Outraged chief: She's carjacked; man gets probation

George Hunter
The Detroit News

An 85-year-old Detroit woman who was forced from a vehicle by a career criminal says she can’t understand why the man who did the crime won’t do any time.

Despite Dontonio Jones’ status with the court as a habitual offender, Wayne Circuit Judge Shannon Walker sentenced him Tuesday to three years’ probation for the Sept. 2 theft of a silver-blue Chevy Tahoe truck at a Citgo gas station on Detroit’s northwest side.

Jones, 21, of Detroit and an accomplice initially were charged with carjacking after they made Mable Coats exit the truck and drove away. No weapon was reported to have been used in the crime.

In November, Walker dropped the carjacking charge against Jones, who pleaded guilty to unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The judge declined to comment on the matter, and it’s unclear why she dropped the carjacking charge against Jones.

Walker’s sentence is being criticized as too lenient by police and prosecutors; Coats also said she was perplexed by the decision.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Coats, who has 21 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and nine great-great grandchildren.

“They aren’t saying they arrested the wrong people. So if they know who did it, how are they not going to jail?”

Before the incident, Jones had convictions for home invasion, carrying a concealed weapon, receiving stolen property and fleeing a police officer. He was declared incorrigible by the court as a minor, violated probation three times and failed to show up to at least two court hearings.

Jones’ 20-year-old accomplice, Deonte Russell of Detroit, was sentenced under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, so the judge’s ruling is not public record. Under the act, which is available to defendants ages 17-23, Russell’s record will be expunged if he doesn’t violate the terms set by the court.

Coats’ granddaughter, Sonia White-Traylor, who owns the Chevy Tahoe that was stolen, was inside the gas station when the two men forced Coats out of the vehicle and drove away.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said when informed of Jones’ sentence. “He puts my grandmother through all that ... I got my truck stolen, lost my purse, glasses, $400 in cash, a $500 deductible — and all he gets is three years’ probation?

“I’m afraid this guy might want to retaliate ... my truck is easy to spot. I’m going to write the judge a letter and ask her: What if this was your sister, or your grandmother who got carjacked?”

A robbery and police chase

White-Traylor was driving her grandmother to the bank around noon on Sept. 2 when she pulled into the Citgo gas station in the 11600 block of Greenfield.

While White-Traylor was inside the station, Coats said she sat in the truck concentrating on a bank slip when she heard someone spouting profanities.

“My thought was somebody’s playing that nasty music again, because every time we stop at the service station, that’s all you hear ... it’s always nasty language.”

She said she looked up and realized a man was in the truck with her: “He said ‘get the ‘f’ up out of here, ‘mf.’ ”

Coats said Jones stole her purse, forced her out, and then the two men drove away.

Moments after the incident, resident Tamara Smith posted a video from the scene on Facebook Live, giving a description of the stolen truck and imploring the public to come forward with tips.

“This is somebody’s grandma,” Smith said on the video. “This is an elderly woman. You pushed her out of her vehicle and carjacked her. You know, we need to be outraged in this community. This is an elderly woman. Who deserves this?”

About 15 minutes later, officers were investigating an unrelated carjacking at Fenkell and Evergreen when they spotted the stolen Tahoe with Jones and Russell inside.

The suspects did not pull over as ordered. A brief chase ended after the truck slammed into two other vehicles at Hubbell and Plymouth. The occupants of the other vehicles, including two small children, sustained minor injuries, police said.

“Our officers put their lives on the line to catch these guys, and these suspects put citizens’ lives in danger,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “To have (Jones) get probation is a slap in the face, not only to cops, but to the people who want to live in safe neighborhoods.”

Michigan law 750.529 a defines a carjacker as, “a person who in the course of committing a larceny of a motor vehicle uses force or violence or the threat of force or violence, or who puts in fear any operator, passenger, or person in lawful possession of the motor vehicle, or any person lawfully attempting to recover the motor vehicle.”

Had Jones been convicted of carjacking, he would have faced up to life in prison.

‘The ball is in your corner’

During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Jones’ attorney, Robert Plumpe, who couldn’t be reached for comment Wendesday, asked the judge for leniency, according to a video of the hearing posted by WDIV-TV (Channel 4).

“He does have a deep attachment to his children,” Plumpe said. “He has two children. He has good family support ... he’s in good physical and mental health. He’s a United States citizen. He’s a very smart individual.”

Jones told the judge: “I want to start off apologizing to the victim in this case, and I want to utilize it as a learning experience. I know that I have to be a better man and a better father to my children.”

The judge replied: “All that is true. So now the ball is in your corner, so what are you going to do?” Then she handed down her sentence.

Craig called the judge’s ruling “outrageous.”

“I can tell you: The officers are getting tired of this, and so am I. The police take a lot of heat about crime, but it’s time to start holding judges’ feet to the fire as well. I don’t want to paint all judges with a broad brush, but clearly some of them are missing an opportunity to keep our city safe.”

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller also expressed disappointment with the sentence.

“The carjacking of an 85-year-old woman is extremely dangerous conduct,” Miller said in a statement Wednesday. “When you consider this, along with his prior record, we think the sentence should have included a period of incarceration.”

Coats, who has outlived four of her 11 children, said she refuses to get upset.

“If that’s what the judge did, it’s God’s will, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she said. “I’m just glad I didn’t get shot. (Others) carjacked an 80-something-year-old man around here, and they shot him. God has a fence around me, and I’m all right.

“Maybe (Jones) will go out and carjack someone else,” she said. “Or maybe he’ll turn his life around. All I can do is pray for the best.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

Habitual felon

A look at Dontonio Jones’ criminal record shows a history of probation violations and other issues:

■While his juvenile criminal record is not available, in 2011 at age 15, a petition to declare him incorrigible was filed after he violated his probation for an undisclosed conviction in juvenile court.

■In 2012, the 17-year-old Jones was charged with home invasion and larceny in a building. He pleaded guilty to the home invasion and was given two years’ probation. He failed to appear at his January 2013 sentencing hearing, but three months later was allowed by Wayne Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten to enter the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act program that would wipe his criminal record clean if he avoided future convictions.

■Jones violated his probation a second time in 2013, when he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. He failed to appear at his September 2013 arraignment on information, and Van Houten revoked his Holmes Youthful Trainee Act status before extending his probation.

■In January 2014, Jones was arrested for receiving and concealing a stolen vehicle and fleeing a police officer. Van Houten sentenced him to an undisclosed stint in the Wayne County Jail.

■After Jones was arrested for the September 2016 incident involving 85-year-old Mable Coats, he was charged with carjacking, although the judge dropped that charge, and he pleaded guilty to unlawfully driving away a motor vehicle.

Source: Third Circuit Court website