Burglar’s plea deal riles Corktown residents, merchants

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Corktown residents and merchants are furious about how Wayne County’s criminal justice system handled the case of a man who repeatedly broke into neighborhood businesses, saying prosecutors gave him a “sweetheart” plea deal.

Prosecutors and court officials insist the defendant was placed into an intensive drug treatment program, where he’ll be closely monitored, and forced to serve the maximum prison sentence — 10 years — if he commits another crime.

Prosecutors also said the business owners who were burglarized were told about the plea deal and didn’t complain.

Michael Horton, 27, was arrested in February in possession of items that had been stolen Feb. 11 from Metropolis Cycles on Michigan Avenue, according to police. Horton also broke into the furniture store Detroit Artifactry Feb. 11, and Nemo’s Bar & Grill on Jan. 14, police said.

Horton was charged with three counts of breaking and entering a building with intent (to burglarize it). On Feb. 17, Horton was freed after posting $250 bond — 10 percent of the $2,500 bond set by visiting Judge Dalton Roberson Sr. in 36th District Court. The same day, Horton broke into Nemo’s a second time, police said.

Horton, a drug addict, was arrested again and admitted to the burglaries, only to cut a deal with prosecutors, said Detroit Police Capt. Darin Szilagy, former commanding officer of the 3rd Precinct.

“There was no reason in the world to give him a plea deal, because he confessed and we had him dead to rights,” said Szilagy, who now heads the Downtown Services precinct. “He was given a $250 bond — and the very same day he gets out and breaks into another business. Now, he’ll be getting out of jail to do it again.”

Horton is scheduled to be released Aug. 18 from the Wayne County Jail, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kelly Miner said.

Horton’s photograph was distributed to area businesses, and merchants were encouraged to write letters to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking her to get tougher in the future on repeat offenders, said Dennis Fulton, owner of the Mercury Bar and president of the Corktown Business Association.

“It’s frustrating, because the businesses have worked with the police to try to make Corktown safe by putting in lighting and surveillance cameras,” Fulton said. “In this instance, the police did their part: They viewed the surveillance cameras, made an arrest, and the man they arrested confessed to the crimes.

Along Michigan Avenue in Corktown. Residents and merchants are furious about how Wayne County’s criminal justice system handled the case of a man who repeatedly broke into neighborhood businesses, saying prosecutors gave him a “sweetheart” plea deal.

“Then, the case doesn’t even go to trial. They cut a sweetheart deal with him, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office gave Corktown the shaft. That’s the way people think about this. Business owners who got broken into took the time to go down and make a statement, only to find out (Horton) was given probation.”

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said in a statement: “The (assistant prosecutor) handling the case at the plea stage spoke to the victims in the cases and explained the plea offer and that he was accepted to (Wayne Circuit Court’s Drug Court program) and the conditions of the sentence agreement. They did not express that they were upset with the outcome.”

Miller said Horton was given a sentencing agreement of five years’ probation, with the first two years served in the Drug Court program, where he’ll undergo drug treatment and be closely monitored.

The agreement called for Horton to spend 90 days in jail, and, upon his release, to wear a GPS tether. Horton also was ordered to pay $3,791.99 in restitution to the businesses he burglarized. The other two breaking and entering charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal, Miller said.

Horton’s attorney, Hassan K. Bazzi, said his client will get the treatment he needs in the Drug Court program.

“He made a stupid mistake and he confessed,” Bazzi said. “He has a drug problem and there’s a program to address that. He took advantage of the program, where he’ll get drug treatment inside the jail facility, and he’ll be on probation when he gets out. If he commits another crime, he’ll be exposed to the maximum prison time.”

Wayne Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten, who presided over Horton’s case until it was moved to the Drug Court, said she hopes Horton will benefit from the second chance.

“He’ll undergo intensive drug treatment, and hopefully get off drugs and stop breaking into places,” the judge said. “That’s the whole point of the Drug Court.”

Detroit Artifactry owner Gail Kwiatkowski declined to talk about the burglary of her business by Horton, but said: “Those of us invested in the rebirth of Detroit are not going to be hindered by this. I hope (Horton) gets the help that he needs.”

The owners of the other two burglarized businesses, Metropolis Cycle and Nemo’s, declined to comment, although other merchants and residents expressed frustration with how the criminal justice system handled Horton’s case.

“I don’t understand how someone can confess to a crime, and they don’t even try to prosecute him,” said Deveri Gifford, owner of the Brooklyn Street Local restaurant on Michigan Avenue.

Community activist Debra Walker said Corktown is a safe neighborhood — and, she said, people who live and work there want to keep it that way.

“We’ve sent out (Horton’s) picture to the businesses in the area so everyone’s aware what he looks like,” Walker said. “I’m still confused and befuddled by how this happened. Why would you give a plea deal to a guy who confessed to crimes? They already gave him a chance by giving him a $250 bond, and he goes out and breaks into a business again.

“I’m not for mass incarceration, but there has to be some punishment,” she said. “There’s no incentive for this person to not do what he’s been doing. He just keeps on doing it — and he’s not the only one.”

Fulton said other communities would not tolerate a repeat offender getting a “slap on the wrist.”

“If this had been in Birmingham or Dearborn, it wouldn’t have happened this way,” he said. “That’s frustrating. If you’re a merchant in Corktown and trying to attract other merchants, their first question is always, ‘Is it safe to do business here?’ I tell them Corktown is one of the safest areas in Detroit — but when something like this happens, you’re back to square one.”

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