player in major cases involving human and civil rights violations over the last twenty years, and, as with so many police departments with so many officers like him, he has been given carte blanche to repeatedly violate peoples’ rights with impunity. The following known history regarding Officer Melendez bears repeating:

  • He is currently a co-defendant in another case of alleged police brutality that took place in 2011. The plaintiff in that case, Deshawn Acklin, alleges that he was handcuffed and beaten by Melendez and other Inkster Officers until he was unconscious and defecated on himself, at which point he was arrested, sprayed with mace in the back of a police car and never charged with a crime. Melendez claims that he was reacting to Acklin reaching for a gun. However, as found by the court in its recent ruling denying summary judgment to them, the two officers’ stories conflict on a number of important points, such as: who was present where and when; the amount and nature of physical resistance; whether or not Acklin spat at officers; whether or not Acklin went to the hospital or the jail directly from the scene; and, when and if Acklin reached for a weapon. (1)

  • In total, including the Acklin case, Melendez has been the defendant in 12 lawsuits dating back to 1996 for allegations including wrongful arrest, planting evidence, assault and wrongful death. (2)

  • In 1999, the city of Detroit settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $1 million brought by the family of Lou Adkins who witnesses said was shot 11 times by Melendez and his partner while he was down on the ground, unarmed. At the time, Melendez was a member of the Detroit Police department. (3)

  • In 2003, Melendez was federally indicted along with 16 other Detroit Police Officers, accused of being the ringleader of a group of corrupt police officers that allegedly stole guns, money and drugs from suspects, planted evidence and conducted searches without warrants. (4) Melendez and the other defendants were acquitted of the charges in what prosecutors deemed jury nullification. (5)

Police Chief Vicki Yost’s, a 19 year veteran of the DPD who became the Inkster Chief of Police in August 2014, also has questionable events in her background:

  • In 2003, Eugene Brown, Yost’s partner in the DPD, was found liable in the 1999 shooting death of Lamar Grable. The jury awarded Grable’s family $4 Million. (6) The Michigan Court of Appeals, which upheld the judgment, found that, despite both Brown’s and Yost’s testimony that Grable supposedly shot at Brown first, there was no evidence Grable possessed a gun. The opinion also noted “…several inconsistencies between the officers’ version of events and their prior statements and between their trial testimony and the physical evidence…” including whether there was one or two rounds of shooting and how close Brown was to Grable when he shot him. (7)

  • According to a complaint filed by the ACLU and the law firm of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C., on May 31, 2008 members of the DPD Vice Squad under Yost’s command raided the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID) in paramilitary commando-style gear. They “shoved, kicked, and hit” some of CAID’s 130 patrons who were attending an event known as “Funk Night.” The patrons were forced to lie down in the mud and some, who asked to see badges or inquired about what was happening, were allegedly brutalized by police officers. On the pretense that CAID was not properly licensed for Funk Night, all 130 patrons were detained, searched and charged with a crime. The DPD impounded 40 of the patron’s vehicles, which were legally parked and were not involved in any crime. Some of the patrons paid nearly $1,000 to get their vehicles back, while others never received them back at all. (11)

    The raid was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge who found that “the police misconduct at the CAID was not an isolated incident, but was in fact part of “a widespread practice” and “custom” by the Detroit Police Department of unconstitutionally “detaining, searching, and prosecuting large groups of persons” and impounding their cars based on their mere presence at a raid location.” (11)

Inkster Police Officer Phillip “Chuck” Randazzo is Officer Melendez’s Partner and also played a role in both the Acklin and Dent incidents. Some relevant information regarding Randazzo:

  • Randazzo was present at the scene and participated in Dent’s beating. In the video, he can be seen kicking Dent’s arm. (15)

  • Randazzo is a co-defendant in the Acklin case. Acklin alleges that Randazzo and Melendez were the two officers that assaulted him until he was unconscious. (1)

Comparison between Inkster, MI and Ferguson, MO

Both Inkster and Ferguson are nearly identical in size at 6 square miles. Both are suburbs of a larger metropolitan area. Each has between 20 – 25K residents. As of the 2010 census, 67% of the residents in Ferguson identify as African American while 73% identify as African American in Inkster. The Inkster police force is estimated to be 80 – 90 percent white (8) while the police force in Ferguson is 92 percent white (9). Approximately 25 percent of Ferguson residents live below the federal poverty level (9) compared to 38 percent in Inkster (10).

Some Remaining Questions

  • When was Melendez put on administrative leave?

  • When did Melendez join the Inkster police Department?

  • Who hired Melendez in Inkster?

  • Is the entire, unedited dashboard camera video of the Dent incident available?

  • Were all of the police officers on the scene of the Dent beating wearing microphones that were intended to record their activity as has been reported in several news outlets?

  • Is there a transcript of any of the hearings in the Dent case available, particularly the one where Melendez admits that he was racially profiling Dent?

  • Is the type of racial profiling Melendez admitted to (“black man in a Cadillac”) standard procedure for Inkster/Detroit Police?

Additional Examples of Police Misconduct in the Region

Police violence and abuse of authority are rampant. In addition to what we are learning about the Inkster Police Department and its officers, the following additional examples shed further light on the tip of the iceberg:

  • 2006: Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department had tolerated a pattern of violence and blatant racism for years, culminating in the horrific murder and vicious beating of two brothers, Clifton and Bruce Lee, respectively (18):

    • The “motto” of the Department was: “Why does county wear brown? Because blood shows up on blue”

    • An internal email generated within the Department: “MIRANDA RIGHTS (Revised) – You have the right to swing first. However, if you choose to swing first, any move you make can, and will, be used as an excuse to beat the shit out of you. You have the right to have a doctor and a priest present. If you cannot afford a doctor, or if you are not presently attending a church of your choice, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand what I have told you ASSHOLE?”

    • Racist emails and cartoons routinely circulated throughout the Department

    • The federal criminal prosecution of several of the officers involved

  • 2009: Officers of the Warren Police Department pulled over two young black men who were doing nothing other than “driving while black,” culminating in the unjustifiable death of Robert Mitchell, a 16-year old child who suffered immediate cardiac arrest after being tasered in the chest. (19)

  • The Detroit Police Department is responsible for countless wrongful convictions of innocent African Americans including Walter Swift in 1982 (16), Kimberly Sykes and Tevya Urquhart in 2002 (17), and Dwayne Provience in 2000. (20)

  • 2011: Redford Township Police Department arrested and wrongfully prosecuted 6 law abiding African American young men, charging them with fabricated crimes, setting exorbitant bonds and destroying the dash cam video footage that would have vindicated them. They were forced to endure over a year of criminal pretrial hearings until the charges were finally dismissed when the destruction of the dash cam videos were proven during a 4-hour evidentiary hearing in September 2012. Civil rights lawsuit resulted in nearly $300,000 settlement in 2015.

These are just a few examples of what is routinely tolerated, condoned and encouraged within law enforcement agencies throughout our community. It is no surprise that Mr. Dent’s vicious beating was committed in front of the officers’ own video cameras; for the most part, police officers are immune from any consequences for their routine violation of citizens’ constitutional rights.

The Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) strongly opposes the continuation of a culture of racism and violence that pervades our communities’ law enforcement agencies.

Unless and until the departments and municipalities are properly investigated and held accountable for their acquiescence in such acts of violence and racism, we do not believe that they will stop. This is not simply a case of one “rogue cop,” it is systemic. Until the system is fundamentally transformed, we will continue to be witness to countless examples of tragedies such as those that occurred in Inkster, in Ferguson Missouri, in Madison, Wisconsin, in Aurora, Colorado, in Salinas, California and in Staten Island, New York. Police brutality will not stop until the culture of police racism and violence is institutionally and fundamentally altered.

References

  1. http://m.dailykos.com/story/2015/03/27/1373670/-Officer-William-Bill-Robocop-Melendez-has-been-named-in-12-brutality-corruption-lawsuits?detail=facebook_sf

  2. http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/wayne/2015/03/26/inkster-police-floyd-dent-beating-video-william-melendez-federal-lawsuit/70519854/

  3. http://www.davidileelaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/02062003melendezfreep.pdf

  4. http://articles.latimes.com/2003/jul/05/nation/na-detroitcops5

  5. http://voiceofdetroit.net/2015/03/26/video-shows-robocop-melendez-other-inkster-cops-choke-beat-black-detroiter-nearly-to-death/

  6. http://www.michbar.org/opinions/appeals/2005/122005/29896.pdf

  7. http://www.aele.org/law/2010all11/grable-brown-app.html

  8. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/30/floyd-dent-police-inkster-michigan-beating

  9. http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/ferguson_police_department_report.pdf

  1. http://www.aclumich.org/CAID

  2. http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/9571/inkster_police_chief_hilton_napoleon_wants_his_brother_benny_to_help#.VRjEwEvXqHx

  3. http://archive.freep.com/article/20140710/NEWS02/307100176/Hilton-Napoleon-resigns-Inkster-police

  4. http://tomrpabstpc.com/cases/randazzo-snow

  5. http://voiceofdetroit.net/2015/03/26/video-shows-robocop-melendez-other-inkster-cops-choke-beat-black-detroiter-nearly-to-death/

  6. http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/27262179/freedom-doesnt-mean-justice-for-man-wrongfully-convicted-for-26-years

  7. http://justicedenied.org/issue/issue_41/two_women_jd41.pdf

  8. http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2009/03/videos_washtenaw_county_releas.html

  9. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/05/28/michigan.taser.death/

  10. http://america.aljazeera.com/features/2014/4/the-invisible-victimsofdetroitsbankruptcy.html#featureArticle-chapter–3

Additional References

2006 Court Filing in Another Melendez Case

 

Story about Melendez after charges in 2003

 

Summary of Report about Napoleon Job Performance:

“But the report wasn’t as rosy about Napoleon’s job record as he was. In 2012, it says clearance rates were horrific: 23 percent for aggravated assaults, 11 percent for robberies, and zero percent for murders. Those numbers have led citizens to share  “a prevailing feeling of chaos and hopelessness,” the report says.

The report also pulled no punches about how the department is operating today, citing an “obvious effort by responding officers not to take reports,” “ineffective and inefficient investigation function,” and that the department “has evolved into the Chief’s private militia.”

 

Hilton Napoleon Resign 7ABC Story

 

Napoleon calls on state to help with funding:

“Either they’re going to give us the resources to put a police force out here, or they’re going to (have to) bring the National Guard in,” says Inkster Police Chief Hilton Napoleon.

Napoleon says his ranks are down from over 60 officers just two years ago, to only 24 men in uniform. He wants more officers to fight crime and he wants a piece of the state’s $400 million surplus.

 

Plan B Assault Complaint – Night Club incident Yost, Vice Squad:

A couple were celebrating the girlfriend’s birthday party when Yost’s vice squad raided the nightclub and beat the plantiffs for no reason. Hall was arrested and jailed on the charge of interfering with a police officer during the performance of the officer’s duties. His charges were eventually dropped without going to trial.

Claimed that Yost and other members of the Vice Squad raided Plan B nightclub and beat, falsely arrested, jailed and charged innocent patrons attending a birthday party.

 

All in With Chris Hayes Interview with Dent and his Attorney Greg Rohl – Down the Page:

Atty. Greg Rohl states that Melendez admitted to pulling Dent over because he was “a black man driving a Cadillac in a high crime neighborhood.

 

FREEP Article on Aquittal of 8 Officers including Melendez in 2004:

First sentence of this article: “A federal court jury Thursday acquitted eight Detroit police officers of violating the constitutional rights of drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes.”

 

Grable vs. Brown – Vicki Yost’s partner, wrongful death lawsuit in which Yost testified in her ex-partners favor and plead the 5th – COURT OF APPEALS OF MICHIGAN No. 256215,

2005 Mich. App. Lexis 3173, December 20, 2005, Decided –

“Although defendant and Yost testified that Grable shot at defendant and that defendant returned fire, there was circumstantial evidence to support plaintiff’s theory that Grable did not shoot at defendant because Grable never possessed a gun. Circumstantial evidence to support or oppose a proposition is equal with direct evidence. Reed v Breton, 264 Mich. App. 363, 375; 691 N.W.2d 779 (2004). Specifically, there was evidence that, shortly before the chase and shooting, Grable attended a Police Athletic League (PAL) party where he was searched for weapons and found to possess none. There was no evidence that Grable obtained a weapon between the time that he left the PAL party and the shooting occurred. There was also no evidence of Grable’s fingerprints on the gun found next to his body.”

. . .

“ Q. Mr. Grable was on the ground over here and you fire those four shots, you know now, into his chest, point blank range, contact range, as he fell to the ground. Let me ask you this. Is it possible, sir, that rather than Mr. Grable being erect, that he was instead already down on the ground and you punitively, kneeling down on one knee, sir, pumping him with those four rounds? Is that possible?”

“That’s possible.”

“Furthermore, there were several inconsistencies between the officers’ trial testimony and their prior statements and between their trial testimony and the physical evidence that could have caused a reasonable juror to disbelieve the officers’ version of events. Regarding the inconsistencies with the officers’ prior statements, Yost’s version of the events in her preliminary report, where she recalled only one round of shooting, was contrary to her version at discovery and trial, where she recalled two rounds of shooting between Grable and defendant. Yost’s original wording regarding the incident changed from defendant “tackled” Grable to “collided” with Grable and from Grable held what she “believed to be a weapon” to Grable was “armed” when he ran from the police. Defendant also had minor inconsistencies between his preliminary report and trial testimony regarding his distance from Grable when Grable shot at him and whether Grable “waited” for him behind the mound where the scuffle ensued.

There was also testimony from expert witnesses of inconsistencies between the officers’ version of the events and the physical evidence. Most notably, plaintiff’s expert, Dr. John G. Peters, testified that, evidence of stippling around one of the holes in defendant’s shirt, and not around the other hole, indicated that the barrel of the gun that shot defendant “moved some distance away” for the shot that showed no stippling. This was contrary to defendant’s testimony that he was shot when he and Grable were so close to each other that the barrel of Grable’s gun was probably touching his clothing. In addition, Dr. Peters noted that, in defendant’s preliminary report of the shooting and deposition, he failed to account for the near-contact wound to the back of Grable’s left arm. Dr. Peters testified that, if Grable had fired at defendant using his right hand as defendant contended, there should not have been gunpowder on both of Grable’s hands. Dr. Peters opined that the presence of gunpowder on both of Grable’s hands indicated that he held his hands in a defensive position when he was shot. Dr. Peters testified to inconsistencies between Yost’s testimony regarding the manner in which the gun found near Grable’s body was fired. Dr. Peters opined that these inconsistencies raised “a serious doubt” regarding the number of shots fired or what happened to the weapon as it was being examined. Dr. Peters found it odd that Yost’s version of the events seemed to become clearer as time passed since one’s memory is generally fresher closer to the event. Dr. Peters opined that defendant’s and Yost’s behavior could be consistent with peer secrecy and deviant police behavior.”

 

Quotes from Former Inkster Police Chief Hilton Napoleon:

“Former Police Chief Hilton Napoleon, who resigned last summer after a 3 1/2-year tenure that included internal strife and two officers’ union votes of no confidence, told the Free Press on Thursday that he’d known officers who would lie under oath.”

“I’ve had complaints of Inkster officers taking money off of people and planting drugs,” he said.

 

2000 Article about Detroit Leading the US IN Police Killings:

“Detroit police officers kill citizens at a higher rate than police in any other big US city, according to FBI statistics made public by the Detroit Free Press Monday, May 15. Detroit had a rate of 0.92 fatal shootings per 100,000 residents, far higher than New York and Los Angeles, two cities recently scandalized by revelations of widespread police killings and brutality.

Detroit, with nearly 1 million residents, averaged nearly 10 fatal police shootings each year between 1990 and 1998. By comparison, New York, with 7.3 million residents, averaged 28 fatal shootings a year during the same period—a rate of 0.39.

Over the past few days, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News have published exposés about the police shootings and subsequent cover-ups by internal police investigators, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Michigan State Police. The articles have detailed several cases in which police officers killed or severely wounded senior citizens, teenagers and mentally ill persons, and then were exonerated after claiming they had fired in self-defense.”

 

 Vicki Yost Quote on Incident and Investigation:

“As for the officers, Inkster Police Chief Vicki Yost says one of them is on administrative duty as this investigation goes on.”

“It’s important to know, we’re not hiding from this. We started the investigation. We launched internal investigation without a complaint. When all the facts are in, we’ll take the appropriate action,” says Chief Yost.”

 

More with info on Robocop

 

2012 Article About Continuing Police Brutality in DPD, Melendez, Consent Decrees

 

Justice Department Ferguson Report

 

More on Melendez

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