May 17, 2010 at 1:00 am

Family grieves death of girl, 7, in police raid

Girl, 7, shot as officer's gun fires during raid; Police were searching house for suspect in prior slaying

Lakrista Sanders consoles her brother Charles Jones, Aiyana's father, at a Sunday press conference about the 7-year-old's death. Jones said he was trying to not be angry, but that police should have known there was a child in the house. "They just killed the wrong person," he said. (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)

Detroit --Charles Jones had just turned in after covering his sleeping 7-year-old daughter on the living room sofa with her favorite Disney Princess blanket when police burst into his east side apartment early Sunday.

"I heard the flash bang and then the gunshot," Jones said about rushing from his bedroom into the hands of Detroit Police officers, who handcuffed him and pushed him to the floor.

An officer hunting for a murder suspect had shot Aiyana Jones through the neck.

The victim's family said police told them the gun discharged because the girl's grandmother, Mertilla Jones, 46, grappled for the officer's weapon. Later Sunday, police spokesman John Roach said the officer and grandmother may have simply collided.

Mertilla Jones was released from custody Sunday afternoon, and it remained unclear if she will face charges. Police held her for more than 12 hours, during which time she also spent several hours hospitalized with what police said were medical issues.

At a press conference in front of the home Sunday evening, Mertilla Jones said there was no struggle: "I hit the floor when I heard them hit the window.

"They blew my granddaughter's brains out. They killed her right before my eyes. I watched the light go out of her eyes. I seen it."

It's been a particularly bloody month in the city. "In my 23 years, I can't remember a two-week period like this," said Detroit Police Assistant Chief Ralph Godbee.

The shooting happened at 12:40 a.m., when officers from the Special Response Team executed a no-knock search warrant on a two-unit flat in the 4000 block of Lillibridge. An officer threw a stun grenade, an incendiary device designed to disorient and distract suspects, through the double panes of a front window, and at least one officer rushed into the downstairs unit.

"I saw them (police) running with my daughter out of the house. They had my mother on the floor, and they just kept me there for like two hours," said Charles Jones, 25. "I knew it was bad, and they probably had my baby at the hospital, because someone asked me if she had any allergies.

"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."

Police had been seeking a 34-year-old suspect in Friday's slaying of 17-year-old Southeastern High School student Jerean Blake, gunned down outside a liquor store near the corner of Mack Avenue and St. Jean. Police say they got their man but have not said if he was arrested in the raid on the downstairs or upstairs apartment.

Speaking on behalf of Police Chief Warren Evans, who is on vacation, Godbee said, "This is every parent's worst nightmare. It's also every police officer's nightmare."

Cops: Suspect's car on site

Neighbors said there were rumors all weekend that the person responsible for shooting Blake lived in the house. Godbee said the suspect's car, which matched the description by witnesses to Friday's shooting, was at the location.

"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."

But Charles Jones said the downstairs apartment where he lives with his mother was occupied at the time of the raid by four children and six adults.

"If they were watching this place to see if their suspect was here, why didn't they notice all the toys in the yard and all the kids coming and going downstairs?" Jones asked. "They came into my house with a flash grenade and a bullet. They say my mother 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.

"They came here to kill and they did. They just killed the wrong person. I'd rather it was me. Why didn't they just kill me?"

The girl's mother, Dominika Stanley, wasn't in the apartment at the time of the shooting.

Charles Jones said police confiscated Aiyana's blanket, which had been burned by the stun grenade. He said his daughter also was burned. Family members also moved the blood-soaked sofa to the front porch.

Godbee would not comment on reports that neighbors told officers children were in the house and pointed out toys in the front yard.

He said the search warrant allowed police to search both the downstairs and upstairs units.

"According to our officers and at least one independent witness, the officers announced themselves as police officers before going in," Godbee said.

Godbee stressed that information he released Sunday was preliminary, and that the Police Department planned to launch a full investigation. He also said police are not categorizing the shooting as accidental yet, "although we don't believe the gun was discharged intentionally."

Police offer condolences

Godbee extended an offer of help to Aiyana's family -- and expressed fear that anger might boil over in the community.

"We might be the target of anger," Godbee said. "All we can do is stand ready to offer our condolences to the family, and any help we can give them."

But Charles Jones said he was trying to not be angry. He sat on the porch of his home Sunday, looking stunned and answering the questions of relatives, neighbors and news reporters.

Aiyana Jones actually was growing out of her Disney Princess phase, beginning to prefer the likes of Hannah Montana, said her father. He had programmed a cell phone to play her new favorite song, Justin Bieber's "Baby." Her father said Aiyana loved to sing.

"She was just figuring out what she liked, what she wanted to do with her life," Charles Jones said. "I want this story to be heard. This was a wrongful death."

Godbee called Sunday probably the worst day of his career, and the event a "tragedy of unspeakable magnitude."

"This hurts us all," Godbee said. "We're not robots; we have children of our own."

Deputy Chief James Tolbert said investigators will submit a warrant for the 34-year-old man "as soon as possible." The unidentified officer involved in the shooting was placed on administrative leave.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality called Sunday's incident unique in the city's history because of the use of a stun grenade tossed into the crowded apartment. The group will call for investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy of police procedures used in the raid. The organization that has been critical of Detroit Police and the department's tactics hosted a Sunday night candlelight vigil at the home.

"We join with the people of the city of Detroit in wrapping our arms around this family, who have experienced such an unthinkable loss," said Ron Scott, founder of the organization. "In the 14 years I've been doing this, I've seen deaths and blood, but I've never seen anything like this. It's beyond words."

At the vigil, emotions were still raw as family and friends gathered outside the home. Tears rolled down the checks of Breyan Rogers, 13, Aiyana's cousin. "She was just the sweetest little girl," he said.

Erik Saunders, 43, a family friend, said the shooting was reminiscent of civil rights era.

"This is like 1960s all over," he said. "Police have no respect for the citizens of this city."

Saunders derided Evans' zero-tolerance policy.

"It predisposes this kind of behavior," he said.

Sherell Lewis asked where Evans was.

"He should be here," she said.

dguthrie@detnews.com">dguthrie@detnews.com (313) 222-2548 Staff writer George Hunter contributed.

Aiyana Jones (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)
Vincent Ellis comforts Mertilla Jones, Aiyana's grandmother, who was ... (Madalyn Ruggiero / Special to The Detroit News)
Aiyana's uncle, Timothy Bradford, left, mourns her death Sunday with ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
A child walks past a couch outside the home where Aiyana was killed. The ...