Mertilla Jones, left, grandmother of Aiyana Jones, screams in agony as family and friends gather for a candle light vigil for the seven-year-old that was killed by Detroit Police earlier Sunday outside Aiyana Jones’ home Sunday May 16, 2010 in Detroit.
(AP Photo/The Detroit Free Press, Mandi Wright)
DETROIT — The police chief acknowledged last Tuesday that findings from an investigation into the death of a seven-year-old girl who was shot during a police raid “won’t be pretty, but they will be honest.”
Warren Evans, who was hired last summer in part to make sure Detroit’s police change the way they use force, cut short an overseas vacation and returned to the city Tuesday, just as an attorney for the family of Aiyana Stanley-Jones announced two lawsuits claiming officers violated the girl’s rights.
“Although the investigation into the circumstances of Aiyana’s death is now being conducted by the Michigan State Police, the Detroit Police Department has its own painful self-examination to undergo,” Evans said in an e-mail statement.
Aiyana was shot in the neck when police raided her home while searching for a 34-year-old murder suspect.
Her family was represented by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who demanded that police provide answers.
“You all know what happened at the scene. Please don’t let this child die in vain,” Fieger said in an appeal to members of the department’s Special Response Team, which raided the ramshackle home early last Sunday after obtaining a search warrant.
Police have said an officer’s gun accidentally went off inside the house after officers confronted or collided with the girl’s grandmother. But Fieger said a videotape shows the shot was fired from the porch after a flash-bang grenade was lobbed through a window.
Fieger said he viewed three or four minutes of video footage of the raid. He would not say who recorded the events, but a camera crew for the A&E reality series “The First 48” was filming the raid.
The video shows a group of black-hooded officers approaching the house, the grenade being thrown and the fatal shot, he said.
“We know there’s only one shot. It’s vividly depicted in the videotape … right after the (grenade) throw and the explosion of the bomb. At that point, the officers rush into the home,” said Fieger, who is best known for representing assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian.
Fieger did not retain a copy of the footage.
Dan Silberman, a spokesman for A&E, declined to comment and denied a request by The Associated Press to view the footage.
The lawsuits filed in federal court in Detroit and in Wayne County Circuit Court claim police knew there were children in the home but conducted the raid with guns drawn anyway.
Officers had the family home under surveillance on Saturday, said Fieger, who added that three other children — ages three months, two years and four years — were inside.
“Certainly, they were aware children were living at the home,” Fieger said.
Aiyana’s cousin, Mark Robinson, told reporters last Tuesday that he was walking the family’s dogs on the night of the raid when police threw him to the ground.
“I told them, ‘There are children in the house,'” Robinson said.
The federal lawsuit claims police violated Aiyana’s constitutional rights and seeks an unspecified cash award of more than $75,000. A four-count lawsuit filed in county court seeks damages of more than $25,000. Those figures are preliminary, and the actual amounts the family seeks are likely to be much higher.
The homicide suspect, who was wanted in connection with the shooting death of a 17-year-old boy outside a convenience store, was arrested in the upstairs unit of the house.
Evans said the department was prepared to hear the worst from the investigation.
“Whatever our findings, they won’t be pretty. There is no way they can be under these circumstances. They won’t be pretty, but they will be honest,” he said.
Police apologized and even offered the services of department chaplains to people in the community.
“I want to say to the entire Jones family, Aiyana’s loved ones and friends, how terribly sorry I am for your loss,” Evans said in his statement. “I have children and grandchildren and cannot comprehend losing one of them, especially under such painful circumstances. I will never be able to put myself in your shoes.”
The department has been under two court-ordered consent decrees since 2003 aimed at, among other things, correcting how and when its officers use force on suspects.
Mayor Dave Bing hired Evans in July after Justice Department officials said the city and police had been lax in meeting terms of the agreements.