JUVENILE LIFERS, EX-OFFENDERS, ADVOCATES BEGIN NEW CHAPTER IN BATTLE FOR JUSTICE JUNE 18

VIDEO ABOVE: David Walton of Detroit, now 60, spent 43 years since the age of 17 behind bars for a crime in which he was not the shooter. His co-defendant Edward Sanders, also not the shooter, is due for release July 6. They were each re-sentenced in Nov. 2016 to 40-60 years, allowing them eligibility for parole according to current challenged state statutes. Their sentences from day one were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court  in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016), which said that “only the rarest child” should face death in prison.

Video Above: EFREN PAREDES, JR. Co-organizer of the Juvenile Lifer for Justice rally on June 18, 2017, speaks from prison to outline the campaign. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has recommended that Paredes and all juvenile lifers from that county be re-sentenced to JLWOP. Paredes’ wife Maria Luisa Zavala and daughter at right. Paredes was only 15 when sentenced to JLWOP.

“It is a fact that Michigan incarcerates prisoners longer than any other state in the country.”–Efren Paredes, Jr.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juvenile lifers should receive new sentences in 2012, over five years ago. Since that time only 19% of Michigan juvenile lifers have been resentenced. Around 73 total according to the latest numbers available.”–Velia Kopenhoeffer, Mother of Efren Paredes, Jr.

Organizers ask for signatures on petition to state legislators to change juvenile lifer re-sentencing laws and support a 10-pt. Prison Reform Platform, at https://www.change.org/p/efrenuncaged-gmail-com-support-michigan-prison-reform

By Diane Bukowski

June 22, 2017

Efren Paredes Jr. with wife Maria Luisa Zavala at right, daughter and relative/Facebook

DETROIT – “We betray humanity when we condemn people to die in prison because of mistakes they made when they were children,” juvenile lifer Efren Paredes, Jr. told a  crowd of over 150 at the Juvenile Lifer for Justice Rally in Detroit’s Erma Henderson Park June 18. “Sentences that seek to extinguish the human spirit and abandon the concept of redemption are diametrically opposed to the will of God.”

Paredes spoke by phone from Michigan’s Handlon Correctional Facility. Originally from Berrien County, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the state, Paredes Jr. has been in prison for 28 years since the age of 15 for first-degree murder, a crime he did not commit. Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic has recommended that ALL of the county’s juvenile lifers receive renewed life without parole sentences.

Paredes, who co-organized the rally with noted Detroit activist Elena Herrada, stressed that 70 percent of the state’s juvenile lifers are people of color.

“It is also cruel, inhumane, and un-American to keep prisoners incarcerated beyond the time necessary to rehabilitate them,” Paredes added on behalf of parolable lifers and others serving long terms in Michigan. “It is a fact that Michigan incarcerates prisoners longer than any other state in the country. There is no place in a civilized society for sentences that perpetuate human storage in a harsh world in which prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive only to later be disposed of.”

Paredes’ entire talk can be read at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Efren-Paredes-Jr-speaks-from-prison-at-rally-6-18-17.pdf.

Crowd at Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice June 18, 2017 in Erma Henderson Park, Detroit/Free Efren Facebook photo

Michigan is one of only four states, the others being Louisiana, Florida and Pennsylvania, which held out to the bitter end insisting that Miller was not retroactive. It remains recalcitrant in the face of both USSC decisions.

Kim Craig (2nd from l) with family members, campaigns for freedom for her husband Michael Calvin and his childhood friend Charles Lewis, both facing re-sentencing to JLWOP in Wayne County. Each has spent over 41 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Craig was not the shooter in a group of several adults who killed a man; the others have been free for over 35 years. Lewis has been the subject of numerous stories in VOD on his innocence of killing an off-duty Detroit cop in 1976, as well as other mainstream media coverage including a just-published  article in The Nation. (See links below.)

The state’s county prosecutors are seeking renewed sentences of life-without-parole in 229 cases, 63 percent of juvenile lifers. Most of the cases are from Wayne County, where Prosecutor Kym Worthy is seeking renewed JLWOP in 61 of 153 cases, about 40 percent. Among them are Michael Calvin and Charles Lewis, who have been in prison for over 41 years. Some of their supporters are shown above.

Ronnie Waters

Sheldry Topp

In Oakland County, Prosecutor Jessica Cooper is seeking life without parole in 44 of 49 cases, about 90 percent. These include Ronnie Waters, whose friend Felicia Tyson and numerous others came out in his support, and Sheldry Topp, now 72, the oldest juvenile lifer in the state who has been incarcerated since 1962.

Waters, who is at Handlon with Paredes, sent a message to the rally:

“Thank you from the heart for not forgetting about the difficult fight that juvenile lifers are engaged in across the state. Knowing you are there to support us lifts our spirits during this long, difficult wait. May God be with all of you freedom fighters who never stop beating the drum for justice. We love you all.”

Jennifer Pruitt, 41, is among the four Oakland County juvenile lifers re-sentenced under Cooper. She was 17 when  sentenced to life in prison in 1993. She has been brutalized and raped by guards. However, she will still not be eligible for parole until 2022. She was re-sentenced to 30 to 60 years instead of the minimum 25 years allowed under MCL 762.5a.

Henry Hill

Jennifer Pruitt

Prosecutors in other counties, including Berrien, Saginaw and Macomb, have re-recommended JLWOP for 100 percent of their cases, although the Saginaw prosecutor recently withdrew those recommendations for several prisoners.

These included Henry Hill, one of the original plaintiffs in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the state’s JLWOP policies, Hill v. Snyder. Hill was recently re-sentenced to 34-60 years and may be eligible for parole by August.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle has challenged the state statutes on juvenile lifer re-sentencing in that lawsuit, which is pending at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals after U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara reversed course on his original stance that all of the state’s juvenile lifers should be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Kimberly Simmons, 47, 0ne of two women juvenile lifers who have been released so far, also addressed the crowd. She was incarcerated at the age of 17 and received a 40-60 year sentence and eligibility for parole in January. She was released on parole May 3, 2017.

Above: Kimberly Simmons, one of  2 women juvenile lifers released so far

Simmons noted the small number of juvenile lifers who have been released so far and called on the crowd to mobilize in force to make the state comply with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings. 

She went further, saying,  “There shouldn’t be a natural life sentence period. That’s unconstitutional to tell anyone that you are unredeemable.” The U.S. was the only country left in the world that sentenced children to die in prison. It is also one of only a handful of countries that impose “natural life” sentences.

Charles Lewis supporters including Eula Powell at right call for his immediate release. He is known in prison as “K.K.” Powell said numerous attendees at the rally came up to her saying they knew and respected him.

This author, also speaking at the rally, pointed out that under Montgomery v. Louisiana, every juvenile lifer’s sentence has been unconstitutional since day one.

She relayed Charles Lewis’ recommendation that any new state legislation should define what is meant by “the rarest child” as well as lay out guidelines for “mitigation hearings” for those facing a proposed new sentence of life without parole.

In Lewis’ case, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard has dragged out hearings on the complete loss of his court file and the redaction of all events from his Register of Actions for over one year, with no end in sight. Despite his motion citing U.S. Supreme Court and other precedents indicating his case should be dismissed, she has ordered the “reconstitution” of his file, an action unheard of in the rest of the country. He has just filed a new motion asking for dismissal on a multitude of grounds.

The Nation article on his case and that of other juvenile lifers can be read at https://www.thenation.com/article/juvenile-lifers-last-chance/.

Zerious Meadows

Cortez Davis

This author also addressed the cases of Cortez Davis and Zerious Meadows, condemning the cruel delays in their releases under state statutes declaring minimums of 25-40 and maximums of 60 years for those for whom JLWOP has not been re-recommended. 

Davis is a model prisoner and writer for the Voice of Detroit. His trial judge Vera Massey Jones declared that JLWOP was unconstitutional when she first sentenced him to 10-40 years  in 1994. But he was resentenced April 27 to 25-60 years, which an Appeals Court earlier ruled was compulsory in the case of Zerious Meadows. He has served 22 years, so he must still wait another three years before parole eligibility.

Meadows, now 62, has served over 47 years in prison. Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Bruce Morrow re-sentenced him to 25-45 years, which should have meant his immediate release, but Prosecutor Kym Worthy appealed and his case was sent back to Morrow.

Darren Cross, incarcerated at the Thumb Correctional Facility, also spoke at the rally by phone, in the video above. He is now 50 and has served 31 years in prison so far. His entire family came out to support him. He stressed the importance of justice for all prisoners including those serving long sentences such as parolable life, which frequently becomes natural life, since Michigan Gov. John Engler’s parole board declared “life means life.”

John Alexander with long-time wife Deborah Alexander.

Rally co-organizer Elena Herrada, a teacher at Marygrove College and radio talk show host,  asked all families and friends of people in prison to be sure to visit regularly, to keep up prisoners’ morale and show them their love.

Among the state’s hundreds of parolable lifers is John Alexander, who is scheduled for a public parole board hearing at Jackson Prison June 29 after being incarcerated since 1981. At his sentencing then, Recorders Court Judge Michael Sapala said he never intended for Alexander to serve more than 10-15 years, a statement many judges across Michigan echoed when Engler took office.

This author covered the case of Alexander and other parolable lifers for the now defunct Michigan Citizen. They had launched a class action lawsuit against their lengthy incarcerations which did not succeed. 

In the video above, Samantha Jones talks about Flenoid Greer, now 52, who was sentenced to serve 60-90 years in 1999. His earliest release date is in 2040, meaning he will be 75 at the time.

Flenoid Greer

She was followed by Denise Muscoualley who talked about her brother and her fiancé,  who also have  languished behind bars for 30 years and more, as has John Alexander.

Muscoualley said she was shocked recently while talking to a youth counselor who had just had to cancel an appointment for a 14-year-old client because he had to see his probation officer.

“If you think this won’t happen to you, think again, because they are gearing up for you and your children as well,” she warned.

The mother above, Laquanda Denise Bowles (sp?) spoke on behalf of her son Donald W. Williams, incarcerated for 30 years according to the MDOC website. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith recommended that all of that county’s juvenile lifers continue serving JLWOP last year.

Donald WIllie WIlliams

But according to the Macomb Daily article to which Mrs. Bowles referred, ‘Smith may back down in the case of juvenile-lifer Donald W. Williams, 40, convicted of felony murder as an aider and abettor for a 1993 robbery-murder in Warren . . .Williams attorney, Anlyn Addis, said Payne merely served as the lookout for Payne, who fired the gun.

The article continued, “[Attorney Deborah LaBelle], who also has been involved in the Williams case, said Williams, 16 at the time of the slaying, has been rehabilitated behind bars. He is an ordained minister, hasnt had a major violation in prison in eight years and is classified as a level II inmate, the lowest security level for a violent criminal, at a Muskegon prison. He is a prison block captain, serving as a liaison between prison officials and inmates, she said. If released, he will reside with his sister and has a job opportunity, she said.

“He deserves to go home, she said. He has wonderful family support.”

See Macomb Daily article at http://www.macombdaily.com/article/MD/20160914/NEWS/160919810

Efren Paredes, Jr.’s mother Velia Kopenhoeffer, of the group T.I.M.E. (The Injustice Must End) also spoke at the rally (see video above.) She and his father have campaigned for his freedom for decades, since the days of the Second Chance parents who stormed the state legislature to demand that Michigan’s laws be changed to outlaw juvenile life without parole, long before the USSC Miller and Montgomery rulings.

Her entire talk is available at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Velia-Koppenhoefer-message-at-juvenile-lifer-rally.pdf.

The Hon. Peter Deegan, retired judge, prosecutor and past president of the Prosecuting Attorneys of Michigan, also addressed the rally. He and former Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair, have campaigned strongly against the Michigan state statutes which set mandatory minimums of 25-40 and maximums of 60 years for prisoners not resentenced to life without parole. At their request, The Retired Judges of Michigan passed a strongly-worded resolution calling for change.

At left is John O’Hair’s column denouncing the statutes and calling for the federal courts to step in to override the disastrous treatment Michigan’s juvenile lifers are receiving.

He said, “With the average life expectancy of a juvenile serving life without parole at 50.6 years, 40 and 60 year sentences are virtual life sentences.”

Unfortunately, the State Appellate Defenders Office (SADO), which received a $1.5 state grant to represent juvenile lifers without attorneys, has refused to challenge the statutes, unlike the Michigan ACLU.

Other speakers at the rally included: Dr. Austin Jackson, Director, MSU My Brother’s Keeper Program; Roberto Guzman, The Coalition to Free the Wrongfully Convicted; State Rep. Bettie Cook-Scott; Ken Grunow, President, Amnesty International (Detroit); Rodd Monts, Legislative Department Field Director, ACLU of Michigan; Dr. John Masterson, Board Member, Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing; Mario Bueno, Co-Director, LUCK, Inc., and Elyse Blennerhassett, Columbia University graduate student, New York-based podcast producer, and photographer.

Video above: Eric Alexander of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of  Youth and the ACLU urges crowd to continue mobilizing.

Many families attended wearing T-shirts and carrying signs for their loved ones.

 

Family demands: Support Second Chances!

 

Denise Muscualley with signs for her family members.

Many children attended.

 

People of all ages and races attended.

 

Some of the organizers of the Juvenile Lifer for Justice Rally afterwards.

AMONG DEMANDS OF THE RALLY ORGANIZERS:

Prosecutors to: – Uphold the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility statement as ministers of justice; – For them to have more than a nominal commitment to rehabilitation; – To stop pursuing LWOP sentences that are at odds with U.S. Supreme Court rulings; and – To stop delaying juvenile lifer resentencing hearings across the state.

Judges to: – Impose the minimum term-of-year sentence allowed pursuant to MCL 769.25 for all juvenile lifers being resentenced and stop imposing LWOP sentences on juvenile offenders.

Lawmakers to: – Pass legislation abolishing LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders; to – Give jurisdiction to the Parole Board to begin reviewing all juvenile lifer cases for meaningful parole consideration annually after serving 15 years; and to – Allow juvenile offenders who are resentenced to receive good time and disciplinary credits, which is currently not allowed.

SUPPORTERS–SIGN PETITION TO STATE LEGISLATURE AT:

https://www.change.org/p/efrenuncaged-gmail-com-support-michigan-prison-reform

 

Endorsers of Juvenile Lifer for Justice Rally:
Amnesty International, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Human Rights Advocates, The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), Voice of Detroit Newspaper, My Brother’s Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), Xica Nation, ACLU (Detroit), Humanity for Prisoners, and ICAN (Incarcerated Childrens’ Advocacy Network), The Injustice Must End (TIME), South Eastern Michigan Indians, Inc. (SEMII), Black Lives Matter, and LaSED (Latin American Social and Economic Development), Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing, My Brother’s Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP), National Lifers of America, Inc. (Chapter 1030), Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Detroit), St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Keep the Vote No Takeover, Moratorium Now, Detroit School Board in Exile, Operation Get Down, and others.

For more information, go to:

http://www.facebook.com/events/643683492488946, and http://www.fb.com/Free.Efren.

Email: ElenaMHerrada2@gmail.com; and listen to Elena Herrada’s show on Detroit AM 910 between 7 and 8 am Sunday mornings.

Related articles from VOD, which has been closely covering JLWOP:

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WHITE SEATTLE COPS SHOOT, KILL CHARLEENA LYLES, PREGNANT MOTHER OF 4, IN FRONT OF KIDS

 

Officer-involved shooting in Magnusson Park leaves 3 children in protective custody.

Seattle police on Sunday shot and killed a 30-year-old old woman who had called officers to report an attempted burglary and then displayed a knife, SPD said. Police took three children from the home; the victim’s sister says the shooting was unnecessary.

By Lynn Thompson , Seattle Times staff reporters

Originally published June 18, 2017; Updated June 19, 2017

http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/officer-involved-shooting-in-magnuson-park-leaves-3-children-in-protective-custody/

Charleena Lyles, 30, pregnant mother of 4, killed by Seattle police June 18, 2017

SEATTLE, WA–Dozens of people attended a vigil Sunday night for a 30-year-old woman fatally shot by Seattle police as department use-of-force investigators probed how officers wound up killing a woman who had called police for help.

Just after 10 a.m. Sunday, Seattle police responded after the woman had called to report an attempted burglary at her Magnuson Park apartment. At some point, police said, she displayed a knife and two officers shot and killed her.

Relatives identified the woman as Charleena Lyles.

Family members said she was several months pregnant and had been struggling with mental-health issues for the past year. They said she was concerned authorities would take her children, one of whom they said has Down syndrome.

Charleena Lyles with her children

Family members arriving about two hours later were distraught and questioned why police shot her. She was “tiny,” they said, and believe her race — she is African American — was a factor.

The SPD has confirmed that both officers were white.

“Why couldn’t they have Tased her? They could have taken her down. I could have taken her down,” said Monika Williams, Lyles’ sister.

[‘Get back! Get back!’: Seattle police release audio of fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles]

(Police redacted a portion of the audiotape; click on second part to hear remainder.)

Detective Mark Jamieson said officers were alerted to “hazard information” in the system after a previous encounter with the woman, which prompted a two-officer response Sunday morning when she called to report an attempted burglary in her fourth-floor unit at Brettler Family Place apartments.

“Officers were confronted by a 30-year-old woman armed with a knife,” the department wrote on its web blotter. “Both officers fired their duty weapons, striking the woman.

Lyles’ oldest sister Monika Williams comforts child at Brettler Family Place Apts./Photo Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“There were several children inside the apartment at the time of the shooting, but they were not injured,” the department said. “They are being cared for by other family members at this time.”

Family members said the children were two boys and a girl, ages 11, 4 and 1.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in a statement Sunday afternoon, called the incident “a tragedy for all involved.”

“My thoughts are with the many people impacted, including three children and the responding officers,” he said.

Murray and police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said the shooting will be reviewed by the department’s Force Investigation Team and the Office of Professional Accountability. The King County Prosecutor’s Office also will review the incident and likely call for a coroner’s inquest.

Florida Carroll holds her grandson Quayvis Carroll as they visit a memorial for Charleena Lyles.

Williams, the grieving sister, wept and yelled epithets outside the apartment, telling reporters Lyles had been shot and killed by police. Another woman, who later said she was a stepsister, Florida Carroll, wept uncontrollably and wrung her hands.

Williams said her sister had “mental-health problems” and questioned the need for officers to use deadly force.

She said Lyles had been arrested earlier this month by officers responding to another call after she had armed herself as protection against her boyfriend. Jamieson said she had a pair of scissors during the previous encounter.

“There’s no reason for her to be shot in front of her babies,” Williams yelled at reporters. “The Seattle police shot the wrong one today.”

King County Jail records indicate Lyles was arrested and booked into jail June 5 for obstruction of a public official and two counts of harassment filed in Seattle Municipal Court. She was released conditionally June 14. Details of the June 5 incident were not immediately available.

Protesters gather outside apartments at memorial for Charleena Lyles.

Williams said one of the conditions of her release was that Lyles receive mental-health counseling. That claim could not be immediately confirmed Sunday.

Shortly after the shooting, a uniformed police officer was seen cradling a sleeping child outside the apartments. Two other children were in back of a police SUV.

Sean O’Donnell, captain of the Seattle Police Department North Precinct, said one of the officers involved in the shooting is an 11-year veteran of the force. The other he described as “newer to the department.”

The Seattle Police Department has been under a federal consent decree since 2012 after a Department of Justice investigation found its officers routinely engaged in excessive use of force, most often against people with mental or substance abuse problems. Federal investigators also found evidence of biased policing.

Recently, a federal court-appointed monitor found encouraging signs that the department had made significant progress in its reforms.

Seattle Police Captain Sean O’Donnell

A brother of Lyles, Domico Jones, said his sister had suffered from mental-health issues for the past year and the family had tried to help her. He said care of the 4-year-old girl with Down syndrome required Lyles’ round-the-clock attention.

He said Lyles worried that the children would be taken from her and that the apartment management wanted to get her out of the complex. He echoed other family members who said she was a small woman.

“She was not a person you would fear or feel intimidated by,” Jones said.

The Brettler Family Place is part of a complex of apartments for formerly homeless people operated by Solid Ground. Mike Buchman, communications director for Solid Ground, said about 400 people live at the complex in Magnuson Park.

The Brettler is made up of two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments for families. Buchman said about half the residents are children.

By early Sunday evening, more than 50 people had gathered outside the apartment complex to support Lyles’ family. They mounted photos of Lyles and her children on black plastic chairs, chalked her name on the pavement and filled in the letters with votive candles.

Andre Taylor denounces prosecutor in March, 2017 for refusing to file charges against Seattle police, who killed his brother Che Taylor.

Among those assembled was Andrè Taylor, an activist whose brother, Che Taylor, was fatally shot last year after a confrontation with police. He said a family member of Lyles had contacted him for advice. “They haven’t gone through this,” he said. “I have.”

Family members expressed disbelief at the police response, noting that officers had had contact with Lyles before.

“Each time she called, it cost her something,” said Wanda Cockerhern, a cousin. “This time it cost her her life.”

Staff reporter Steve Miletich contributed to this report. Lynn Thompson: lthompson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes


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RESTITUTION NOT EVICTION: PEOPLE’S FORUM TO END UNCONSTITUTIONAL TAX FORECLOSURES SAT. JUNE 17

UPDATE: PROF. BERNADETTE ATUAHENE SPEECH AT PEOPLE’S FORUM ON FORECLOSURES JUNE 17, 2017

VOD editor, June 19, 2017:  These videos of Prof. Atuahene giving a truly dynamic, riveting presentation at the Forum to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures are being published today. Further updates on the forum, which VOD covered and videotaped, will be forthcoming shortly. Professor Atuahene included the third video below at the beginning of her presentation.

 


People’s Forum: Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures

Sat. June 17 from 1-3:30 p.m. at WSU Law School

471 Palmer at Cass, Free Parking in Lot 32 across from Law School

Numerous organizations join Law Professor Bernadette Atuahene, call for fight to reverse Detroit tax foreclosures in revolutionary new approach

Class action lawsuit already underway

Coalition calls for “path to redistributive justice”

June 14, 2017

Cornell Squires speaks at tax foreclosure protest outside Wayne County Treasurer’s office April 30, 2015.

VOD Editor: This Sunday, June 18, VOD reporter/photographer Cornell Squires would have been 60 years old. A leader of We the People for the People, and RICObusters, he fought foreclosures throughout the tri-county area tirelessly. His firm position was that the people had a right to restitution of illegally paid taxes, not eviction, since the City of Detroit had not performed annual property value assessments required by the State Constitution and was charging its residents severely inflated tax rates.

Cornell Squires passed Nov. 19, 2016 of a heart attack, and we still mourn his loss. He would have been thrilled to hear of this new Coalition and in complete support of Prof. Atuahene’s analysis that Detroit tax rates are unconstitutional.

Cornell Squires: PRESENTE!


By the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures. 

The city of Detroit has illegally foreclosed on thousands of its poorest residents. In response, local activist groups have formed the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures. 

The Forum will hear from those who have been foreclosed on, and with them determine a path to redistributive justice against these illegal foreclosures.

Bernadette Atuahene, a Wayne State law professor, is leading the coalition and has published a column about this, originally in the Detroit Free Press last year at http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/contributors/2016/09/01/detroits-tax-foreclosures-indefensible/89717644/.  

Below is an excerpt from that guest editorial.

DETROIT’S TAX FORECLOSURES: INDEFENSIBLE

“A Hurricane without water”

By Prof. Bernadette Atuahene

Law Prof. Bernadette Atuahene

Like with [Hurricane] Katrina, the property tax foreclosure crisis in Detroit has wiped out entire neighborhoods inhabited by poor and working-class Black people. From 2011-15, the Wayne County treasurer foreclosed upon approximately one in four Detroit properties for nonpayment of property taxes.

In fact, Detroit has one of the highest number of property tax foreclosures any American city has had since the Great Depression. Most important, once foreclosed properties are vacated, they are often vandalized, burned down or stripped of all valuable materials, creating a flood of blighted properties that decimate communities by reducing property values, attracting crime and causing those who can to evacuate. . . . I recently co-authored a study titled “Stategraft” that demonstrates that Detroit’s unprecedented property tax foreclosure rate is indefensible because property tax assessments in Detroit are, in fact, illegal.  

Luis and Cecilia Espinoza, who live with their 5 children in corner home in southwest Detroit, with Cornell Squires at right, show vacant and vandalized properties next door. Nonetheless, they were assessed astronomical tax rates in 2015.

Michigan’s  Constitution clearly decrees that a property’s assessed value cannot exceed 50% of its market value. In our study, we find that Detroit’s assessor is flagrantly violating this vital state constitutional provision. Consequently, contrary to popular narratives, it is the city that is stealing from Detroit property owners through illegal assessments and inflated property tax bills, and not the other way around. And while the city has reassessed properties during the last two years, those actions have not been enough to bring most assessments in line with the Michigan Constitution. 

[In Stategraft”] we find that, in 2009, 65.5% of the properties sold violated the state constitutional assessment limit.  In subsequent years the numbers were equally shocking:

2010 (84.7%)                               2011 (54.6%)                     2012 (71.4%)                            2013 (78.2%)                               2014 (83.2%)                     2015 (64.7)

The property tax assessments were not only above the legal limit, but they also exceeded it by a substantial sum. For instance, in 2010, assessments were, on average, 7.3 times higher than the legal limit. In 2015, assessments were, on average, 2.1 times higher than the legal limit.

Duggan’s point man Dan Gilbert is head of his Demolition Task Force. Gilbert’s Quicken Loans is responsible for many of the city’s mortgage foreclosures.

In all years studied, the illegality was most pronounced for lower-valued properties. That is, the city is more likely to assess modest homes at illegal levels than it is more expensive homes, leaving the most vulnerable homeowners drowning in injustice. 

Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan — a former prosecutor — acknowledged that “for years, homes across the city have been over assessed,” and tried to remedy this in 2014 and 2015 by implementing assessment decreases for most of the city, ranging from 5% to 20%.

Our study shows that illegal property tax assessments nevertheless persist for lower-valued properties despite these reductions. For example, in 2015, properties with the lowest values were, on average, assessed at 4.8 times the legal limit, while properties with the highest values were, on average, legally assessed.

Both before and after Duggan’s assessment reductions, those who can afford only modest properties have been subject to the most severe illegality and forced to endure the consequences of Detroit’s broken levees.

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the law firm of Covington & Burling filed a class action  alleging that the unprecedented number of property tax foreclosures in Detroit is unlawful on several counts, including the fact that the property tax assessments systematically violate the state constitution and the Fair Housing Act. The findings of “Stategraft” strongly support this claim.

Occupy Detroit and Moratorium NOW blockade Detroit home slated for eviction in 2011.

The end goal of the class action is to stop all property tax foreclosures that are based upon illegal assessments. As an interim measure, the legal team recently filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would place a moratorium on property tax foreclosures of owner-occupied properties in Detroit and throughout Wayne County.

. . . . just as we do not allow homeless people in desperate need to burglarize homes, we should not allow the City of Detroit to use unlawful assessments and inflated property tax bills to steal money from Detroit property owners. Additionally, the requested moratorium is narrowly tailored so that it protects only vulnerable homeowners and not investors. 

Given the mortgage foreclosure crisis, water shutoffs and historic bankruptcy, the people of Detroit have already had to weather several devastating storms. Now that they are facing a hurricane without water, the federal government cannot leave Detroiters stranded. 

The ACLU website for the lawsuit is at http://www.aclumich.org/article/aclu-sues-wayne-county-end-racially-discriminatory-tax-foreclosures-Detroit

The Coalition to End Unconstitutional Foreclosures has a website at http://illegalforeclosures.org/

A Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/IllegalForeclosures/

An Events page at https://www.facebook.com/IllegalForeclosures/

Contacts  at 313-466-2293, info@illegalforeclosures.org, twitter @illforeclosures

Members of Coalition to End Unconstitutional Foreclosures

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STOP DEATH IN PRISON FOR CHILDREN! JUVENILE LIFER RALLY FOR JUSTICE SUN. JUNE 18 @ 2-5 PM DETROIT

Attorney Bryan Stevenson, director of the national Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL and Professor of Law at NYU Law School,  is one of the endorsers of the Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice in Detroit this Sunday. This video was made after he argued and won Graham v. Florida at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, which outlawed juvenile life without parole in non-homicide cases. He went on to argue and win Miller v Alabama and  Jackson v. Hobbs at the USSC in 2012, which outlawed juvenile life without parole for ALL crimes.

JUVENILE LIFER RALLY FOR JUSTICE

     Sunday, June 18, 2-5 pm (Father’s  Day)

                 Erma Henderson Park, 8810 E. Jefferson

“A sentence that perpetuates human storage in an austere world in which condemned prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive only to later be disposed of has no place in a civilized society.” — Efren Paredes, Jr.

Juveniles targeted unjustly by provision in MCL 769.25a that denies them use of good time credits–Cortez Davis-El, juvenile lifer

Vote vs. prosecutor and judges who abuse their authority by causing re-sentencing delays and ignoring established law–Charles Lewis

“It is not the will of the people to viciously condemn youth to spend their entire lives in human cages.”


By Necalli Ollin, BlogSpot for Efren Paredes, Jr. (excerpt)

“An online petition will also be launched that delivers emails to state lawmakers demanding passage of a 10-point prison reform platform that will impact every prisoner in the state. Included will be the restoring of good time, reducing the predatory pricing of prisoner phone calls, providing relief for prisoners serving life and long indeterminate sentences, and other important issues. Additional information about the event and the 10-point prison reform platform is available by visiting: http://www.facebook.com/events/643683492488946.

Elena Herrada

Efren Paredes, Jr.

The collaborative effort is being led by Elena Herrada, adjunct professor at Marygrove College and Wayne County Community College, and Detroit AM 910 radio show host; and Efren Paredes, Jr., social justice advocate who was arrested in Berrien County at 15 and sentenced to life without parole in 1989. Students attending Herrada’s classes and others are also assisting organize the grassroots effort.

Those in attendance will include family members and supporters of juvenile lifers, youth advocates, attorneys, members of the faith-based community, legislators, representatives of civil and human rights organizations, bloggers, podcast producers, and members of the state and national television, print, and radio media. . . 

Speakers will include: Efren Paredes, Jr., event co-organizer, blogger, and juvenile lifer; Dr. Austin Jackson, Director, Michigan State University My Brother’s Keeper Program (in video above); Rodd Monts, of the ACLU who does work with the School to Prison Pipeline program; Elena Herrada, AM 910 Detroit Superstation radio show host, Marygrove College professor, and member of Detroit School Board in Exile; Diane Bukowski, Editor of the Voice of Detroit newspaper; Dr. John Masterson, Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing board member, Michigan StateState University professor emeritus, and social justice activist; Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman of St. Peters Episcopal Church; Roberto Guzman, a Detroit paralegal and member of Peoples Task Force to Free the Wrongful Convicted; Elyse Blennerhassett, Columbia University graduate student, New York-based podcast producer, writer, and photographer (her work has been featured in The New Yorker, Truthout, and she is co-producer of the film “We All We Got.”); Ken Grunow, President of Amnesty International (Detroit); Hon. Peter Deegan, retired judge, prosecutor, and past President of the Prosecutors Association of Michigan; Tawanna Simpson, Detroit School Board member and social justice activist; Velia Koppenhoefer, member of The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee and mother of juvenile lifer Efren Paredes, Jr.; Representative from the Washington, DC-based Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth; also four former prisoners speaking who were convicted as juveniles who have gone on to do amazing things with their lives subsequent to their release.   

Efforts will include urging citizens to vote against any prosecutors in the state who continue defying the U.S. Supreme Court by creating resentencing delays, abusing their authority, and arbitrarily pursuing LWOP sentences against juvenile lifers rather than term-of-year sentences.

(L) Charles Lewis at 17 in prison; (R) Charles Lewis now at 58.

[VOD: Juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, who has been in prison since 1976 for 41 years, also advocates campaigns to vote against elected judges hearing juvenile lifer re-sentencings who abuse their authority and discretion.

In his case, Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard has ignored State and U.S. Supreme Court precedents mandating dismissal of  his case due to the complete loss of his official court file.

In addition, Wayne County Pprosecutor Kym Worthy’s office just partially denied VOD’s FOIA request for a copy of Lewis’ police homicide file, claiming excessive time to re-construct the file. AP Jason Williams said in court that he had the entire file already. It contains statements by numerous eye witnesses to the murder involved that would exonerate Lewis.]

Elected officials must be held accountable for their support of sentences that extinguish hope by being removed from office next election cycle. It is not the will of the people to viciously condemn youth to spend their entire lives in human cages.

According to Efren, “A sentence that perpetuates human storage in an austere world in which condemned prisoners are treated as bodies kept alive only to later be disposed of has no place in a civilized society.”

In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional and ordered the resentencing of the 2,500 prisoners affected nationwide. Of that number Michigan imprisons 363 juvenile lifers.

In a landmark ruling 16 months ago the high court strongly urged judges and prosecutors to pursue term-of-year sentences for those prisoners being resentenced. It held that the reimposition of a LWOP sentence must be “rare,” “uncommon,” and only reserved for those persons “who are incapable of change.”

Since that decision only a small fraction of Michigan’s juvenile lifers have been resentenced. Prosecutors have orchestrated incessant delays that have resulted in the death of six juvenile lifers  waiting to be resentenced over the past five years.

Berrien Co. Prosecutor Michael Sepic

Oakland Co. Prosecutor Jessica Cooper

Michigan prosecutors have also defied the U.S. Supreme Court by widely expressing their intent to pursue LWOP sentences again for 228 of the state’s 363 cases. This excessive number is hardly rare or uncommon.

Youth offenders have a remarkable capacity for change and deserve an opportunity to prove they possess redeemable qualities. State-sponsored death-by-incarceration is a deplorable policy that must be vehemently rejected and openly condemned by all people of conscience.

According to Efren, “We can not sit idly by and wait for prison reform to occur. We are all stakeholders in this very important matter. If we are not assertive with our agenda we will continue witnessing the same dismal results and failed representation by elected officials.”

He added, “The addiction to constructing prisons as the solution to the crime problem has been an abysmal failure that has destroyed an untold number of lives and manifested itself as the school-to-prison pipeline. It has also created crushing images of self-contempt, personal alienation, and a poverty of thought.”

Please invite friends and family members to attend the event, circulate the event widely on social media, and ask others to do the same. You can copy and paste the following sample paragraph to assist with this:

Support the “Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice” on June 18, 2017 in Detroit and the 10-Point Prison Reform Platform that affects every female and male prisoner in the state serving short- and long-term sentences. Learn more about the event at: http://www.facebook.com/events/643683492488946.

People are urged to begin tuning in to Detroit Superstation AM 910 weekly Sunday mornings between 7:00 am and 8:00 am to hear Efren and Herrada discuss continued efforts to organize the “Juvenile Lifer Rally for Justice,” or hear it in real-time on the AM 910 website. You Tube videos of the shows will appear on the Free Efren Facebook page available at http://www.fb.com/Free.Efren.

People interested in attending the Rally for Justice, assisting with organizing, and/or receiving email updates can send a message to event organizers via email to ElenaMHerrada2@gmail.com. Please put “Rally for Justice” in the subject line of the email.

Initial list of endorsers: Amnesty International,  Equal Justice Initiative (EJI),  Human Rights Advocates,  The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth,  Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD),  Voice of Detroit Newspaper, Xica Nation,  ACLU (Detroit),  Humanity for Prisoners,
ICAN (Incarcerated Childrens’ Advocacy Network),  Black Lives Matter,
LaSED (Latin American Social and Economic Development),  Peace Education Center of Greater Lansing,  The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee,  South East Michigan Indians, Inc..  My Brother’s Keeper Prison Outreach Program (MBK-POP),  National Lifers of America, Inc. (Chapter 1030),  Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Detroit),  St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
Keep the Vote No Takeover,  Moratorium Now,  Detroit School Board in Exile


DID THE MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE TARGET MICHIGAN’S JUVENILE OFFENDERS UNJUSTLY?

Denial of “good time credits” under MCL 769,25a violates “ex post facto” law, discriminates against juvenile lifers, costs taxpayers more money

Cortez Davis awaits re-sentencing April 27, 2017.

BY CORTEZ DAVIS EL

VOD: Cortez Davis El is a juvenile lifer who was re-sentenced to 25 t0 60 years in April, despite his sterling prison record. He has only served 23 years so must now wait two years to even see the parole board. He was not the killer in the case. The level of his rehabilitation from a poverty-stricken child who dropped out of school to support his younger siblings, to an excellent writer and jail-house lawyer can be seen in his article.

Prior to December of 1998 all of Michigan’s prisoners with a term of year sentence were entitled to disciplinary credits and or good time.

These incentives were earned by both male and female prisoners for having little to no behavior problems. The knowledge that good time and or disciplinary credits were something that could return an individual back to his or her loved ones a little sooner than expected motivated prisoners to take a deep look at themselves and cut away the useless ungainly parts of their character and make the corners of their conduct symmetrical. In short, it motivated prisoners to change for the better.

Many prisoners that were serving life sentences held on to the hopes of one day receiving a term of year sentence so that the disciplinary credits and or good time that they’ve earned could be used toward their freedom. Many adult offenders who committed their crimes before December of 1998 that were serving life sentences have benefited from the laws that were in place at the time of their arrests. This means that adults that were resentenced to a term of years sentence after being told that they were going to spend the rest of their lives in prison got the benefit of having good time and or disciplinary credits deducted from their new term of year sentence, allowing them to become parole eligible more sooner than later.

Michigan prisoners training leader dogs for the elderly and blind.

For decades, the juvenile offenders that were sentenced to life in prison prior to December of 1998 were earning the same good time and or disciplinary credits as the adult offenders. The juvenile offenders made the same transformations that their adult counterparts made prior to being resentenced to a term of years. In most cases, the transformation of the juvenile offenders were more complex due to being children placed in an unnatural, harsh, and violent environment with an under developed mind.

On June 25, 2012, The United States Supreme Court handed down one of the most profound decisions directed toward child offenders. More plainly, the highest court in the land stated that for the purposes of sentencing children are different than adults and the states can not proceed as if children are adults. Miller v Alabama, 132 S Ct. 2455, made it clear that children are less deserving of a state’s harshest punishment, even if the child has committed the harshest crime.

Parnall Correctional Facility prisoners at graduation from Jackson College

The State of Michigan rejected the court’s wisdom and fought to block the high court’s decision from applying to Michigan juvenile offenders. In March of 2014, the Michigan Legislature passed legislation that allowed the state courts to resentence juvenile offenders that were sentenced to mandatory life without parole to a term of years, but only if the U.S. Supreme Court declared Miller v. Alabama retroactive and applicable to Michigan juvenile offenders.

On January 25, 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court did in fact declare Miller v. Alabama retroactive and applicable to Michigan and all other states. ( see Montgomery v Louisiana, 136 S Ct 718 ) While the juvenile offenders were preparing for their day in court to demonstrate maturity and rehabilitation, the legislation that was passed denied them a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release by denying them the good time and or disciplinary credits that they had already earned.

In many ways, society can benefit from having those that once hurt the community return to help the community. When the Michigan Legislature enacted MCL 769.25a they violated the law and caused taxpayers to foot the bill for another round of appeals. MCL 800.33(3) allows every prisoner that was arrested prior to the enactment of truth in sentencing to earn good time and or disciplinary credits.

The enactment of MCL 769.25a which denies only juvenile offenders their earned good time and or disciplinary credits violates The Ex Post Facto Clause. The Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits a law that “changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime when committed.” More specifically, a law violates the Ex Post Facto Clause if it: 1. applies to events occurring before its enactment; and 2. if it disadvantages the individual affected by it. Weaver v Graham, 450 U.S. 24. 29 (1981).

PA Judge Timothy Savage

This well established law shows that the Michigan Legislature enacted a law that targets juvenile offenders that benefited from the U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION in Miller v Alabama unjustly. In August of 2016 after the Montgomery v Louisiana decision, a federal judge in Pennsylvania stated that juvenile offenders should not be made to suffer further delays because there are those whose rehabilitation is beyond question and those individuals must be returned to society immediately. ( see Songster v Beard, 201 F. Supp. 3rd 639. also at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Songster-v-Beard.pdf

MCL 769.25a places further delays on those that are ready to rejoin and contribute to society by denying them of the good time and or disciplinary credits they’ve earned.

Due to the mandatory minimum of 25 years called for by MCL 769.25a, if a juvenile offender does not have that minimum sentence already served, without the earned good time and or disciplinary credits they will remain incarcerated without a parole hearing well past their transformation from a child to an adult that demonstrate maturity. All prisoners that were arrested prior to the enactment of truth in sentencing earn good time and or disciplinary credits. However, the Michigan Legislature is denying those benefits to juvenile offenders that have earned good time and or disciplinary credits and no one else. Are juveniles being targeted unjustly? You decide.

Related articles from VOD, which has been closely covering JLWOP: Continue reading


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FALSE DETROIT CONVICTION: VINCENT SMOTHERS SAYS HE, NOT THELONIOUS SEARCY, KILLED JAMAL SEGARS IN 2004

See petition above at https://www.change.org/p/rick-snyder-free-wrongfully-convicted-thelonious-shawn-searcy.

Smothers signed affidavits provided to police and media, gave taped interview to Scott Lewis on Segars killing

 Earlier Smothers helped free Davontae Sanford, convicted of 4 murders committed in 2007 by Smothers and accomplice

 Same players from Detroit Police, Wayne County Prosecutor, involved in Searcy, Sanford frame-ups  

Mainstream media has ignored Smothers’ confession to Segars murder since 2015 

By Diane Bukowski 

June 8, 2017, updated June 12, 2017 

Private Investigator and former long-time Ch. 7 reporter Scott Lewis interviewed Vincent Smothers on the Segars murder.

DETROIT – Admitted hitman Vincent Smothers, who helped free Davontae Sanford,  wrongfully convicted of four murders that occurred when he was 14, is also campaigning to free another man, Thelonious Searcy. Detroiter Searcy, now 37, known by the nickname “Skinny Man,” has been serving a life sentence for the murder of Jamal Segars since 2005.

But Smothers says he and a partner, now deceased, killed Segars and wounded Brian Minner Sept. 6, 2004 near City Airport in Detroit. He attested to the killing in a letter and notarized affidavit supplied to Searcy in 2015.

Wayne Co. Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat and Detroit Police Homicide Investigator Dale Collins played leading roles in both the Sanders and Searcy cases.

Searcy’s grandmother Edna Richardson hired private investigator and former Channel 7 reporter Scott Lewis, who conducted a taped interview with Smothers. In the interview, Smothers confirmed he had authored both documents and sent the affidavit to the mainstream media and the Detroit Police Department (DPD).

Above is Scott Lewis’ taped interview with Vincent Smothers on the Segars’ killing. (The photo is from a New Yorker article, “The Hitman’s Tale.”) Lewis provided a copy of the phone interview to VOD with the consent of  Searcy’s grandmother Edna Richardson.

Below is the letter Smothers says he provided to Searcy through an intermediary when they were locked up in the same prison. In the letter, he refers to ongoing proceedings in the case of Davontae Sanford, wrongfully convicted in a frame-up by the Detroit Police Department and the Wayne County Prosecutor in 2008.

Davontae Sanford (center) after he was released in 2015. His mother Taminko Sanford-Tilmon and his late stepfather Jeremaine Tilmon, who both fought for his freedom for 9 years, are at his side.

Sanford, 14 at the time of the so-called “Runyon Street” murders in 2007, was finally freed after nine years in the Michigan Department of Corrections subsequent to Smothers’ confession to the slayings, a Michigan State Police investigation, and the intervention of two Innocence Clinics.

To date, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has not charged Smothers or his accomplice with the Runyon Street killings. Her office and Sanford’s attorney Valerie Newman negotiated an agreement to dismiss the charges against Sanford “without prejudice,” meaning they can be brought back again. Sanford was therefore not fully exonerated.

Smothers is currently serving a sentence of 50-100 years at the Ionia Correctional Facility for a total of eight other murders to which he confessed.

Below is the letter he gave to Searcy through an intermediary while they were incarcerated at the same prison. Shortly afterwards, Searcy says, he was transferred to the Chippewa Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula, where he remains.

Smothers’ letter to Thelonious Searcy 8/22/15

“I’m coming forward with this information about the murder of JAMAL SEGARS, because I heard it’s a innocent man sentenced, for this crime,” Smothers says in his notarized affidavit, dated Dec. 27, 2015. “I want to tell the truth about every vile murder I committed in the city of Detroit. I want to give all my victims family closure for their loved one’s death.” (See full affidavit at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/VSaffidavitSegars.compressed-1.pdf.)

Segars was driving silver 2004 Corvette convertible like this with the roof down, according to Smothers.

Smothers continued, “On September 6, 2004, approximately around 9 p.m., me and my man JEFFERY DANIELS approached a silver 2 door 2004 Corvette. The driver was this man name JAMAL SEGARS, on the street, we called him ‘Q.’ He was a certified ‘Dope Boy’ from the Buffalo Projects off of Nevada.”

He then recounted how Segars was stranded in traffic on Conner at the corner of Whithorn near Gratiot, during a crowded “Black Party” the day after Labor Day. He says Minners got in the car before the killing.

Site of Segars killing at Conner and Whithorn across from City Airport, in recent Google photo.

“‘Q’ looked back at me,” said Smothers. “Without any hesitation I fire three shot’s, from my chrome and black HK 40 into ‘Q’s back. Soon as I fired, Jeffery fired into the air. When he fired into the air, the passenger ducked down as if he was grabbing something from the floor. I proceeded to fire (3) more times into the left side of ‘Q’ from the driver side, then I fired a fatal shot towards his head. As I stood over him, I snatched $300 from his left hand, then I fled back to JEFFEREY’S car.”

He said Daniels had an HK .45 handgun.

Smothers said two Detroit cops witnessed the murder and assault. He said a black Detroit police squad car crashed into another car at a Shell gas station on Conner, in pursuit of his accomplice’s car. He said the passenger cop, “a Caucasian male wearing a gray hood and black pants,” got out firing shots at Daniels, but he eluded the cops in a subsequent pursuit.

Excerpt from Minnesota court drug case on Jamal Deshon Segars.

Smothers said he told Daniels to get rid of the HK .45  gun he had with him, although Daniels wanted to keep it. Two weeks later, Smothers said, Daniels was killed on Sept. 21, 2004, allegedly in a drug deal gone bad.

“A few months after Jefferey was killed they arrested a guy that looked like JEFFERY for “Q’ murder, that shit fucked me up. I needed to come forward with this murder as I done in previous case.”

Searcy told VOD in a letter dated May 22, 2017, “The People v. Thelonious Searcy is a case filled with corrupt practices from the Detroit homicide section, the Prosecutor’s office, the chief Judge of Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, and my defense attorney Robert Mitchell.

“This is a shame that prosecutors and judges are allowed to break the law freely in Detroit. [I] have been sitting in prison because OUR judicial system failed to properly investigate [my] case. Relying on lying witnesses and informants is common in Detroit.”

Thelonious Searcy today in prison yard.

Searcy was married in 2001 and said he is “the proud father of two daughters.” He was divorced in 2015.

Searcy has no previous criminal record. He graduated with honors from Denby High School in 1999, along with a certificate of achievement in journalism. Afterwards, he said he worked at Home Depot as a hi-lo driver and at CVS as a stock employee.

He added, “Since my incarceration, I have still maintained employment, and I have taken over 14 self-help classes. Out of the 14 classes, I’ve facilitated four. I’ve also taken classes through the University of Michigan-Dearborn, through the Inside Out program. ”

He also sent recommendations from supervisors of various jobs he has held while at MDOC.

Searcy is currently serving concurrent sentences oflife without parole for first-degree murder, 15 to 30 years for assault with intent to murder, and two years for “felony firearms.”

 

Graduation from UM-Dearborn “Inside-Out” courses

VOD has twice requested copies of the court file on this case from the Wayne County Clerk’s office. According to a note on the second request, the file was removed by  “Lee” on March 20, 2017. To date, the identity of “Lee” is a mystery. VOD consulted the Court Administrator’s office on the whereabouts of the file, who referred it to David Baxter, Deputy Clerk.

Juvenile lifer Charles Lewis is also arguing his innocence of 1976 murder charges.

Baxter has been unable for over a year to find the original copy of the criminal court file for juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, incarcerated since 1977 in MDOC. He also cannot explain why Lewis’ entire Register of Actions prior to 2000 has been obliterated from the court’s computer records.

Lewis is currently appealing Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard’s order to “re-construct” the file, citing legal precedents showing his case should be dismissed. He has retained the office of noted defense attorney Gregory Rohl to represent him.

Fortunately, Searcy’s grandmother Edna Richardson retained copies of most of his trial transcripts and documents from his Detroit Police Department homicide file, which she loaned to VOD for review.

They corroborate Searcy’s allegations of multiple corrupt practices by public officials. These include Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat and DPD Investigative Officer Dale Collins, the Officer in Charge at Searcy’s trial, as well as Wayne County Criminal Court Chief Judge Timothy Kenny, who presided over Searcy’s case.

APA Patrick Muscat also falsely prosecuted Davontae Sanford.

The Register of Actions for the murder case indicates a warrant for Searcy’s arrest was issued Sept. 10, 2004. He was tried and convicted by a jury in front of Judge Kenny from May 2 through May 9, 2005, and sentenced by Kenny on May 23, 2005.

After several unsuccessful appeals to higher courts, Kenny dismissed a motion for relief from judgment after a post-conviction hearing on July 2, 2015.  (See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Thelonious-Searcy-Register-of-Actions-04-012890-01-FC-Homicide.)

Searcy says he filed a motion related to “newly discovered evidence ” in Judge Kenny’s court on July 22, 2016 which has not yet been heard. It is not included in his register of actions. He currently has no legal representation.

According to Searcy’s trial transcripts, the defense produced eight eyewitnesses who said Searcy was at a family holiday barbecue on Balfour in Detroit at the time of the crime.

But Assistant Prosecutor Patrick Muscat’s theory of the case was that Searcy killed Segars in a case of mistaken identity at the “Black Party” near City Airport. DPD Homicide Investigator Dale Collins, the Officer in Charge, recruited most of the witnesses to back up that theory. Muscat was also the prosecutor for  many years in the Davontae Sanford frame-up, while Dale Collins helped obtain a false confession from Sanford and is notorious for his use of jail-house informants in other cases.

Muscat claimed that Searcy mistook Segars’ silver Corvette for a silver Corvette that DeAnthony Witcher was driving nearby during the “Black Party.” Muscat and Collins recruited Witcher as the star prosecution witness despite Witcher’s stated reluctance to be a “snitch.”

Judge Timothy Kenny, photo from “The First 48” series.

Judge Kenny, however, forced Witcher to testify by giving him “use immunity” allegedly based on police having discovered Witcher in 2003 with a small amount of marijuana.

Witcher testified he was at the scene near the Corvette occupied by Segars, also driving a silver Corvette. He said he received numerous calls regarding whether he had been shot. 

He also testified that Searcy shot him inside Witcher’s home on Nov. 16, 2003 over a money dispute, and later continued to threaten to kill him. The DPD never brought any charges against Searcy for this alleged incident. But they claimed to have found marijuana in the house at the time, the pretext Kenny claimed he used to force Witcher to testify.

At the trial, Witcher was allowed to testify under a state court rule regarding “Similar Acts” (MCR 404b) about this incident despite the fact that it was never adjudicated. Judge Kenny allowed him to stand up, lift his shirt, and show the wounds from the shooting allegedly done by Searcy. Searcy says that caused “extreme prejudice” against him with the jury. 

Muscat and Collins additionally recruited two women, Latasha Boatright, Witcher’s half-sister according to her cousin’s sworn affidavit, and Kimberly Jefferies, a friend of Witcher’s. They positively identified Searcy as the killer despite numerous discrepancies in their accounts, during the trial, which caused defense attorney Mitchell to ask Jefferies at one point if she was even at the scene during the murder.

DeAnthony Witcher in DPD photo line-up.

One other “eyewitness” had not participated even in a photo line-up prior to the trial, to identify Searcy as the shooter. Another said he could identify Searcy if he saw him in the same clothes the shooter wore, but not by face alone.

Searcy told VOD in a letter that Investigator Collins picked DeAnthony Witcher up prior to the issuance of his arrest warrant, allegedly to make a statement on the Nov. 2003 incident. At that time, he believes, Witcher implicated him in the City Airport “Black Party” murder of Segars.

Searcy also discovered a copy of a DPD report  on the arrest of Witcher on Nov. 18, 2004, driving a BLUE Corvette, in illegal possession of a 9 mm handgun, one week before Searcy’s arrest on Nov. 30, 2004.

Police never charged Witcher in that case, although they impounded the blue Corvette.

The report was in the DPD homicide file all along. Searcy’s grandmother obtained the file through a Freedom of Information Act request.  This report, which would have undermined the prosecution’s “mistaken identity” theory, was never produced at Searcy’s trial by the prosecution. 

Searcy’s appeals attorneys from the State Appellate Defender’s Office as well as Gerald Lorence, also insisted in letters to him that they could not find any evidence of this incident.

DPD arrest report on DeAnthony Witcher shows him driving a BLUE Corvette, not a silver Corvette, and  illegally in possession of a 9 mm. handgun.

 

According to court records, Witcher was charged with second-degree murder, assault with intent to murder, and felony firearms in May, 2000, but eventually acquitted, with a twist.

(L to r) Two Inkster police officers, AP Karen Plants and Judge Mary Waterstone at perjury trial.

Witcher was bound over and remanded to the Wayne County Jail. However, the late retired Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone, originally assigned to his case, reduced his bond. Waterstone left the bench in 2005 after a scandal involving her private agreement with Asst. Wayne County Prosecutor Karen Plants to allow Inkster police and a paid informant, Chad Povish, to lie about his status during a trial involving a 103-lb. cocaine bust.

Plants was fired, and perjury-related charges were brought against her and Waterstone. Plants served a six-month jail term, while Waterstone’s charges were dismissed. 

The Register of Actions in Witcher’s second-degree murder case  shows it was transferred to Judge Robert Colombo from Waterstone. Colombo conducted a bench trial and acquitted Witcher of all charges in June, 2001. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/DeAnthony-Witcher-Register-of-Actions-Murder-Acquittal-2000.pdf

Searcy said his trial attorney Robert Mitchell, who died in December, 2016, refused to call DeAnthony Witcher’s uncle Harvey Witcher to the stand. Witcher wrote the affidavit below, stating that he overheard DeAnthony Witcher making arrangements to pay off Kimberly Jefferies to testify falsely against Searcy.

The letter is difficult to read, but VOD heightened the contrast and discerned the following:

“About the Skinnyman case. Him and my nephew had a misunderstanding over some drugs. Things had got out of hand to the point where people’s lives was getting played on and lied on. Like for instance, that girls name “Kim & Tasha” I think that’s they names I’m isn’t for sure. But Kim I’m for sure about her name because I was listening when Lil Dee [DeAnthony Witcher] said he had to go on and pay her off, to lie on Skinnyman. Yours truly, Mr. H. Witcher #149304”

Letter from Harvey Witcher obtained by court-appointed private investigator.

The DPD and Prosecutor intended to use a separate assault with intent to murder case against Searcy during his trial, under MCR 404b,” but Kenny ruled against its admission after hearing testimony on the case in a separate evidentiary hearing. Ironically, Harvey Witcher was the victim in that 2003 case. But Judge Kenny was forced to dismiss those charges on May 23, 2005, “in the interests of justice,” the day he sentenced Searcy for the Segars killing. 

Harvey Witcher in MDOC photo.

Witcher testified that he had told police a “skinny guy” shot him, and specified that he was NOT referring to “Skinny Man.” He said Searcy, who was in the courtroom, was definitely NOT the perpetrator of that assault.

Police officers at the scene in the car that crashed testified that the man they pursued was six feet tall and 200 lbs., while Searcy is 160 lbs. Brian Minner, who was shot, testified he could not identify Searcy.

The DPD arrested Searcy for the Segars killing at the home of his grandmother, Edna Richardson, in Clinton Township, on Nov. 18, 2004. DPD officer Robert Bulgarelli testified at the trial that he forced entry into Mrs. Richardson’s home, claiming he had an arrest warrant.  He said he found a handgun in the bedroom dresser, which later was used as evidence at trial.

Mrs. Richardson told VOD that Bulgarelli showed  neither an arrest warrant or a search warrant. Searcy’s defense attorney Mitchell never challenged the incident as an illegal search and seizure.

Client looks dubiously at defense attorney Robert Mitchell, who died in December, 2016.

Mrs. Richardson told VOD that Jeffery Daniels, a cousin of Rodney Daniels, the father of her granddaughter’s child, left the gun at her house after giving her a ride home.

She and Searcy’s mother both testified at trial that the gun did not belong to Searcy and that he was not living there at the time of his arrest. Daniels was the man identified by Smothers as his accomplice during the Segars shooting, who was killed two weeks later in a drug-related incident.

According to Searcy’s trial transcripts, no fingerprint evidence was produced related to the handgun, an HK .45 caliber, to show that he had handled it. Mitchell did not object to this, although he objected to the late production of ballistics evidence, which was not given to him until the day before the trial.

Officer Velma Tutt, an evidence technician, testified to collecting numerous casings from both .40 caliber and .45 caliber bullets at the scene of Segars’ murder, in keeping with Smothers’ account of the crime.

Belated ballistics testing of the casings allegedly showed that the .45 caliber casings came from the gun found in Mrs. Richardson’s home. But the actual firearms examiner who performed the testing was not available at the trial for medical reasons.

Crime Lab Task Force leader Marilyn Jordan addresses media during protest May 16, 2011.

Judge Kenny nonetheless qualified Detroit police officer Kevin Reed as an expert and allowed him to testify to his supervisor’s reports, although the transcript shows he had only worked as a firearms examiner for one year.  

Searcy says that was a violation of his “Brady” rights to confront his accuser. Additionally, Reed’s faulty ballistics results in the case of Jarrhod Williams later led to the closing of the Detroit crime lab in 2008 after numerous other errors were found.

A task force formed by prisoners, their families and supporters conducted numerous protests then, but few prisoners convicted on likely faulty forensic evidence have ever seen freedom since. One of the Task Force’s main objectives was to establish a national crime lab independent of police and prosecutors, who they claimed deliberately falsified evidence. That never happened.

On DPD officer Kevin Reed, from the book “Forensic Fraud,” by Brent E. Turvey

Detroit Police Sgt. Kevin Reed

DPD Homicide Investigator Dale Collins has a long record of using jailhouse informants and other questionable practices while employed with the DPD.

According to the Michigan State Police report on the Davontae Sanford case, and to a motion for relief from judgment filed by two Innocence Clinics,  Sgt. Collins assisted DPD Investigator Sgt. Michael Russell in eliciting a false confession from Sanford despite clear direct eyewitness statements taken by Detroit police the day after the “Runyon Street” killings which indicated that the killer was taller and older than Sanford. 

The MSP investigative report cites Collins’ report that he, Russell and Commander James Tolbert drove Sanford around the neighborhood of the Runyon Street house for several hours, contradicting their court testimony that Sanford was first interviewed at DPD headquarters. It was there that Tolbert drew the diagram of the Runyon Street house which Sanford filled in after the cops showed him pictures of the crime scene.

DPD Investigator Dale Collins/photo “The First 48”

The motion for relief from judgment says Collins told Sanford that his “uncle,” Police Commander Bill Rice, was “my motherfucking man, you need to help the police” and “[y]ou better tell us what you know.”. . . After this exchange, Collins and Russell, joined by Commander James Tolbert, took Davontae first to Osborn High School, then on a drive around the neighborhood. They eventually brought Davontae to the crime scene where, at 3:13 a.m., a technician swabbed Davontae’s hands and face for gunshot primer residue – a test that later came back negative. The police then took him to the homicide bureau at 1300 Beaubien.”

Collins has also been linked to the use of “jail-house snitches” in numerous  publicized cases, where the informants got their sentences reduced and received special treatment at the Wayne County Jail. Collins is featured in a 2015 article in Truth Out, “Ring of Snitches–How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men.” 

Michael Robinson house on Runyon Street where 4 murders occurred in 2007.

The article includes a “suppressed” (secret) transcript of a 1994 hearing in Recorders Court Judge John Shamo’s chambers on a motion for relief from judgment filed by MDOC prisoner and alleged jailhouse snitch Joe Twilley. In it, Collins testified on Twilley’s behalf for a reduced sentence, primarily to protect him from retaliation from other prisoners. In the transcript, Collins admitted using Twilley in at least 20 cases to get convictions. Recorders Court Judge Shamo dismissed the case against Twilley, according to on-line Third Judicial Court records. The transcript can be read at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Twilley.Resentencing.pdf.

Also included in the article is memo from Deputy Chief Robert Agacinski alerting the prosecutor’s office to the practice of rewarding “jail-house snitches” for false testimony. It refers to Dale Collins as well.  Read memo at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Agacinski-Memo-on-jailhouse-informants.pdf

Thelonious Searcy with daughter LaShyra in earlier photo.

At his sentencing, Searcy made a dramatic statement predicting that he would eventually be found innocent and freed.

“I’m not guilty of these charges brought against me. I didn’t kill Jamal Segars,” Searcy said in part. “I didn’t shoot Brian Minner. In this situation I thought justice would [prevail]. But still as a young Black man in the system today, I didn’t have a chance . . .

“Now you tell me this is justice? It ain’t no justice. Do I care about going upstate? Yes, I care, because I got kids too. Yes, I’m married too. Yes, I’m sorry that that guy got killed, but it wasn’t on my behalf. I got picked for this case. I got charged for this case. I ain’t been able to say nothing during this case. Don’t nobody know half the crooked stuff they did with this case.

“. . .If it’s up to them to believe me, I don’t care because I’m against the State. I’m in the system for something I didn’t do, and I bet the truth going to come out.” (See Searcy’s full statement, which also excoriates attorney Mitchell and Inv. Collins, at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/TS-sentencing-remarks.compressed.pdf.

VOD thanks Scott Lewis for his work on this case, and for the provision of his interview with Vincent Smothers to VOD, as well as his ongoing, dedicated work on behalf of unjustly convicted prisoners across the state. VOD also salutes Michigan’s prisoners and their families for their endurance through unimaginable injustice and suffering.

Related articles:

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29950-ring-of-snitches-how-detroit-police-slapped-false-murder-convictions-on-young-black-men

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/06/23/msp-wayne-co-pros-kym-worthy-knew-davontae-sanford-was-innocent-for-8-years-not-8-mos/

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2016/07/21/davontae-sanford-formally-freed-time-for-charges-vs-kym-worthy-cops-in-frame-up/

CHARLES LEWIS MUST BE FREED DUE TO LOSS OF COURT FILE, INNOCENCE; SADO WITHDRAWS FROM CASE

http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/07/15/people%e2%80%99s-task-force-continues-battle-to-expose-crime-lab-crimes-in-protests-at-fed-bldg-city-council/

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/the-hit-mans-tale

#FreeTheloniousSearcy, #JailCrookedCopsProsecutorsJudges, #FreeCharlesLewis, #FreeAllWrongfullyConvictedPrisoners


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STOP U.S. INTERVENTION IN VENEZUELA! NAT’L DAYS OF SOLIDARITY- DETROIT DEMO TUES. JUNE 6, 5 PM

Mass rally in Venezuela against U.S. intervention, right-wing coup in the works

 STOP U.S. INTERVENTION IN VENEZUELA!

NATIONAL EMERGENCY DAYS OF SOLIDARITY WITH VENEZUELA Initiated by International Action Center

Detroit Demonstration Initiated by Workers World Party–Detroit Branch Tuesday, June 6, 5 PM

Campus Martius Park, 800 Woodward, Detroit, MI 48226

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/841587382655619/

 The International Action Center is calling for Emergency Days of Solidarity with Bolivarian Venezuela to stop the US attempt to destroy the Revolution, from Thursday, June 1 through Saturday, June 10.

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1870489586609088/

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro greets masses of supporters.

What has been happening for the last two months in Venezuela is a counterrevolution by the most reactionary forces of the opposition to President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

It is no different from what the US did with Pinochet in Chile in 1973, with the “contras” in Nicaragua in the 80’s and more recently against Libya and now in Syria. It is a ‘regime change’ effort.

The corporate media – the voice of the Pentagon and White House – has set up an international campaign of blatant lies that try to present the terrorist actions of the fascist hoards as repression from the Revolutionary Government. The truth is that these terrorist acts are directed against state buildings and agencies and against the supporters of the revolution. The aim of these protests is to create chaos to declare a ‘humanitarian crisis’ and demand US intervention.

Anti-government demonstrators burn public bus in Venezuela (Reuters)

State agencies’ buildings have been destroyed, an entire float of public buses burned, a health facility for women and children attacked. Over sixty people have died and hundreds wounded during these protests. These are not ‘pro-democracy peaceful’ protests as the media tries to portray. Criminal groups and thugs are involved. Children paid by the opposition with US aid money are also involved. The fascist, hateful and racist  character of the attacks include setting people on fire, stabbing and beating them while shouting racist insults. 

The OAS (Organization of American States) s been the principal body working on behalf of the US, to launch an international campaign against Venezuela. As a result, Venezuela left the OAS. 

Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos is introduced by U.S. Pres. Donald Trump at White House press conference May 18, 2017

Now there is a real danger of a military intervention. Two days after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with President Trump in Washington, Colombian army tanks were mobilized to the border with Venezuela. 

Key opposition figures – Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed right wing leader Leopoldo López, and National Assembly president Julio Borges – have met separately with Trump to request US intervention. 

During these days, we aim to:

Expose the US government and media’s role;

Show the truth behind these demonstrations;

Express solidarity with the Bolivarian people and their government.

For further information, contact 313-319-0870.

 


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RECALLING DETROIT’S 1967 REBELLION AND THE RACIST VIETNAM WAR: TIME FOR AFRICAN LIBERATION DAY!

VIDEOJOURNALISM BY KENNETH SNODGRASS

Recalling Detroit’s 1967 Rebellion as its 50th anniversary approaches. 

How much has really changed for Black Detroit today? There is a 59% child poverty rate. The largest Black-majority city in the country has lost most of its major assets including the Water & Sewerage Department as a result of the racist bankruptcy. Water shut-offs to Detroit homes rose to 27,552 in 2016. The majority-Black Detroit Public Schools District has been abolished and replaced with a state-controlled district. What is the future for Detroit’s Black youth?

The disastrous Vietnam War and its toll on Black soldiers, dying on the front lines fighting people of color.  

The armed forces of the U.S., often the last retreat for Black youth employment, and U.S. economic policies still devastate Third World countries, on a par never known before, from Libya and the rest of Africa, to Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan in the Middle East, to Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, and the rest of Latin America.

TIME FOR AFRICAN LIBERATION DAY!


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END GUARDIAN ABUSE! SUPPORT WANDA WORLEY, SHARMIAN V. MARY ROWAN, THURS. MAY 25


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WILLIAM KEITH JENKINS-BEY (JENKO A/K/A JENKS) JOINS THE ANCESTORS

 

William Keith Jenkins-Bey was a beloved member of his family, and a well-respected leader in his community both inside the walls and in the world. He will be sorely missed by all.


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PUERTO RICO: $123B BANKRUPTCY UNDERWAY; AS IN DETROIT, BANKS WANT WORKERS, POOR TO PAY

Hospitals, schools and transport shut down in Puerto Rico on May Day, as thousands marched to the financial center in San Juan to denounce cuts and privatizations expected under the government’s $123 billion bankruptcy filing May 3. The U.S. Congress created a new Chapter III bankruptcy law especially for Puerto Rico in its 2015-16 session. Unions and social movements say workers would pay the price in the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, dwarfing even Detroit’s.

Many bankruptcy opponents demanded complete cancellation of Detroit’s debt to the banks, blaming them for the city’s crisis.

May 17, 2017–Federal U.S. Court proceedings on Puerto Rico’s $123 billion bankruptcy filing, likely to cause terrifying flashbacks for Detroit’s public workers and residents, began today. 

In Detroit, public union leaders and others capitulated to a disastrous bankruptcy plan in 2014, which stole nearly all the city’s assets including its crown jewel, the $6 billion Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The theft of DWSD led directly to the criminal lead poisoning for profit of the people of Flint. Chapter IX bankruptcy provisions forbids the takeover of a municipality’s assets “unless the municipality agrees.” U.S. District Court Judge Steven Rhodes recognized state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr as “the city of Detroit.” Orr agreed to this wholesale rape of the largest Black majority city in the country. 

The city’s debt rose 300 percent as the banks got paid under a state-enforced emergency manager.  City workers, retirees, and residents took devastating cuts to their wages, health benefits, pensions and services. 

DAREA members disembark from bus in Cincinnati June 15, 2016 to pack 6th Circuit Court in support of their bankruptcy lawsuit. In center is DAREA President Bill Davis, to his right is DAREA VP Cecily McClellan. At far right is retiree Ezza Brandon.  The case has now moved on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, however, various independent coalitions of retirees, including the Detroit Active and Retired Employee Association (DAREA) have sued the federal government over the bankruptcy, and are currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court over whether they will hear the case.

But in Puerto Rico, which has a long history of struggles for independence from the U.S., a much more militant fightback began with a general strike May 1. The outcome of THESE proceedings will depend on the workers’ determination to fight for victory. Below are excerpts from articles in Bloomberg and Telesur on Puerto Rico’s battle.

Video above: Miller Buckfire was a key player in Detroit bankruptcy.

HEDGE FUNDS VIE WITH PUERTO RICO WORKERS OVER GETTING PAID FIRST

Commonwealth’s pension systems set to go broke this year

Island’s $123 billion bankruptcy biggest in municipal history

By Michelle Kaske and Steven Church

May 12, 2017 5:00 AM EDT

The message in Puerto Rico is blunt: pay us, not Wall Street.

Anger over the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history has centered on the urgent question of public pensions. Puerto Rico has promised its workers and retirees $49 billion in benefits, but it’s guaranteed bondholders even more. 

The pension system is scheduled to run out of money as soon as July, and many on the island fear, with benefit cuts already under discussion, that the hedge funds who own one-third of the commonwealth’s bonds will wrangle a better deal than ordinary Puerto Ricans.

U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain

“The whole situation is unfair,” said Maria Rodriguez, a 64-year-old retired employee of the Public Building Administration. “I worked for over 35 years for the government and now it’s apparently clear that my pension will be cut by at least 10 percent. This is the result of the actions of multiple administrations from both parties.”

It’s a no-win situation for Puerto Rico and its 3.5 million people. Schools are being closed, talented residents are leaving and the economy has been contracting for years. 

That’s the mess confronting U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain as the adversaries face off for the first time in federal court May 17 in San Juan. They’ll be tussling over $123 billion owed to retirees and creditors.

Massive May Day strike in Puerto Rico May 1, 2017. Black and white Puerto Rican flag is symbol of independence from U.S.

 ‘Don’t Care’

In pre-hearing rhetoric, labor groups are painting rich hedge funds as uncaring vultures looking to extract money from less-wealthy public workers. The creditors say there would be more money for everyone if Puerto Rico improved its revenue collections and thinned its hulking government bureaucracy.

Emilio Nieves, Pres. of PR National Union of Educators and Education Workers

“Hedge funds don’t care what happens to the people, they want to get more profits,” said Emilio Nieves, president of Puerto Rico’s National Union of Educators and Education Workers. “They are our oppressors. We will resist and the government of Puerto Rico must decide if they are in favor of the people or the bondholders.”

Puerto Rico must decide if they are in favor of the people or the bondholders.

Average annual pension benefits are $14,000, according to Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board, and roughly one-third of employees are ineligible for Social Security benefits. Nearly half of island residents live in poverty and the median household income is $19,350, compared with $53,889 in the 50 states, according to U.S. Census data.

The commonwealth’s federal oversight board anticipates a 10 percent cut in pension expenses. That’s more generous than what Governor Ricardo Rossello offered bondholders in his latest public proposal. General-obligation bonds, or GOs, which the island’s constitution says must be repaid before other bills, would receive a best-case recovery of 90 cents on the dollar. Since that estimate depends on an improvement in the government’s finances, the recovery could be as low as 70 percent.

Divide Payments

Rossello’s fiscal plan would pay bondholders less than a quarter of what they’re owed in principal and interest through 2026. The government hasn’t said how they would divide those payments, or which group is first in line.

Puerto Rico’s “Federal Oversight Board” is appointed by the U.S. President. The City of Detroit and its new school district are similarly overseen by the State of Michigan.

“As much as there were promises made to various stakeholders on the island — pensioners, current government employees or contractors who work for the government — those are all implicit promises,” said David Tawil, president and co-founder of Maglan Capital LP in New York, who bought Puerto Rico bonds in 2013 but has since sold them. “The bondholders have explicit promises whether they be in offering documentation or whether they be pursuant to the constitution.”

The court hearing comes two weeks after Puerto Rico’s federal oversight board filed a form of bankruptcy called Title III to help reduce its $74 billion [now re-estimated at $123B] of debt and tackle its unfunded pension crisis. It will be the largest restructuring in the history of the $3.8 trillion municipal-bond market.

Title III, a provision in the Puerto Rico relief law that [the U.S.] Congress passed last year, is the only way for the island to force pension recipients to accept benefit cuts in court. Puerto Rico needed to pursue Title III in part because of its pension crisis, the board wrote in its May 3 filing. Another negotiating provision called Title VI didn’t include retirement savings. (To see bill passed by U.S. Congress without representation of Puerto Rican people, go to http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Puerto-Rico-HR-4199-bill.pdf.)

PUERTO RICO NATIONAL STRIKE PROTESTS ‘COLONIAL’ DEBT CRISIS

Nearly half the alleged $132B debt is interest to banks and hedge funds

 More than $30B in debt issued illegally

Washington’s austerity prescription is hitting workers and students hard

6o percent of Puerto Rican children live in poverty; Detroit’s child poverty rate is 59 percent

TeleSUR

Puerto RIcans rise up against oppression by U.S. and banks.

May 1, 2017–Thousands of Puerto Rican workers, students and other demonstrators took to the streets in a national strike in the early hours of International Workers’ Day Monday to protest against the harsh austerity measures pummeling the island and the controversial federal control board managing its economy and crippling debt load.

RELATED: Puerto Rico Resistance Heats up as Major Cuts Target Education

The strike shut down businesses and blocked several streets, including traffic to the Luis Muñoz Marin international airport on the outskirts of the city as well as to the University of Puerto Rico, while dozens of others gathered at the offices of the Department of Labor in the capital’s Hato Rey area to prepare for a thousands-strong march on the financial district.

University of Puerto Rico students mass in streets.

Demonstrators carried signs with slogans against U.S. colonialism and against the neoliberal austerity measures targeting the island’s public education, health care, social security and other public services. Protesters chanted slogans including “Ricky is selling the island!” to criticize Governor Ricardo Rossello, while others marched with images of the Puerto Rico flag in black and white as a symbol of resistance amid crisis on the island.

Marches led by students, feminists, trade unionists and other groups began by congregating at five points in the city and later converged by late morning in the one-mile stretch of San Juan’s Ponce de Leon Avenue, known as the Golden Mile, where the controversial U.S. president-appointed fiscal control board steering the island’s economy is headquartered in the heart of the city’s financial center.

Juan Camacho at right with other Puerto Rican organizers

The fiscal control board — set up last year through the contentious PROMESA law that gained bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress as a plan to save Puerto Rico from its nearly US$73 billion debt crisis — has become a powerful symbol of the island’s colonial relationship with Washington and the sacrificing of basic rights in the name of servicing the island’s unmanageable debt load.

“This debt cannot be paid from the pocket of the workers,” community leader Juan Camacho said during the demonstrations.

RELATED: Puerto Rico Lays Groundwork for Upcoming Vote on Statehood

Puerto Rican artist Rene Perez, known as Residente, also joined the marches and addressed the demonstrators. Wearing a T-shirt promoting free public education, the famed rapper said he was proud to see the massive strike against the debt and in favor of workers’ and students’ rights.

“I’m very certain that is happening is completely unjust,” he said on stage to a large crowd, giving a shout out to students of the University of Puerto Rico, the island’s main public post-secondary education system with a total of 11 campuses and 70,000 students, and criticizing the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts targeting the institution. “Education is fundamental for all countries’ development. That is what they are taking away from us and that’s what we have to defend until the end and that’s why we’re here.”

 

Protests against the cuts and the fiscal control board have argued that much of Puerto Rico’s debt is illegitimate. An initial audit report found that up to US$30 billion of Puerto Rico’s more than US$70 billion debt load was issued illegally.

A mind-boggling report by the ReFund America Project found that nearly half of the debt the island owes is not borrowed funds, but interest on bonds underwritten by Wall Street firms, who are raking in big profits from predatory lending schemes.

Puerto Rican children in housing settlement.

Nearly half of Puerto Rico’s population lives in poverty and child poverty is soaring at 60 percent. [Detroit’s child poverty rate is 59 percent.}The island faces a Medicaid funding gap of $650 million this year, while unemployment is nearly twice the average of the rate in U.S. states.

Puerto Rico’s ability to deal with its debt crisis has been crippled by the fact that it is a colony of the United States, which bars the island from filing for bankruptcy. Critics argue that the PROMESA bill and fiscal control board — which can override the local government in making decisions on the economy and debt restructuring — lays bare Puerto Rico’s lack of independence.

(For VOD’s dozens of stories on Detroit’s bankruptcy filing, put “bankruptcy” in VOD search engine at top right.)


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