Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Another layer exposed, but we're not at the top yet

Drug cases dismissed following pleas by corrupt narcotics cops
S.W. Mich. city's police chief leaves his post; city may face civil suits over officer misconduct

By Eartha Jane Melzer 9/28/09

BENTON HARBOR — Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter has dismissed 40 drug convictions since members of Benton Harbor’s police narcotics unit pleaded guilty to federal charges that they made up evidence, conducted illegal searches and wrongfully arrested people.

Officer Andrew Collins pleaded guilty to participation in a pervasive pattern of police corruption last year and is serving 37 months in federal prison. This month Officer Bernard Hall, Collins’ supervisor, admitted that he allowed, and benefited from, corruption that included stealing seized property from the police department. Hall is expected to be sentenced in December.

Cotter said that he is continuing to review the many cases that involved the two officers who comprised the city’s entire narcotics unit.

“They didn’t engage in misconduct in every single case they did,” Cotter said. “The problem is that everybody who had a case now wants review.”

Although the majority of those who were charged following improper searches and arrests pleaded guilty and formally waived their right to appeal, Cotter said that he is committed to reviewing the cases.

In some instances where those convicted in flawed cases have gone on to be charged with subsequent crimes, and because sentencing guidelines take into account previous convictions, Cotter has found that in some cases sentences need to be adjusted in matters that are not directly related to misbehavior by Benton Harbor police.

“It’s been a journey getting through all these cases,” Cotter said, “but we are getting through them.”

However, the fallout from actions by Collins and Hall is far from over.

Collins and Hall may face civil suits for their role in violating people’s rights, Cotter said. “In terms of civil liability, from the perspective of the county, no one knew the information provided by the police was false so there is governmental immunity.”

As to the liability up the chain of command in the police department and within city government he said he’s “not sure of the depth of the liability.”

David Robinson, a former Detroit police officer turned Southfield attorney, told Michigan Messenger that he is researching cases on behalf of six people who were wrongly arrested by Collins and whose cases have been dismissed as a result of Collins conviction.

“Our intention is to file a federal civil rights cause of action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the city and supervisors, the chief of police, and any responsible party,” Robinson said.

“Andrew Collins wrongfully arrested them and caused their detention. Not only is he responsible but arguably his employer, the city, was responsible.”

Robinson said that he believes that Collins’ misbehavior had gone on over a significant period of time and that the Benton Harbor Police Department failed to maintain necessary procedures for supervision and failed to adequately respond to complaints by citizens who warned of police abuse.

“Someone was asleep at the switch in terms of administrative responsibility to operate the police department.” Robinson said.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Juanita Henry said she believes the city is responsible for the misdeeds of its officers and that changes are underway as a result of the recent pleas by Collins and Hall.

One major step, she said, is the departure of Police Chief Al Mingo, who is leaving his job at the end of this month.

Mingo’s departure, Henry said “eliminates 55 percent of the problem.”

“He is the chief. He has authority over the whole police department. It happened on his watch.”

“We are paying for his mistakes because our citizens have been imprisoned.”

Henry said that she anticipates the city will face financial penalties as a result of the corruption in the police department.

“There is some liability that the city is going to have to be responsible for,” she said, “there is going to have to be some accountability.”

“The only thing I can do as a commissioner is to apologize to the citizens who have been impacted by this.”

jeremy1 1 day ago
he Berrien County chain of command, as many know, goes all the way to the Whirlpool Corporation and the Uptons. It's their plan to rid Benton Harbor's African-American, poverty-stricken population BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. Golfers playing on land stolen from Benton Harbor shouldn't have to wade through any rif-raff, for heavens sakes. Hence, the highest incarceration rates in the state come from the Berrien courthouse.. The highest conviction rates of innocents and juveniles. And, Whirlpool and Upton have Gov. Jennifer Granholm as one of their biggest supporters...

461OceanBlvd 1 day ago
boy, you're right. benton harbor is great just as it is. greater than 50 percent drop out rate and school district with a $7 million deficit budget THIS YEAR. a city council that fires every city manager who questions city finances and asks why they pay twice as much for garbage collection as cities twice as big. shame on the uptons and whirlpool for trying to bring a tax base and jobs to the once proud city they knew 50 years ago. stealing a park that no one went to and making the beach facilities even nicer than those in st. joe. let's take that convicted vote fraud felon and make him the mayor.

jeremy1 1 day ago
article states: Cotter said. “In terms of civil liability, from the perspective of the county, no one knew the information provided by the police was false so there is governmental immunity.”

This is completely false. But, Cotter is part of the corruption, as are all who make a living in the courthouse - heck, maybe all who make a living in the county! Let's just say that complicity with the corruption is rampant within Berrien County. Cotter and many, many others knew exactly what cops were doing. It's apartheid bordering on genocide right here in the state of Michigan.

DougDante 1 day ago
Thank you Cotter for your pledge to help the many innocent people that these criminals have stuck in prison.