Judge fines lawyer for violating court order in Kellom suit

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Attorney Nabih Ayad, left, and Kevin Kellom, father of Terrance Kellom, hold a press conference outside the Levin Federal Courthouse in Detroit on April 8. A federal judge later said the press conference violated a gag order.

Detroit — A federal judge Wednesday reprimanded and fined the attorney representing the family of Terrance Kellom, who was killed four years ago after allegedly threatening an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent with a hammer.

In a nine-page order filed in U.S. District Court, Judge Sean F. Cox sharply criticized Nabih Ayad, saying it was "troubling" the attorney violated a court order by talking to the media about the case.

"The terms of the ... Order, and the undisputed conduct by Mr. Ayad ... make short work of this motion," Cox wrote of the order, which was mutually agreed to in April 2019 by both parties.

Ayad represents Kellom's mother, Nelda Kellom, in a lawsuit against ICE agent Mitchell Quinn, who fatally shot 20-year-old Terrance Kellom in his parents' northwest Detroit home on April 27, 2015. Kellom's family filed a $50 million federal lawsuit against Quinn in April 2017.

In addition to ruling Ayad had violated the protective order, the judge also ordered him to pay $2,220 to Quinn's attorneys — the cost of filing a motion asking Cox to enforce the order, which was agreed to on April 23, 2018, barring anyone involved in the lawsuit from discussing the case.

The judge said Ayad violated that order twice. He said the first violation came when the attorney appeared on an unnamed television news program on Feb. 26, 2019, 10 months after the protective order had been imposed. During the interview, Ayad commented about a deposition in the case, calling it a "bombshell," according to the judge. 

Kellom's father, Kevin Kellom, also discussed the case during the interview, which Cox said further violated the order. Kevin Kellom originally was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but was removed after some elements of the case involving him were dismissed.

Cox said the second violation of the protective order came on April 8, when Ayad held a press conference calling for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to reopen the investigation into Terrance Kellom's killing, months after the prosecutor found the shooting to be justified.

On the day of the shooting, Quinn was part of the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team task force, which was dispatched to Kellom's father's home in the 9500 block of Evergreen looking for Kellom in connection with the alleged robbery of a pizza delivery man weeks earlier.

Quinn claims Kellom lunged at him with a hammer, prompting the agent to use deadly force.

During his April 8 press briefing, Ayad told reporters Detroit police officer and apprehension team member Darrell Fitzgerald, who had previously said Kellom had a hammer in his hand, changed his story while testifying during a deposition last November, denying Kellom had a hammer.

Federal prosecutors insisted in subsequent court filings that Fitzgerald didn't alter his story as Ayad alleged. 

During his press conference, Ayad told reporters: "Mr. Kellom was unarmed. Terrance Kellom did not have a hammer. There was no hammer. It was never there."

Cox wrote in his ruling Wednesday that statement was a violation of the protective order.

"The Court concludes that both both Mr. Ayad and Kevin Kellom clearly violated the terms of the Stipulated Protective Order," Cox wrote. "The Court is troubled by Counsel’s own blatant violations of the Stipulated Protective Order, as well and his facilitation or encouragement of his client, Kevin Kellom, in violating the order."

Cox added: "Mr. Ayad, and the current and former Plaintiffs, are also cautioned that this Court will not allow this case to be tried in the media and this Court will not hesitate to impose harsher sanctions, should Plaintiffs’ Counsel or the current or former Plaintiffs violate the orders in this case in the future."

Ayad did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment. Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the Detroit U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

After Ayad's April press conference, the chief of staff for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel informed Kellom's family that the AG's office would review the case. Nessel's spokeswoman Kelly Rossman McKinney did not return a phone call Wednesday seeking an update on the AG's investigation.


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