Law

Stories regarding the legal system

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Waving signs saying “Free Amir”, a small group in Bay City marked the third anniversary of the arrest of a Flint native in Iran on spying charges.

Amir Hekmati’s older sister Sarah says her family is still struggling to deal with her brother’s predicament.

“Every day we wake up, it’s very surreal and we feel like it’s a bad dream.  But it’s not going away,” says Sarah Hekmati, “We can’t believe that has become three years.”

Hekmati family

On this day three years ago, Iranian authorities arrested a U.S. Marine veteran from Flint and charged him with spying.

His family and friends are holding a rally today to mark his three years in an Iranian jail cell.

Amir Hekmati was visiting relatives when he was arrested. His family and supporters insist he’s innocent.

Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Flint) says he’s talked with President Obama about Hekmati’s case as recently as two weeks ago. He wants the administration to pressure the Iranian government to release Hekmati.

Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

There are now 17 counties in Michigan that offer special courts for veterans, to try to steer them towards treatment, instead of incarceration.

Monroe County began its new Veterans Court this month.

Melody Powers is a veterans outreach justice coordinator with the VA Health System in Ann Arbor.  She says many veterans who get in trouble with the law have untreated alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.  But it's often very difficult for them to ask for help.

user Marlith / Flickr

The list of groups calling on state lawmakers to pass protections for LGBT people is growing. Organizations representing Michigan college, university, and school officials now say they support the measure.

They join more than 50 business and non-profit groups urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, which the coalition expects to be introduced next month.

Augustas Didzgalvis / Wikimedia Commons

Michigan law requires each county to file an annual report spelling out crimes committed by concealed handgun holders.

These reports were ordered by lawmakers at the same time they were overhauling Michigan's concealed handgun law to make it easier to obtain permits.

The reports were supposed to make it easier to take away the permits of any concealed gun holder who broke the law.

However, some counties are not filing the mandated reports.

John Barnes dug into this story for MLive. He found that last year, 11 counties broke this law.

Barnes says the main reason given for not filing the reports is that the law was an "unfunded mandate."

From 2011 to 2013, there has been an estimated 50% increase in people who have concealed gun permits. One in 16 adults have the permit, but that does not meant that they are all carrying a gun.

Barnes said there is not a penalty for counties who do not comply.

“What you see are some extreme examples of people who commit heinous crimes, who continue to carry gun permits, even though they are in prison,” Barnes said.

*Listen to the full interview above. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A federal judge has dismissed two federal consent decrees against the Detroit Police Department, freeing it from strict federal oversight.

The department has been monitored for compliance with the decrees since 2003, after a US Justice Department investigation found a “pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing.”

The problems included unlawfully detaining witnesses, “deplorable” holding cell conditions, and chronic use of excessive force.

user: Jimmie / Flickr

A new bill in the state Legislature aims to make school supplies more affordable.

The legislation would give taxpayers a credit of up to $1,000 for qualified purchases of school supplies.

Materials that qualify for the credit would be things like books, computer programs, and science equipment.

State Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint, introduced the bill.

He says it's worth the investment.

A Detroit police car
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - A judge is holding a hearing on the federal government's request to terminate an 11-year-old agreement with the Detroit Police Department to reduce excessive force and make other improvements.

The government says the city is in compliance. A hearing is planned forMonday in federal court.

Before the 2003 agreement, the U.S. Justice Department said it found constitutional violations within the department. Between 1995 and 2000, police killed nearly 50 people, including six people who were unarmed and shot in the back. Nineteen people died while in custody.

A court-appointed monitor has been watching the department during the consent agreement.

The government says it still will keep an eye on Detroit police by reviewing internal audits, offering technical assistance and making on-site visits.

Joe Santini / YouTube

The Saginaw County Sheriff's Department received a "Maxx Pro" Mine Resistant Ambush Proof vehicle from the U.S. Army in order to "prepare for something disastrous," according to Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel.

Brad Devereaux wrote about the department's decision to acquire the MRAP for MLive:

The truck's passenger compartment is bulletproof and designed to withstand a mine blast with a v-shaped undercarriage. 

"The V shape resists mine blasts away from the cab. It's very good at what it does," Undersheriff Robert Karl said, noting he found several videos online demonstrating the function.

At the time, Sheriff Federspiel said people shouldn't be concerned about "a military state" because he wouldn't let that happen.

But the giant MRAP makes an impression, and sends a message, whether intended or not.

Here's what these two dudes in Saginaw thought of it (language warning, these dudes are speaking candidly):

Devereaux now reports that the Saginaw County Sheriff's Department is planning to get rid of the vehicle. Federspiel said the plans were made prior to the department being criticized on HBO's Tonight with John Oliver.

This is just one military style vehicle transferred to police departments across the state.

Outside the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.
Michigan Department of Corrections

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP – The Michigan Court of Appeals  has cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit by dozens of male guards who say they've been denied overtime and job assignments at the state's only prison for women.

In a 3-0 opinion released Wednesday, the court affirmed the decision of a Washtenaw County judge.

The lawsuit centers on employment rules at the Huron Valley prison for women. In response to allegations of sexual abuse at the prison, the Civil Service Commission approved job qualifications that put only women in certain jobs.

The lawsuit claims the Michigan Department of Corrections is violating the civil rights of male officers at the prison.

The appeals court says officers have cleared the threshold for a class-action lawsuit, based on the number of plaintiffs, common issues and other factors.

Renisha McBride.
Family photo

DETROIT - A suburban Detroit man who killed an unarmed woman on his porch is being sued by her parents for more than $10 million.

The lawsuit against Theodore Wafer was filed Tuesday in Wayne County court, 12 days after a jury convicted him of second-degree murder in the death of Renisha McBride.

The 19-year-old was shot in the face in Dearborn Heights. Wafer says he acted in self-defense after hearing pounding at his doors last Nov. 2, but the jury found deadly force was unreasonable.

The 55-year-old Wafer is in custody awaiting his sentence on Sept. 3. The lawsuit was filed by attorney Gerald Thurswell on behalf of McBride's parents, Monica McBride and Walter Simmons.

They accuse Wafer of wrongful death and negligence.

Michigan Department of Corrections

Jeff Titus is currently serving two life sentences for a double homicide in 1990.

Two men believe Titus’ alibi that he was hunting in a different part of the state at the time the shootings took place.     The two men are the original detectives who investigated the crime.

On November 17th, 1990, Doug Estes and Jim Bennett were hunting in the Fulton State Gaming Area.  Both were shot in the back at close range.  

The shooting occurred near the property of Jeff Edward Titus.  

Training in a Black Hawk helicopter at Camp Grayling.
USDOD

A Michigan National Guard investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the Camp Grayling military training base recommended the removal of seven people, including two lieutenant colonels.

Paul Egan of the Detroit Free Press reports the investigation alleges theft, destruction of government property and nepotism at the “Maneuver and Training Equipment Site” (MATES) at the base in northern Lower Michigan.

“Many ... employees thought it was allowed to ‘look the other way’ when theft (wood, copper, diesel, time) was occurring, and the majority aimlessly followed direction when told to throw thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment away,” investigating officer Col. Scott Doolittle said in a January memorandum to Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan Army and Air National Guard.

The investigation was completed in January, and the report was turned over to the National Guard's criminal division.

Base spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Humes says the criminal division concluded earlier this summer that no criminal investigation was warranted.

According to Humes, two lieutenant colonels retired, two master sergeants were fired from their full-time federal government jobs at the base, two other sergeants received two weeks of unpaid leave and one master sergeant was not disciplined.

Two of those fired over the allegations, - Master Sgts. Joe Smock and Renee Reed, are appealing.

More from Egan:

The allegations against Smock mainly related to theft.

“I maintain I never stole anything,” Smock, who remains with the Michigan National Guard as a weekend reservist but no longer works at the base, told the Free Press on Friday …

The allegations against Reed were that she hurt morale and discipline by having an inappropriate relationship with Golnick, and that she improperly used government vehicles.

The author of the report wrote that he fears for the safety of some of the witnesses who have come forward in the probe.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Police chiefs in Michigan are concerned that changes coming to the way the U.S. manages its broadcast spectrum may negatively affect their radio systems.

The Federal Communications Commission hopes to auction off part of the broadcast spectrum next year to meet growing demand for personal electronic devices.

The auction is expected to generate more than $20 billion dollars. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A judge has sentenced Flint City Councilman Eric Mays to 72 days in jail for his conviction of driving while impaired.    

Mays was handcuffed and taken to jail after being sentenced by Flint District Judge Nathaniel Perry, who said the councilman put his own constituents in danger.

Eric Mays is appealing the conviction.

Mays asked the judge to put his jail sentence on hold as he was led from the courtroom. The judge denied the request.   

Michigan State Police

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Law enforcement officials in 40 Michigan counties are kicking off a new enforcement campaign aimed at curbing drunken driving.

The "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign starts Friday and runs through Sept. 1, including the Labor Day weekend.

Law enforcement officers from 150 local police departments, sheriff offices and Michigan State Police posts will conduct stepped up drunk driving and seat belt enforcement.

As part of the effort, the campaign is using the fictitious Traffic Safety Brewing Company to get its message through to drivers.  "Call a Cab Cider" and "Left My Keys at Home Lager" are safety-themed brews reminding people to drink alcohol responsibly.

Additional details, including a list of counties involved, are posted on the Michigan State Police website.

A Muslim civil rights group is suing the federal government on behalf of five Michigan plaintiffs who are challenging their placement on the government’s “terror watchlist.”

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Michigan soldiers and sailors may soon have new protections in child custody cases.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Legislation is moving through the state Legislature to improve the way law enforcement agencies handle evidence in sexual assault cases.

In 2009, more than 11,000 rape kits were discovered unprocessed in a Detroit police storage facility. Some of the sexual assault cases dated back more than 20 years. 

In the years since the discovery, testing has linked the DNA of 100 serial rapists to the kits. A national database has linked samples to crimes committed in about two dozen other states. 

Rick Pluta / MPRN

The future of Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is in the hands of a federal appeals court.

Michigan was one of four states arguing to keep their bans in place today before the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

If the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse had a theater marquee, it might have proclaimed a full-fledged “Legalpalooza,” with six cases from four states playing in one marathon session. About a half a dozen people even spent the night outside the courthouse in hopes of getting a seat to the show.

The Daily Record / Creative Commons

How can you resolve a minor civil infraction or a traffic ticket without stepping foot in a courtroom? Use the Online Court Project.

The first-of-its-kind technology was designed by J.J. Prescott and his team to help people who have been charged with minor offenses interact with courts online, without needing to hire an attorney.

J. J. Prescott is a law professor at the University of Michigan and co-director of the Empirical Legal Studies Center.

Prescott says the law is very complicated, and people who go to court to solve minor infractions often don’t know what is actually happening.

“If they have questions or if they think something is not quite right with how the ticket or the fine has been issued, they really don’t know what to do,” Prescott says.

Calling an attorney can be very expensive. Prescott argues that people end up going to the courthouse, spending a lot of time there with questions, and they leave still confused and caring less about how the issue was resolved.

He says the technology allows people to have a guided interaction with decision makers.

“Essentially, this allows litigants to raise questions, to ask for a change in their current status, and to do that in a way that’s unlike just calling into the court,” Prescott says.

The project has been operating as a pilot program in Washtenaw County. Prescott says he has received positive responses to the technology.

*Listen to the full story above. 

The MGM Grand Casino in Detroit
Mike Russell

Current and former employees of the Detroit MGM Grand Casino are suing the casino for unfair labor practices.

What could be up to 200 employees claim the casino refused to pay floor supervisors for overtime.

The Fair Labor Standards Act says certain employees who work more than 40 hours a week are entitled to overtime pay.

But the complaint claims the casino hasn't done that.

Megan Bonanni is a lawyer for the employees. She says what the floor supervisors are asking for is only fair.

Dearborn Heights Police

Theodore Wafer took the stand to testify in his own defense for a second straight day Tuesday.

Wafer is on trial for second-degree murder in the November shooting death of 19-year-old Renisha McBride.

Wafer said he shot McBride on his Dearborn Heights front porch in self-defense, claiming he feared for his life after the young woman came “pounding violently” on his front door in the middle of the night.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint police are launching a new effort this week to clear a backlog of misdemeanor warrants.

The department has more than 23,000 misdemeanor warrants on its books. Some of them date back to the 1970’s.

Flint Police Chief James Tolbert says these warrants for relatively minor offenses can lead to major problems for police.

“Because they’re wanted, they run for us. They engage in high-speed pursuits,” says Tolbert. 

Tolbert says “Operation Fresh Start” lets people resolve their outstanding warrants without being arrested. 

Family photo

Was it murder or self-defense?

That’s the question jurors will decide in the case of Theodore Wafer, whose trial on charges including second-degree murder is now underway in Detroit.

Wafer is the white, Dearborn Heights homeowner who shot 19-year-old Renisha McBride on his front porch last fall.

No one disputes that Wafer shot and killed McBride after she knocked on his front door around 4 am on November 2nd.

morguefile

A judge in Washtenaw County today dismissed a lawsuit to prevent oil drilling in Scio Township, near Ann Arbor.

Citizens for Oil-Free Backyards wants to stop West Bay Exploration from drilling. So it sued the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for what it calls an "unfair and faulty" permitting process.

But the judge ruled that he had no jurisdiction over the case. He said Ingham County is the appropriate court.

Arthur Siegal represents the non-profit group. He said West Bay could start drilling within a week.

Detroit retirees voted overwhelmingly to approve emergency manager Kevyn Orr's plan of adjustment.

That plan includes the unprecedented "grand bargain"--a mixture of public and private funds that will minimize cuts to city pensions, while protecting the Detroit Institute of Arts' assets from other city creditors.

But retirees aren't the only group of creditors who voted on the plan. Other groups did as well--and not all voted "yes."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A federal court ruling today could affect tens of thousands of Michiganders who got health insurance through Obamacare.

More than 237,000 of the 272,000 Michiganders who signed up for Obamacare selected a plan through the marketplace with federal financial assistance.  The tax credits helped subsidize health insurance payments for low- and moderate-income people.

Detroit Institute of Arts

The proposed "grand bargain" that would soften the blow to Detroit pensioners while preserving the city's art collection has cleared a major hurdle.

That's because city retirees have voted for the plan by an overwhelming margin.

As city creditors, pensioners got to cast ballots for or against emergency manager Kevyn Orr's bankruptcy restructuring. The grand bargain is an integral part of that plan of adjustment.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will stop shutting off water service to people with unpaid bills.  

Curtrice Garner is a DWSD spokeswoman.  She insists this is a “pause," not a moratorium, to give people time to pay their overdue water bills.

“What we are going to do is temporarily stop the shutoffs or collections efforts,” says Garner, “However, after the 15 day period, we’ll commerce what we were doing which is shutting off those who are in delinquent status.”

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