—Detroit police kill seven-year-old child
By Jerry White
17 May 2010
Detroit police shot and killed a seven-year-old girl during an early morning raid of a home on the city’s east side Sunday morning. The child, Aiyana Stanley Jones, was struck in the head and neck area while sleeping on a couch at the home on Lillibridge Street.
In a Sunday morning press conference Assistant Police Chief Ralph Godbee said police were executing a “no-knock” search warrant for a homicide suspect in the two-apartment home. He said the police—members of the heavily armed Special Response Team—threw a flash grenade through an unopened window around 12:45 a.m. before charging in with guns drawn.
Godbee claimed the policeman’s gun discharged after he “had some level of physical contact” with the girl’s 47-year-old grandmother, Mertilla Jones. The police were not categorizing the shooting as accidental yet, Godbee said, "although we don’t believe the gun was discharged intentionally."
Charles Jones, father of the slain girl, said he rushed from a back bedroom to see his mother being pushed through the door and another police officer carrying his bleeding daughter from the house. “They came into my house with a flash grenade and a bullet," Jones told the Detroit News. "They say my mother (Mertilla Jones) resisted them, that she tried to take an officer’s gun. My mother had never been in handcuffs in her life. They killed my baby and I want someone to tell the truth."
The young father added, “I want this story to be heard. This was a wrongful death."
Mertilla Jones, who was arrested at the scene and released Sunday, told the Detroit News, "They blew my granddaughter’s brains out. They killed her right before my eyes. I seen the light go out of her eyes.” She denied police claims she had a physical confrontation with the cops, telling WXYZ-TV, “I never touched none of them. No one gave them any struggle. My grandbaby is gone. The Detroit police killed my granddaughter.”
Before the police broke in, a relative told police there were children inside and pointed to toys in the front yard. “‘There’s kids in the house,’ I said five times, ‘there are kids in the house,’” a relative told the TV station.
Jones and his relatives said the suspect was not even in the same apartment as Aiyana. Police raided the upstairs unit simultaneously and reportedly arrested a 34-year-old male.
"Based on our intelligence, we got a search warrant for the location,” Godbee said. "Because of the violent nature of the crime, we thought we were entering a potentially dangerous situation." Godbee said a full investigation would be conducted and expressed fear of public reaction, saying the police “might be the target of anger."
A spontaneous memorial was set up in front the eastside home, with friends, relatives and ordinary citizens leaving flowers and children’s balloons and toys to pay honor to the dead child and her family. A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night.
Class tensions in the city are reaching a breaking point. After decades of plant closings and mass layoffs, the Motor City has a real unemployment rate at the Depression-level of 50 percent. Hundreds of thousands of people face a daily struggle for survival, confronting utility shutoffs, evictions and foreclosures, while the city’s Democratic-run administration—led by millionaire businessman Mayor David Bing—is planning to shut off public services to entire working class neighborhoods deemed too poor to maintain.
A report on an apartment house fire in the poverty-stricken Detroit enclave of Highland Park on Sunday noted that many of those inhabiting the building were homeless “squatters,” including whole families. One resident said the local utility company DTE Energy had come out to disconnect the electrical service to the building, but “people threatened to shoot them if they did.”
Under these conditions, the Bing administration is using the police to crack down on the population. In recent weeks, opponents of police brutality have complained that the Detroit Police Department’s gang squad—known as the Mobile Strike Force—has been “terrorizing” neighborhoods, with complaints against the police rising more than 200 percent.
The Detroit police may have been particularly primed to use indiscriminate and overwhelming force on Sunday, due to a raid last month that left one cop dead and four others wounded.
The squad involved in the death of Aiyana Jones, the Special Response Team, was formed in 1987. It has been described by former members as a “highly trained anti-terrorist unity” and the “Marine Corps” of the Detroit police department.
Family: 7-year-old shot by police was asleep
DETROIT — State police will take over the investigation of the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl by a Detroit police officer during a weekend raid at the girl’s home, a prosecutor said Monday.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said bringing in the state police to investigate the killing of Aiyana Jones would avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
"I agree that it is most appropriate that this be done independently," Worthy said.
Aiyana was asleep on the living room sofa in her family’s apartment when Detroit police, searching for a homicide suspect, burst in and an officer’s gun went off, fatally striking the girl in the neck, family members said.
Her father, 25-year-old Charles Jones, told The Detroit News he had just gone to bed early Sunday after covering his daughter with her favorite blanket when he heard a flash grenade followed by a gunshot. When he rushed into the living room, he said, police forced him to lie on the ground, with his face in his daughter’s blood.
"I’ll never be the same. That’s my only daughter," Jones told WXYZ-TV.
Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee said officers set off the flash grenade as they entered the apartment with their guns drawn about 12:40 a.m. Sunday with a warrant to look for a suspect in the Friday slaying of a 17-year-old boy. The lead officer’s gun went off after he encountered a 46-year-old woman inside the front room of the home and "some level of physical contact" ensued. Police do not believe the gun was fired intentionally.
"This is any parent’s worst nightmare. It also is any police officer’s worst nightmare," Godbee said.
Family members identified the woman as the child’s grandmother and Charles Jones’ mother, Mertilla Jones, who has said she was not involved in a struggle with the officer. Police later said the officer may have just collided with the woman.
The officer, who police have not publicly identified, was put on paid administrative leave, Godbee said.
"This is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude to Aiyana’s parents, family and all those who loved her," Godbee said. "It is a tragedy we also feel very deeply throughout the ranks of the Detroit Police Department."
Police eventually found the 34-year-old slaying suspect they were looking for during a search of the building, Godbee said.
Charles Jones said he had to wait for hours to find out what happened to his daughter.
"Her blood was everywhere and I was trying to stay calm, but nobody would talk to me. None of them even tried to console me," Jones told The Detroit News.
Godbee would not comment on newspaper reports that neighbors told police there were children in the house and showed them toys in the front yard. The girl’s father said three other children besides Aiyana were in the home when the raid happened.
On the porch outside the family’s home on Monday, saddened friends and neighbors added candles, stuffed animals and balloons to a growing memorial to Aiyana.
"I don’t know them. I came here because I feel it in my spirit. I’m feeling the pain," said Mark Jones, a 39-year-old Detroit father of four who tied three balloons to the porch railing.
Terrance Echols, 28, said he was in the basement of his home, across the street and two doors down from the home, when he heard a "bang."
He ran upstairs, "and I heard people yelling, ‘You killed a 7-year-old girl. You killed the girl.’"
He said police quickly converged on the house, blocked the street with patrol cars and later had several adults lined up, leaning against the house.
"They were distraught, but the police had them all stretched out outside."