Water activists seek resolution in ‘Homrich 9’ cases

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Detroit police officers keep an eye on the protestors who block the entrance to Homrich Inc. in July 2014 in Detroit.

Detroit — The “Homrich 9” — the activists who blocked trucks from leaving Homrich Inc.’s grounds two years ago to block workers from performing water shutoffs in Detroit — want their day in court.

Members of the group gathered Monday on the steps of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice to demand progress in two outstanding cases involving seven of the nine protesters that are being handled by Judge Michael Hathaway of Wayne County Circuit Court.

Each of the defendants faces one charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Their mission on July 18, 2014, was to keep the water on for Detroiters for another day. The larger mission is water affordability — the stance that indigent Detroiters should be billed for water based on their ability to pay.

“Water was here before man was here,” said Baxter Jones, 60, one of the Homrich 9. “How does man have the right to make water a commodity, like Faygo pop?”

“The issue here is poverty,” said Hans Barbe, another one of the Homrich 9. “Not laziness, but poverty. ... It’s not free water we’re here for, but affordable water.”

One case, involving two of the seven defendants, is on hold as Hathaway determines whether a mistrial has occurred.

The other, involving the remaining five, is being held up as Hathaway decides whether the defendants are able to use a “necessity” defense, said attorney Julie Hurwitz, who is representing the activists.

Hathaway declined to comment Monday afternoon.

One of the two activists who is not awaiting a ruling in the case has moved to another country and took a plea deal to get her case resolved, Hurwitz said.

The ninth protester who was arrested, Jones, was never charged. Jones, who uses a wheelchair, believes he wasn’t charged because of the way he was arrested, which he said violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case of the five defendants — Barbe, James Perkinson, Kim Redigan, Marianne McGuire and David Olson — is a bench trial.

The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman and Marian Kramer, though, got a jury trial starting last November, and they want their verdict.

Hurwitz hand-delivered a letter to Hathaway on Monday requesting that the case be decided. It’s been on hold since a March 25 motions hearing, when Hathaway said he hoped to issue his opinion “by the end of April.”

Months later, the defendants don’t believe no news is good news. While they hope they’ll win, they want the case resolved, not lingering over their heads.

The six-member jury sat through “seven days of testimony and evidence” on the misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges, the letter explains.

“The only relief would be a dismissal of the charges,” Hurwitz said, calling the months-long delay “an unprecedented situation.”

“They heard closing arguments and received final jury instructions,” the letter to Hathaway from attorney John Royal reads. “They were sent home eight months ago. Your stay order has prevented them from discharging their obligation of jury service by deliberating and trying to decide these cases.”