Demolition contractor sues city after home with asbestos is torn down

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — City officials destroyed a demolition man’s reputation after he was blamed for tearing down a home with asbestos inside, according to a federal lawsuit Thursday.

David MacDonald, a former employee of Warren-based Den-Man Contractors, sued the city, the Detroit Building Authority and Detroit Land Bank in a lawsuit that raises allegations about internal controls within Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s scandal-plagued program to remove thousands of dangerous, blighted structures in the city.

The city has removed more than 11,000 structures under the federal program but questions about whether the money was misspent have clouded Duggan's two terms in office. A federal criminal investigation is ongoing and has led to charges against two people accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes and rigging bids to demolish homes in the city.

The lawsuit Thursday offers behind-the-scenes details about the demolition of a home at 14444 Flanders on the city’s east side in September.

The home on Detroit's east side was demolished in September despite an indication that the home contained asbestos, according to the lawsuit.

The home was included on a demolition list distributed by MacDonald's colleague despite an indication the home contained asbestos, which poses a health and safety risk to the public, according to the lawsuit. 

Den-Man demolished the home Sept. 13, and MacDonald says he was not involved in the decision.

A week later, MacDonald started working for another company, Smalley Construction, but continued to serve Den-Man in a limited role, according to the lawsuit.

Den-Man failed to tell the city building authority about 14444 Flanders for more than a month, MacDonald alleges. In an email, Den-Man President David Holman "blamed plaintiff for scheduling and demolishing the house...," according to the lawsuit.

Contractor in trouble after illegal dumping found in Detroit

Days later, the Detroit Building Authority barred MacDonald's new employer from working on demolitions or asbestos abatement "even though Smalley had absolutely no involvement with the demolition of 14444 Flanders," according to the lawsuit.

"The health and safety of Detroit residents is the top priority for city government, and we make no apology for our obedience to that priority in contracting and business decisions," Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia wrote in an email to The Detroit News on Thursday.

In early November, city Health Department Director Joneigh Khaldun ordered “that no demolition within city limits shall be conducted by any company, firm, or LLC that employs Mr. David MacDonald in a demolition-related capacity."

Days later, MacDonald stopped working for Smalley.

"As a result of the city defendants’ official policy prohibiting plaintiff from being involved in any ... demolition work, plaintiff has lost his employment and has been deprived of other employment and business opportunities without procedural or substantive due process," MacDonald's lawyer, Cindy Rhodes Victor, wrote in the lawsuit.

MacDonald is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

"The November 6, 2018 letter from the Director of the City's Health Department expressed a well-founded concern about Mr. MacDonald," Garcia wrote in an email to The News. "For this reason and others, the city feels its actions were reasonable."

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