May 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

Slain girl's family alleges police cover-up

State, federal suits filed against department; sources identify veteran cop as the shooter

Geoffrey Fieger challenges police account
Geoffrey Fieger challenges police account: Attorney has filed lawsuits on behalf of the family of slain 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in both federal and state courts.

Southfield -- The family of a 7-year-old girl killed during a Sunday raid on the home where she was sleeping says the Detroit Police Department is not only responsible for her death, but that its officers launched a cover-up within minutes.

"They were trying to get someone else to take the rap," said Geoffrey Fieger, the Southfield attorney who is representing the girl's family.

Fieger filed lawsuits Tuesday in U.S. District Court and Wayne Circuit Court claiming civil rights violations, gross negligence and conspiracy by police to hide the facts behind Aiyana Stanley Jones' death.

"They were trying right there on the scene to get another officer to take the blame. Someone with a record that didn't have any prior shootings," Fieger said.

Although police have declined to name the officer whose gun discharged and killed the girl, sources have identified him as Joseph Weekley, 34, a member of the department's Special Response Team for at least six years.

Police at first suggested the errant shot was the result of a physical altercation between the officer and the girl's grandmother inside the house.

Mertilla Jones was arrested and held for nearly 12 hours Sunday. Before she was released, she said, she submitted to a drug test and a chemical test on her hands to determine the possible presence of gunpowder that would have indicated she was close to a discharged firearm.

Later on Sunday, police said the two may have simply collided inside the house. On Tuesday, Mertilla Jones said she never touched an officer, but instead hit the floor when a flash grenade went off. She then noticed her granddaughter's horrific wound.

"I said, 'You F'ed up. Gone and killed my grandbaby,' " Mertilla Jones said.. "One of them yelled, 'Oh s---!' They took her up in their arms and ran out the house with her."

Police Chief Warren Evans returned from an overseas vacation Tuesday but canceled a midday press conference. He instead issued a written statement:

"I want to say to the entire Jones family, Aiyana's loved ones and friends, how terribly sorry I am for your loss. I have children and grandchildren and cannot comprehend losing one of them, especially under such painful circumstances. I will never be able to put myself in your shoes.

"Although the investigation into the circumstances of Aiyana's death is now being conducted by the Michigan State Police, the Detroit Police Department has its own painful self-examination to undergo," Evans said. "Whatever our findings, they won't be pretty. There is no way they can be under these circumstances. They won't be pretty, but they will be honest."

Bullet struck Aiyana in neck

Aiyana Jones was sleeping on a living room sofa when she was struck in the neck by a bullet during the police raid around 12:40 a.m. Sunday in the duplex occupied by four siblings and six adults.

Police burst into the home on Lillibridge just west of Mack Avenue looking for a murder suspect. Fieger said 34-year-old Chauncey Owens was arrested in a separate upstairs flat in the home. He is the fiance of LaKrystal Sanders, one of Aiyana's aunts.

Owens is the suspect in the Friday night slaying of a 17-year-old outside of a liquor store. Although he has been jailed since Sunday, he has yet to be charged.

At a press conference where he announced the lawsuits, Fieger called on other Detroit Police officers who participated in the raid to step forward and tell Evans and others what they saw at the scene.

Video recording viewed

Fieger said he viewed a video recording that captured a perfect angle of the incident as it occurred, and recorded a debate between officers about whether they had properly obtained warrants to enter both the upstairs and downstairs residences that have separate addresses.

Fieger also said he fears the video recording he was shown, but not allowed to copy, might be destroyed if Detroit Police get it first.

"You all know what happened at this scene. Please don't let this child have died in vain," said Fieger, who declined to identify the source of the video.

Producers of the reality television series "The First 48," which airs on the A&E network and features the first two days of murder investigations, confirmed its crew was filming during the incident.

But Fieger indicated he hasn't spoken with anyone from the network. The show is cooperating with police in the probe, and investigators have examined the footage taken by the crew at the scene early Sunday morning.

Fieger said the three-minute video shows the gunshot fired came from the porch of the two-story duplex shortly after a "flash-bang" grenade was tossed into the home by breaking a window.

He pointed out that the video contradicts police accounts that the officer fired when he had a physical contact inside the home with Mertilla Jones.

"This type of activity by a police force is unacceptable in America," Fieger said.

Darleen Conyers, spokeswoman for 36th District Court administration, said the court couldn't confirm the arrest warrants requested by police and allegedly signed by a magistrate because the court keeps no copies.

Police should have had warrants that listed the specific addresses raided downstairs and upstairs Sunday morning, said Larry Dubin, professor at University of Detroit Mercy Law School. But the arrest of the 34-year-old suspect probably has not been compromised even if the warrant for the correct address was obtained later.

He said the admissibility of evidence obtained from the address in the initial raid could be a problem.

Fieger said Owens surrendered to police upstairs without incident.

A big problem

Dubin said the biggest problem for the city, now that the lawsuits have been filed, is the threat of being forced to pay Aiyana's family a very large amount of money for damages.

"If the version of the facts that have been reported by Mr. Fieger is proven to be true, the city of Detroit will likely face a substantial settlement or perhaps an even greater verdict rendered against it," Dubin said. "The potential for a multimillion-dollar verdict would have no clear ceiling in my estimation."

News Staff Writer Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report. dguthrie@detnews.com">dguthrie@detnews.com

Dominika Stanley and Charles Jones show a picture of their daughter Aiyana, a 7-year-old who was fatally shot by Detroit police during a raid on their home early Sunday. / David Coates / The Detroit News
Aiyana's grand- mother Mertilla Jones and aunt LaKrystal Sanders ...
Aiyana's parents, Dominika Stanley and Charles Jones, appear at a ...