Trial dismissed against ‘Homrich 9’ water protesters

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — After nearly three years of legal proceedings and delays, a case against a group of water-rights activists who blocked trucks from leaving to conduct water shut-offs in Detroit has been dismissed, officials said.

Members of the “Homrich 9” were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct when, on July 18, 2014, they blocked trucks for several hours in protest of the city’s water shut-off policy.

Judge Ronald Giles of the 36th District Court dismissed all charges last week due to lack of a speedy trial, according to court records.

“It’s certainly a victory in that we didn’t plead guilty, which I think the city would have been glad ... to wear us down and have us plead guilty and take whatever consequence came with that,” said the Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and one of the activists charged in the case.

Also charged were Marian Kramer of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and activists Kim Redigan, Hans Barbe, James Perkinson, Marianne McGuire and David Olson. One woman arrested settled her case in court so that she could leave the country for a job, while one man arrested with the group was not charged, Wylie-Kellermann said.

The Detroit Law Department declined to comment on the case Wednesday. According to Chief Prosecutor Doug Baker, the city will not appeal the ruling.

The protest took place at a Homrich Wrecking Inc. on East Grand Boulevard. The city contracted the private company to conduct the water shut-offs.

In March 2014, the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage announced it would target Detroit households with overdue balances of more than $150, or more than two months behind on bills. In the months leading up the protest, the city had shut off water to more than 15,000 homes.

The group’s goal was to keep Detroiters’ water on. The larger mission was to address water affordability and the belief that Detroiters struggling financially should be billed for water based on ability to pay.

The case had gone through some legal wrangling. At least three judges were involved. Hearings were canceled, a jury heard the case and was dismissed, and a judge rescinded a stay in the proceedings. In December, Judge Michael Hathaway wrote an order removing the stay and a trial was set for July 11. Last week, however, Giles granted the group’s request to dismiss.

Despite what he calls a victory, Wylie-Kellermann said the group is still concerned about the issue.

“Water is still unaffordable to many people in Detroit,” he said. “ People are still being shut-off.”