Detroit Police Deny Wrongdoing In Death Of Child
ALLISON KEYES, host:
I'm Allison Keyes. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
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But first to Detroit, where tension is palpable after a 7-year-old girl died in a police shooting. It happened Sunday, when police were executing a search warrant on the city's east side. They were looking for a murder suspect. An officer's gun went off, police say it was accidental, and 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was killed by a bullet to the neck.
Here's Assistant Police Chief Ralph Godbee, on Sunday.
Mr. RALPH GODBEE (Assistant Police Chief, Detroit): I first want to express to the family of Aiyana Jones the profound sorrow that we feel within the Detroit Police Department, and throughout this community. We know that no words can do anything to take away the pain that they are feeling at this time. This is any parent's worst nightmare. It is also any police officer's worst nightmare. And today, this nightmare is all too real.
KEYES: Again, that's Detroit's assistant chief of police, Ralph Godbee. Today, the girl's family filed lawsuits in federal and state courts, charging that police violated Aiyana Jones' civil rights, and tried to cover up the truth about the shooting. To get a better sense of what's going on in Detroit, we've called on Jerome Vaughn. He's the news director at NPR member station WDET in Detroit. Jerome, what kind of details can you tell us besides what I've already described?
JEROME VAUGHN (WDET News Director): Well, there are plenty of details coming out and the question is, which ones are accurate right now. First of all, you mentioned the lawsuit. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who's known nationally for representing Jack Kevorkian back in the day, is representing the family of Aiyana Jones. He's saying that police were negligent, and that city officials owe the family an apology for the death of Aiyana. There's some discrepencies about what actually happened during that raid: how Aiyana was shot, where that shot came from, and who was involved. And so there are a lot of questions that remain right now about this case.
KEYES: There is an issue as to whether the shot happened within the house while there was an alleged thing going on between police and the grandmother, and whether the shot was fired from outside. Is that right?
VAUGHN: That's exactly right. Police initially said a gun went off inside the home when the grandmother of Aiyana tussled with one of the officers. They've pulled back from that a bit and said they had some contact, and that was when the gun went off inside the home. Attorney Geoffrey Fieger says he's seen a video - which we're kind of calling the mystery video right now - which clearly shows that the shot was fired from outside the home. And he's seen it. He says some of his staff members and attorneys have seen it. But there has been no independent confirmation of that video as of this point.
KEYES: And this was one of those flash grenades that police use to enter a house. They go boom, and have a big flash so that they can come in and themselves be safe, and startle the people inside so that they don't have a chance to get rid of any alleged contraband that might be there, right?
VAUGHN: That's exactly right. They use these flash bang - stun grenades so that they've got six to eight seconds to get into the home and act before anyone can react. Unfortunately, that went off. And we're hearing that flash grenade burned the child as well. And so there's a lot of question about why was that used, and how often is that used in situations like this.
And the other question is, was this used for a film crew across the street that was filing this - filming this raid for the show "The First 48"?
KEYES: Jerome, let me ask briefly, how are people in Detroit feeling? Are they angry or sad - and I mean, briefly.
VAUGHN: They are all over the place. There are people who are angry about the child being killed; there are people questioning - was a family member or a friend of the family being harbored as a fugitive, and what role that played in this death. It's really been very sad and very heart-wrenching, all the way around.
KEYES: It's affected people's trust in the police there?
VAUGHN: It has. You know, I guess the other thing to say, though, is, there was a police officer killed on May 3rd in the same neighborhood. He was killed; four others were wounded. And so there's been a lot of questions about what it means to have raids like these, and how much police have to do to protect themselves. So there's been a lot of tension on both sides.
KEYES: Jerome Vaughn is news director at NPR member station WDET in Detroit. He just joined us from there. Thanks, Jerome, so much, and let us know what's going on with this case.
VAUGHN: Will do.