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Michigan Legislator, Community Calls for Investigator of Wayne County Executive

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By Zenobia Jeffries, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration will not only be investigated by the FBI, but the county executive and three of his officials may have their law licenses revoked.

On Oct. 19, Attorney Leland McRae, on behalf of State Rep. John Olumba, filed complaints with the Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate Ficano, former County Director of Economic and Neighborhood Development Turkia Mullin, former deputy County Executive Azzam Elder and former County Assistant Corporate Counsel Chief Marianne Talon. The four have been accused of professional misconduct and failure to report professional misconduct. Mullin has additionally been accused of prohibited conflict of interest.

At issue is a $200,000 severance payout to Mullin, which many believe is unethical if not illegal. Reacting to community outrage and allegations of misappropriation of county funds, Ficano suspended Elder and Talon for 30 days without pay.

Yet, this may only be the beginning for county executive Ficano and his administration.

Last week, Olumba sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schutte requesting an investigation into Mullin’s severance pay and other allegations of corruption at the County’s office.

The AG responded to Olumba’s request with a prepared media statement, stating he would allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council (PACC) to carry out an investigation.

Olumba says the council is a “body with no teeth.”

“They have no power to delegate to any prosecuting body,” said Olumba, who submitted a resolution to the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee requesting the Attorney General begin investigation of the Wayne County Executive and “other entities related to the severance payment scandal.”

During the Oct. 18 hearing, Olumba testified that the law “unequivocally” states that the council carries none of the sovereign powers of the state. Olumba said that power rests with the attorney general.

Tom Robertson, PACC’s CEO, confirmed the council does not have legal powers; it simply finds a prosecutor to take a case at the request of the AG.

“If we find somebody to agree, then the Attorney General decides if they want to assign a prosecutor to investigate,” Robertson said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cited a conflict of interest in the case and filed a petition with the AG’s office.

The AG has stated, in news reports, that the FBI is conducting an investigation.

FBI spokesperson Sandra Berchtold, in accordance with bureau policy, could not confirm or deny a federal investigation. As this paper went to press, the FBI served subpoeanas to Wayne County officials.

Olumba says once the resolution is passed, the AG doesn’t have a choice but to investigate. The investigations can be simultaneous.

The committee, chaired by Tim McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, postponed voting on the resolution until they received clarity of the PACC’s role and powers.

Internal investigation

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Gary Woronchak, who leads the committee investigating the Mullins scandal, says Ficano’s office is cooperating with the committee’s requests and denied rumors they will issue a subpoena for documents.

“I’m hopeful in a couple of weeks we’ll have some remedies before us,” said Woronchak. “We’ll know the more questions we ask.”

Regarding other entities conducting investigations, Woronchak says each agency has a different role.

“My goal is to find out how this happened and to keep it from happening,” he said in a telephone interview. “The more people who look at [this] is fine with me.”

Woronchak says the commission needs to consider ordinance changes and submit laws “so that this cannot happen again. We want to get focus back on providing services [to citizens].”

When asked if the commission finds there was illegal action on behalf of the county executive he said, “I don’t know if we’re in the position to determine what’s legal or not. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t make a leap to that point right now.”

Community outrage

What’s good enough for Kilpatrick is good enough for Ficano, was the message a group of Detroit protestors sent as they marched Oct. 17 outside of the Guardian Building, where the county executive’s office is located.

“We don’t want anybody who is unethical,” said community activist Sandra Hines, on behalf of the newly formed Coalition Against Corruption in Wayne County Government (CACWCG).

“He’s already apologized so evidently he did something wrong,” she said. “If he didn’t …why would he apologize?”

During a press conference called by the CACWCG, Hines declared, “the people are outraged …We want transparency.”

The group of about 50 citizens and growing is calling for the Oversight, Reform, and Ethics committee to approve Olumba’s resolution; Elder and Talon’s permanent termination; Mullin’s termination from her new position as Wayne County Airport Authority CEO, and the termination of Ficano’s appointee Michael Grundy; along with an independent investigation into the Office of Wayne County Executive, and other entities involved in the severance payment scandal.

“The community will no longer accept Ficano’s misuse of the people’s money,” Hines said. “This is about accountability and responsibility.”

Detroit Delegation responds

Responding to criticisms of being self-serving and disloyal, Olumba told the Michigan Citizen that he was acting at the behest of his constituency. Olumba was accused by several Democrats of breaking party ranks to end Ficano’s Democratic administration. Olumba said he called for an investigation because it was the right thing to do for the citizens.

“I’ve received hundreds of calls and e-mails [from across the state],” he said. “There’s no representative that I’ve seen serve with vigor on behalf of the people from around this area … I think this situation shows that. Here’s a man stealing money and they can’t ask for a simple investigation?”

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) was the only legislator to support Olumba’s resolution.

In a telephone interview, Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) said it’s not unusual that there are no supporters of a resolution that goes before a committee. He says support usually comes when the resolution comes out of committee.

“If the resolution comes out of committee, I’ll support it,” he said.

Lisa Howze ( D-Detroit) says any action on the part of the state would be premature.

She says she doesn’t think the resolution will come out of committee and therefore makes the state’s involvement a moot point.


Innocent Man Freed After 17 Years in Prison for Nothing

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

LOS ANGELES - After serving 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Obie Anthony walked out of a Los Angeles County Jail Oct. 4 and joined the ranks of many men and women across the U.S., who were incarcerated on the basis of flawed or false eyewitness testimony.

“It's really overwhelming at this point. It's going to take a couple of days before everything really sets all the way in but the fact of the matter is, like I said, I never lost faith. I knew that this day would come so I just stood fast in that and I knew that it would happen,” Anthony told the throng of supporters and media that greeted him during an early celebration immediately after he was released.

Superior Court Judge Kelvin Filer overturned Anthony's 1995 murder conviction on September 30, because the key witness against him had lied on the stand. There also was no evidence that linked Anthony to the 1994 murder of Felipe Gonzales Angeles.

A Loyola Law School chapter of The Project for the Innocent won Anthony's exoneration after picking up his case in 2008. Reggie Cole, a co-defendant who was also wrongfully convicted and sent to prison for the murder, was freed by another L.A. judge in May 2010.

“I'm just glad that they came and that they saved me from this situation,” Anthony said, referring to the 3-1/3 year battle waged by The Project for the Innocent and the Northern California Innocence Project.

“I want to be prosperous and do exactly what they've been doing, which is reach back and save somebody else, to help someone else that was in the same situation that I've been in; to be able to do what they've done for me,” Anthony said when asked what he wanted to do with his life now.

Anthony has always maintained his innocence and had alibis even back in 1995, when he was convicted, but they weren't enough to overcome the prosecution's case, according to Paige Kaneb, supervising attorney at the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University.

When the case was assigned to her for investigation in 2008, she said they learned that the main witness for the prosecution had actually received a great deal. “He escaped 12 years of prison, basically, for testifying against Anthony and he lied to the jury about it and the prosecution never corrected his testimony,” Kaneb said.

She continued that the Innocence Project's investigator interviewed John Jones, the key witness, and he admitted to never really seeing Anthony and Cole well enough to identify them and that he had been relying on information from others, including the detectives, to make his IDs.

“In his words, he knew that the detectives weren't going to let him go down as long as he cooperated with them and that's what they did. They made sure he didn't go to jail,” Kaneb said.

Judge Filer chastised prosecutors for withholding that evidence from jurors and ordered Anthony released immediately. Prosecutors have 60 days to decide whether to retry Anthony or appeal the judge's decision and they've been ordered back to court October 31 to announce their decision, Kaneb informed.

“They can't retry him. They have no evidence. Their one real witness the judge found to be completely unreliable and he's now admitted he never really saw anything,” she continued.

In “200 Exonerated: Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” its report on DNA exonerations in the United States, the Innocence Project indicates that while nobody truly knows how many innocent people are in prison, the question itself is haunting, since it reflects the common knowledge that there are undoubtedly more.

The report features the stories of the first 200 people exonerated through DNA evidence. All except one were men. They each served an average of 12 years in prison and a combined total of nearly 2,500 years in prison.

Eyewitness misidentification accounted for 77 percent of the convictions, and, 48 percent of those misidentifications were cross-racial, meaning most commonly a Caucasian person incorrectly identifying a Black person, according to the report.

Kaneb said that while it's a scary thing that there are innocent people in jail, the problem isn't necessarily with the system, but it's with people within the system. “...When people don't do their jobs, when prosecutors don't turn over evidence, when defense attorneys don't investigate cases, and the beauty of the system is when you do eventually bring the truth in front of a good judge, he does the right thing, like in this case. He ordered Mr. Anthony's conviction overturned and that he be freed,” she said.

“I've cried lots of times together because of the time that he's lost and can't get back but the thing is we know that we have a future and we can move forward, but those 17 years that he lost is very sad,” said Denise Merchant, Anthony's fiance. She said she kept pace with his case, step by step, minute by minute, second by second, waiting for his release.

Although he was exonerated on May 15, 2010 after 16 years in prison for a crime he also didn't commit, Cole said he is still trying to rebuild his life, amid doubts that his freedom is real, and whether or not the police will take him back to prison.

“That's where I've been for so long, so I'm still trying to adjust to the fact that I am here and they can't take me back to jail because I haven't done anything wrong,” Cole said.

Cole said the criminal justice system didn't work for him, but the Innocence Project did. “I'm completely against them,” he emphatically declared when asked if he's been able to forgive those responsible for his imprisonment.

“I haven't forgiven anybody and I don't plan on it because this isn't a case of mistaken identity or accidental. This is a deliberate act that was committed by the Los Angeles Police Department, namely (detectives) Marcella Winn and Pete Razanskas. They deliberately did this. They deliberately fabricated evidence. They hid evidence. They set us up. Set us up!”

Cole said he has filed a lawsuit against the LAPD and it's not just about money. “Somebody has to pay retribution for what happened, namely, the officers who committed the crime. Basically they committed the crime because they covered up the actual shooter. They basically withheld and hid evidence ... The judge agreed with us,” he said.

Outside the jail, Cole said it had been a long time and his words for Anthony weren't scripted but the thoughts he could summon up for him were “Joy. Just joy!”

Trying Juveniles as Adults Doesn't Reduce Juvenile Crime

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Only eight states publicly report the race and ethnicity of juveniles transferred to adult courts for criminal prosecution, the Justice Department has found, and it’s no wonder that more states do not. Those that do are sending disproportionate numbers of African-American and Hispanic teenagers to face the possibility of the most serious punishment that a juvenile offender can face—getting locked up in a state prison alongside hardened adult criminals.

During a juvenile crime wave that began in the 1980s and peaked in 1994, almost every state expanded the range of juvenile offenders who could face conviction in adult court for serious or repeat offenses, the Justice Department says in a new report.

Since 1994 states have been trying many fewer teenagers in regular courts, but at least 14,000 faced that sort of prosecution in 2009, according to information available from 21 states.

State lawmakers may believe their tough legislation has led to the drop in juvenile offending, but they are deluding themselves if they do. It has been long established that the biggest factor behind crime rates are demographic trends: the more teenagers in the population, the more juvenile crime, and vice versa. Similarly, adult crime rates are strongly associated with the number of people under age 30, particularly males.

Current members of state legislatures would be more on target asking whether adult transfer laws have served any beneficial purpose. No national study has been conducted on the impact of those laws, but most state-level research indicates they do not reduce juvenile crime.

“The weight of the evidence suggests that state transfer laws have little or no tendency to deter would-be juvenile criminals,” concludes the report from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “Possible explanations include juveniles’ general ignorance of transfer laws, tendency to discount or ignore risks in decision-making, and lack of impulse control.”

The report suggests legislatures take another look at the laws: “States have shown little tendency to reverse or even reconsider the expanded transfer laws already in place. Despite the steady decline in juvenile crime and violence rates since 1994, there has as yet been no discernible pendulum swing away from transfer.”

Less than a paragraph in the report is devoted to racial-ethnic disparities in adult prosecution of juveniles, perhaps because so few states make those breakdowns available. That limited pool of information provides another reason for legislative reconsideration—one that African-American and Hispanic lawmakers should push.

According to the report, “In Florida most transferred youth in 2008 were black (54%) whereas whites (29%) and Hispanics (12%) were considerably underrepresented. By contrast transfers were predominantly Hispanic in Arizona (57%) and California (56%).”

To put that undesirable Black majority in Florida into context, the state had the highest rate of adult transfer of the states that make report such information. In 2007-2008, Florida sent a whopping 3,600 juveniles of all races into adult courts—about five times as many as more populous California. Florida’s adult prosecutions of juveniles were concentrated in the counties that include Miami, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, Orlando and Pensacola.

California prosecuted 742 juveniles as adults in 2008, a number that dipped a little the next year before jumping to 976 last year. Hispanics made up a majority of those juveniles in each of those three years, reaching a peak of 59 percent in 2009. African-Americans hovered just under 30 percent—a level out of line with the state’s 13 percent Black population. About 38 percent of state residents are Hispanic.

In Arizona, Hispanics have been tried as adults at about the same rates as in California—between 57 percent and 59 percent between 2008 and 2010. Blacks have been overrepresented too, at between 12 percent and 18 percent. The state is 30 percent Hispanic and four percent Black. Most adult prosecutions occurred in Maricopa County, where Phoenix, the state’s largest city, is located.

Hispanic juveniles were treated as adults in disparate numbers in Oregon, where they made up 30 percent of the 2008 total of 391 juveniles in adults courts. The state is 12 percent Hispanic.

In Missouri, 64 percent of juveniles statewide prosecuted as adults in 2009 were African American, nearly double the 2001 level of 36 percent. Black youth make up 15 percent of the state’s population between 10 and 17 that falls under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. St. Louis and surrounding St. Louis County prosecuted as adults 70 percent of Black juveniles treated that way statewide.

The disparity was even greater for Black teen offenders in Tennessee: they made up 77 percent of children prosecuted as adults in 2008, and 67 percent the next year. There were about a total of 400 adult prosecutions in both years, and they were concentrated in the county that includes Memphis. Tennessee is 17 percent Black.

The Tennessee figures and one other statistic in the report suggest racial disparities are likely to be the greatest in the South, where states with the highest percentages of Black residents are located. The report says the bulk of all juveniles incarcerated in state prisons are doing their adult time in the South.

In Montana, the limited data published indicates that adult prosecution of Native American juveniles has been an issue. The statistics for Ohio that the Justice Department cites could not be found online.

To provide a fuller picture, the Justice Department recently commissioned a national survey to create the first national database of how juveniles are treated in adult courts. The survey will examine a sample of felony and misdemeanor cases against juveniles—and will include the demographics of those offenders.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, is a freelancer based in Boston. He also edits the Trotter Review at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Dr. Cornel West, Raheem DeVaughn Arrested, Released Following 'Occupy' Protest

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By Khalid Naji-Allah, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Dr. Cornel West and R&B Singer Raheem DeVaughn made their way from the D.C. Superior Courthouse Monday, October 16, after the pair was arrested along with 17 others, on the steps of the United States Supreme Court last week, for trespassing. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia declined to prosecute the group and charges against the 19 that were arrested were dropped.

As the pair emerged from the courthouse, a crowd of supporters cheered and the sounds of those familiar drums echoed in the background. One of those supporters awaiting their release was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who came to the courthouse to show his support for West, DeVaughn, and the Occupy

Rev. Jackson told The Washington Informer that he is in support of the movement. "One wave of this struggle has been students, next it has to be the homeowners who have lost their homes: They must join this. The churches that have been foreclosed: They must join this, and the unions whose workers have lost their jobs: They must join this," said Rev. Jackson who also commented went on about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and how the cost of both wars hurt this country financially.

"You are asking the laid off workers to pay for those misadventures [Iraq and Afghanistan], that's why [this movement] is so global because the pain is so connected."

Mike Guess, 33, drove for three days from Denver, Colorado and was one of three African-Americans arrested on the steps of the U. S. Supreme Court on Sunday. He showed joy as he walked out of the courthouse and embraced Dr. West and DeVaungh.

"I drove three days to get here to express my freedoms and his [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s] thoughts. I look forward to going into this movement high speed screaming power to the people, fighting for justice non-violently."

At Last Haiti Gets a Government

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By Tony Best, Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News –

After almost five months of delays, Haiti has gotten a full operational government headed by Dr. Garry Conille, gynecologist and former United Nations official in Africa. And as if that news wasn’t good enough for President Michel Martelly, the newly elected President of the Creole-speaking Caribbean nation, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the military mission in the Caribbean country, albeit at lower levels.

With Haitians at home and abroad taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the new Conille Administration, the Chamber of Deputies in Port-au-Prince endorsed a 17-member cabinet and the policy platform outlined by the new Prime Minister. The 81 favorable votes and the seven abstentions gave the government the kind of solid support it needs to get programs through the legislature. But the vote didn’t eliminate all of the questions about Conille, especially about his loyalty to Haitians, given his relationship with former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the UN representative who co-chairs the panel that supervises the multi-billion dollar reconstruction of the nation. The panel was established after last year’s devastating earthquake, which left at least 220,000 people dead and more than half million homeless victims still living in tent cities, almost two years after the 2010 disaster.

“There are some people in the Haitian community who wonder about his commitment to Haitians, in view of his links with former President Clinton,” said Ricoh Dupuis, manager of Radio Soleil in Brooklyn. They worry because Clinton is co-chair of the reconstruction panel and the Prime Minister is the other chairman.” The vote in the Chamber of Deputies came after a 14-hour debate which many had feared could lead to further delays in the installation of the government over the allocation of ministerial posts. Some elected officials were said to be jockeying for appointment to the cabinet. But the stamp of approval came despite the failed aspirations of some of the elected representatives.

The Senate also approved Conille’s political program and the cabinet. P.J. Patterson, Caricom’s representative in Haiti and a former Prime Minister of Jamaica, had previously expressed regret that the efforts to appoint a head of government were slowing down the reconstruction program. But there was more positive news for President Martelly. The Security Council voted in New York on Friday to extend the UN military and police presence in Haiti, MINUSTAH, for another year but agreed that the troop levels should be reduced by about 2,800, going from 13,300 to 10,581. The decision to keep the troops in Haiti was in a response to pleas by both Martelly and Valere Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and coordinator of disaster relief, who wanted a continued UN Military presence in Haiti.

As President Martell explained to the UN, the recovery efforts had at times “stumbled” but they were still needed for the foreseeable future. Amos took a broader view, insisting that “the earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan have raised questions about how quickly we are getting to the people who need assistance and how to make that assistance more effective. The donor countries want to know about the effectiveness of the humanitarian responses. That’s why we have a reform agenda across the humanitarian system.” With about 60 percent of the several billions of dollars pledged by the international community to rebuild the earthquake ravaged nation paid up, the UN Security Council obviously agreed with Martelly and Amos that it would have been a mistake for the UN to pull out now.

That decision met with approval from the Haitian Diaspora in New York, Florida and elsewhere. Immigrants had demonstrated near the UN in September and earlier this month after some highly publicized incidents of sexual assault, alleged wanton destruction of public property, the introduction of Cholera into the country and the hanging of a young man, allegedly by UN troops. “We welcome the decision to reduce the troops levels because there wasn’t a need for them,” said Harry Fouche’, a former Haitian Consul-General in New York.

“The scandals involving the UN troops and the introduction of cholera into the country by UN forces from Nepal were tragic and couldn’t be condoned.” UN troops from Uruguay were caught on tape raping a young Haitian man; soldiers from the Pacific were withdrawn after being accused of sexual assaults of women and Nigerian soldiers were said to have abused their authority in Haiti. Assessing conditions, Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General told reporters recently in New York that the “situation in Haiti remains fragile and we must be aware of reversals that could cause a new crisis.” But he was quick to insist that “Haiti’s future stability and prosperity will continue to depend on the political will of its leaders and citizen.” Several Caribbean leaders or their foreign ministers have urged the UN to step up its reconstruction efforts in Haiti. One of them was T. Brent Symonette, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, who called on the “international community to be generous in contributing to the Haitian Recovery Fund and very specifically we call on donor states to honor their pledges, some of which remain dishearteningly outstanding.”

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