Kate Wells


Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

This has been a hard week for Davontae Sanford.

Sanford, you may remember, spent nearly nine years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

But this week, he learned that one of the police officers who allegedly lied about evidence in his case, will not be charged. 

And for Sanford, this feels like just one more injustice.

The night of the murders: a police interrogation and a crime scene sketch

Here’s how Davontae Sanford says he remembers the night of the murders on Runyon Street in Detroit.

Davontae Sanford was wrongfully convicted of four murders at age 14. He was released from prison last month after spending nearly nine years behind bars.
Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The case goes back to a grisly quadruple homicide in Detroit in 2007.

Police interrogated 14-year-old Davontae Sanford, who says he was coerced into giving a false confession.

Former Detroit police commander James Tolbert was one of the cops who questioned Sanford. He testified in court that Sanford was able to draw a crime scene sketch for police of where the murders took place.

But later, Tolbert admitted to police that he actually drew most of the sketch.

Still, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced late Tuesday there's insufficient evidence to charge Tolbert with perjury. Her office says even if Tolbert changed his statements about evidence, it’s really hard to actually prove perjury, because you have to prove that somebody intentionally lied under oath.

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Former high-ranking Detroit police officer James Tolbert won’t face perjury charges over allegations that he lied about evidence in the Davontae Sanford case.

Sanford was released this summer, after nearly nine years of wrongful imprisonment. He was convicted of a grisly 2007 homicide officials now say he didn’t commit.

Genesee County has its first confirmed case of Legionnaires' disease this year, but health officials say there’s no indication it’s connected with Flint water.

The patient isn’t being named, nor are officials disclosing where he’s being hospitalized, but Genesee County epidemiologist Christine Rygiel says it looks like he didn’t have any contact with Flint water when he got sick.

child's drawing on chalkboard
iRon leSs / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

One year after the death of a nine-year-old foster child, the foster care agency responsible for that child's placement is shutting down.

Alternatives for Children and Families in Genesee County repeatedly placed kids in foster homes with "significant violations … and safety issues," according to a state investigation following the death of Omarion Humphrey.

Humphrey was autistic, and apparently wandered away from his foster family at a park last summer. His body was later found in a lake.

A mosquito
flickr user trebol-a / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

In a normal year, Michigan sees about a couple dozen or so cases of West Nile virus: 18 cases last year, according to the CDC’s map. Just one in 2014. And 36 cases in 2013.

But the state saw some 200 cases in 2012.

And experts at the state health department are worried this year is shaping up to be another surge.  

For one thing, Oakland County just found West Nile virus in one of its testing pools, even though it’s still relatively early in the season.  

A fountain on the University of Michigan's central campus.
user VasenkaPhotography / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The University of Michigan says it's testing the drinking water on its Ann Arbor campus for lead and copper.

The school say it's just a precautionary measure, adding there’s no indication anything’s wrong with the water.

This kind of system-wide testing is becoming more common after the Flint water crisis.

Michigan AG Bill Schuette
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

With just 14 days left to charge former Detroit Police Commander James Tolbert for perjury, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office is “watching the case, and we’ll see what decision [Wayne County Prosecutor] Kym [Worthy] makes.”

Schuette declined to say whether he’d step in to press charges against Tolbert if Worthy doesn’t.

“I’m not going to speculate on what I might do,” Schuette said Tuesday. “The point is, we’re watching the case.”

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Three Detroit charter schools are closing and two are merging this year, adding to the school turnover and churn families in that city are seeing.

One of the larger charters, Allen Academy, is being shut down because of poor academic performance.

“The test scores over the last several years, they’ve been outperformed by the resident district, Detroit Public Schools,” says Ron Rizzo, director of the Charter Schools Office at Ferris State University, which authorized Allen Academy.

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Backlash against a state takeover of four East Detroit district schools is growing, with a lawsuit moving forward in court and the school board and city of Eastpointe signing a joint resolution against it.

“We’re at a point right now where our schools are under attack by the state, there’s no kinder way to put it,” says school board vice president Craig Brozowski.

Tens of thousands of water filters have been distributed in Flint.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Volunteers will be going to thousands of homes in Flint this weekend, making sure everyone's got a water filter.

Some 25,000 Flint homes are already using filters, according to the state's count.

But local and state teams are going door-to-door this weekend, to check on some 2,300 homes they still aren't sure about.

Michigan State Police Captain Chris Kelenske is with the state's emergency management team.

Police lights.
J J / Flickr

Leroy Payne has apparently gotten out of Dodge.

The man State Police have identified as a suspect in a quadruple murder for which Davontae Sanford wrongfully spent eight years in prison – has “left town,” according to his lawyer.

“I believe he was moving,” says Mark Magidson, Payne’s attorney, possibly somewhere “down south.”

U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan's ban on affirmative action still stands, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Thursday.

That ruling upholds the University of Texas’ use of race as one factor in its admissions process.

But that doesn’t override the ban that Michigan voters approved in 2006, which amends the state Constitution to say public universities can’t discriminate against, or give preference to, anybody based on their race:

A new policy will hopefully help supervisors track any racial profiling
Michigan State Police

Three possible suspects have emerged from a year-long Michigan State Police investigation into a quadruple homicide in 2007.

That investigation helped clear Davontae Sanford, who walked out of prison earlier this month after eight years of wrongful incarceration.

Two of the State Police suspects are currently behind bars for other crimes, but the third, Leroy Payne, is believed to be a free man.

The State Police investigation resulted in warrant requests for three homicide suspects. But the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office is asking for “further investigation.”

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A suburban Grand Rapids police officer will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Lamont Gulley, the Kent County prosecutor’s office announced Tuesday.

In a 15-page report released along with disturbing audio and video footage, Prosecuting Attorney Bill Forsyth says “a review of the facts, and an application of the law to those facts” indicates that “the death was a result of an honest and reasonable belief in the need to act in defense of Officer Hoornstra.”

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Michigan State Police investigation into a nine-year-old murder case suggests Detroit police lied about evidence, and failed to follow up on big breaks in the case that might have freed a wrongfully imprisoned young man.

That man, Davontae Sanford, was finally released from prison last week, after serving eight years – largely because of what the Michigan State Police investigation found.

A brutal crime, a young teen, and a professional hit man

Davontae Sanford with family and supporters after his release.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Davontae Sanford's family is considering a civil lawsuit, sources close to the family tell us, after he was wrongfully imprisoned for eight years.

Sanford was arrested at age 14 for a quadruple homicide on Runyon Street in 2007. A recent Michigan State Police investigation shows Sanford is likely innocent, but was allowed to sit in prison for years -- well after convicted hit man Vincent Smothers confessed to the Runyon Street murders.

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Crowds packed Hill Auditorium Tuesday night in Ann Arbor for “Requiem for Orlando,” a community performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” to honor and mourn the victims of Sunday’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.

One of the organizers, Austin Stewart, says he was alone at his home when he first saw the news about the 49 victims gunned down at an LGBT night club. As a grad student at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater and Dance, Stewart says he wanted a way to bring people together.

Eastern Michigan University
krossbow / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Union workers say they’re holding a press conference Tuesday at Eastern Michigan University to talk about their concerns over the school’s move to privatize dining services.

In a letter to students and staff on Monday, interim EMU President Don Loppnow says an outside vendor will pay the school enough to “expand and upgrade the dining facilities while maintaining high-quality food offerings and services.”

Only 17 miles from Lake Michigan's shore, Waukesha, Wis. wants to replace its contaminated drinking water with water from the lake.
flickr user Rachel Kramer / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Eleven of Michigan's 14 members of Congress are urging Governor Snyder – and the other Great Lakes governors – to deny a request from Waukesha, Wisconsin to divert water from Lake Michigan.

The city's ground water is contaminated with radium, which can cause cancer.

But 11 Michigan congressional reps signed a letter opposing the city's request, including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn).

Attorney General Bill Schuette
(Courtesy of the Michigan Attorney General's office)

Attorney General Bill Schuette sent a letter to the Obama administration this week, blasting it for the recent school guidance over transgender students.

So far, 12 states have sued the Obama administration after the Department of Education sent out a letter earlier this month, telling schools their transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms that fit their gender identity.  

And a few Michigan Republicans say they want Schuette to sue, as well.

Flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Studies suggest even low levels of lead exposure can hurt a fetus’ development in the womb.

And for months now, the state health department has been looking into whether the Flint water crisis caused problems with pregnancies.  

Meanwhile, researchers at Hurley Medical Center are investigating whether the lead in the water increased the number of miscarriages.

But it turns out that trying to track miscarriages is really tough.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

The Michigan State Police have wrapped up a nearly year-long investigation into who really killed four people in a Detroit home one September night in 2007.

Back then, police brought in a 14-year-old kid named Davontae Sanford. After hours of interrogation without a parent or a lawyer, he confessed and was later sent to prison.

But just weeks later, a professional hitman, Vincent Smothers, was arrested and confessed to those same killings, even leading police to the weapon he used. 

MDOC Spokesperson Chris Gautz told us that while it was “a very serious situation,” the events of September 10 at Kinross Correctional Facility don’t meet the definition of a “riot.”
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that Lorinda Swain, who served more than seven years in prison for child abuse, is entitled to a new trial. And the prosecuting attorney says he’s dropping all charges.

Swain was convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing her adopted son. But her son later recanted and told the court he’d lied about the abuse.

Swain’s attorneys also presented new witness testimony they said made the prosecution’s timeline of the abuse impossible.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The White House says more than 100,000 Michiganders could see bigger paychecks, under new overtime rules.

The Department of Labor is essentially doubling the salary threshold for workers who are guaranteed overtime pay.

Starting in December, salaried workers making less than $47,476 will qualify for overtime, if they work more than 40 hours a week.

But some employers just won't be able to absorb those costs, says Wendy Block, with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

map of michigan
Screencap from Google Maps / Google / Google

Waukesha, Wisconsin got some good news today: the city wants to build a pipeline to pump millions of gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan, because its own groundwater is contaminated with radium (which can cause cancer.)

And that plan just got preliminary approval from a regional body of Great Lakes states.

Technically, the vote just finds that the Waukesha’s plan meets the “exception standard” for cities outside the Great Lakes basin to use the water.

public domain

Flint residents are again being warned about the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, which increases as the weather warms up.

At least a dozen people died during an outbreak after the city started using Flint River water in 2014.

Usually Genesee County sees between 9 to 11 cases of Legionnaires’ in a year. But state officials say there were 91 cases of the disease during the summers of 2014-2015.

The Legionella bacteria causes a kind of pneumonia, and it’s riskier for people over 50 and anyone with a history of smoking or lung problems.

The red lines show where Enbridge's Line 5 crosses Lake Michigan.
screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

The National Wildlife Federation is suing a federal agency over safety concerns about an oil pipeline running under the Straits of Mackinac.

Line 5 is operated by Enbridge Energy, the company responsible for a massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

taliesin / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not hear a case where Wayne County sheriffs were found to have violated the First Amendment.

The case goes back to Dearborn's Arab International Festival in 2012. A group called Bible Believers showed up and told the mostly-Muslim crowd that their prophet was "a pervert," and that Muslims were going to burn in hell.

Some hecklers threw plastic bottles at the protesters. Eventually, police told the protesters to leave or be arrested for disorderly conduct.

Ricardo Solis/Flickr

Sewer rates are going up for Detroit's suburbs by nearly 5 percent – and most of that is to cover Highland Park's $30 million debt.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says it has to raise sewer rates on its suburban customers by 4.9% starting July 1. Without Highland Park's debt, the increase would have been 1.7%.

Last year, a court ruled Highland Park had to pay up. But the city appealed that ruling, and the case still hasn’t been settled.