July 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Inkster top cop resigns in wake of tot's death

Napoleon (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)

Inkster Police Chief Hilton Napoleon faced a perfect storm of problems in recent months: challenges with the city being under a financial consent decree; a drastically reduced police force; rising crime.

He recently asked the county sheriff’s office to take over his department, down from 73 officers a few years ago to about two dozen officers, including himself. Then, this month, a 2-year-old girl was slain on his watch. All of this led up to the longtime law enforcement officer’s abrupt departure Thursday.

“Over the past three and one half years, I have been working under extreme working condition(s),” Napoleon wrote in a letter to City Manager Richard Marsh. “The lack of resources and adverse working conditions has taken its toll on me. Additionally, the recent senseless murder of a two year old baby makes my decision that much easier ...”

The resignation is effective Friday. Marsh, who in a statement praised Napoleon’s “passion and dedication” as well as his “great deal of experience,” has appointed Lt. Jeffery Smith as acting chief.

Napoleon had “always made it clear that if anyone ever came to the point that he didn’t think he was effective, he’d be comfortable moving on,” Mayor Hilliard Hampton said after learning of Napoleon’s resignation. “He lost half of his staff, half the officers ... he’s given so much of his personal time to fill in the void.”

While stressing that he supported Napoleon’s work and efforts, Hampton on Thursday acknowledged the chief’s job “just became overwhelming.”

“He’s been a good trouper,” Hampton said. “It takes a toll, it takes a toll on anyone. Then you have this financial condition.”

Napoleon, brother of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday night.

As for who the next top cop could be, Hampton said he wanted “a transitional person who can operate in a tight budget situation with a high skill set. Who will do it? I hope we will be able to find quality, competent people.”

Napoleon quit about 10 days after Kamiya LaShawn Gross, 2, was fatally shot at an apartment in the 30000 block of Carlyle Street. Her 34-year-old father, Kenneth French, and 12-year-old cousin, Chelsea Lancaster, were also shot.

Two men have been charged. Raymone Bernard Jackson, 24, of Inkster, the suspected gunman, was arraigned in 22nd District Court. He was charged with first-degree murder, torture, assault with intent to murder, felonious assault, felon in possession and felony firearm. Jackson was denied bond. His preliminary exam is scheduled for July 16.

Raphael Hearn, 29, the second man to be charged, was arraigned via video Saturday. Charges include first-degree murder, two counts of assault with intent to murder and habitual offender. He was being held without bond.

The slaying sent shock waves across the region; officers policing the city were appalled and called for witnesses to step forward. After attending Jackson’s July 3 arraignment, Michigan State Police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw said: “The people of Inkster should be just outraged that this is common practice or this has actually come to this point. This is a turning point for the people city of Inkster to say we’ve had enough of this stuff. This has to come to an end.”

Napoleon’s departure comes nearly a month after he pitched a plan to have the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, with which the city had already partnered to double patrols, absorb his department. The city’s own force is down from 73 a few years ago to about two dozen officers, including himself.

Part of the problem, Hampton said, is that the city of 25,000 is under a financial consent decree with the state to restructure its finances, giving the state broad reach over Inkster’s finances.

“We have to stay within the confines of the consent agreement,” Hampton said. “We’ve been very disciplined.”

Last month, Napoleon appealed to Wayne County commissioners to ask that Wayne County Sheriff’s Office absorb the Inkster Police Department.

“We cannot continue to operate with the number of officers we have. These officers are getting burned out,” Napoleon told commissioners at the time. “Everybody is doing much, much more with less.”

With cuts to the department as well as the county’s narcotics task force, crime has been going up, he said at the time. The city had 16 homicides last year, up from 12 in 2012.

“Homicides are spiking, and they’re all drug related,” Hampton said Thursday.

Inkster is applying for a $486,000 state grant to pay for making the department’s radios compatible with the county’s, three vehicles and uniforms.

Michigan State Police has also assisted the department in shootings and homicide investigations, recently ramping up patrols in the city.