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Detroit lawmaker sought bids to raze house before it disappeared

Detroit — Detroit police are preparing a warrant seeking felony charges against a man who admitted his demolition company razed the house of state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, police chief James Craig said Wednesday.

Craig said Sherman Gipson, owner of southwest Detroit-based Gipson Brothers Trucking, tore down Gay-Dagnogo’s house at 14567 Minock Street without permission. The chief said he will seek charges of malicious destruction of property over $20,000, a felony. Craig also said no permits were pulled for the demolition, which could be a city violation. 

A house at 14567 Minock in Detroit belonging to state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo was demolished without her knowledge.

Craig then added that while there is no evidence that Gay-Dagnogo ordered the demolition, the lawmaker withheld from investigators that she had sought bids to raze the house, which he said caused the investigation to take longer than it would have.

“We’re in the 11th day of an investigation that would have taken two days,” he said.

“At this point, it is alleged the Gipson demolished the residence without the approval of the state representative, or that she authorized anyone to do it."

He added the investigation is ongoing, and that “criminal investigations oftentimes take very interesting turns I’m not going to say once we submit the warrant our work is over.”

Lt. Rebecca McKay of the Major Crimes Unit said Gay-Dagnogo asked how much it would cost to demolish the home. The queries ran through Gipson Brothers Trucking, which gave a $7,000 bid, Nate’s Tree Service, Superior Construction, and finally New Start Construction, which said the demolition would cost $10,100. McKay said New Start is affiliated with a nonprofit Gay-Dagnogo runs.

Gay-Dagnogo, a Detroit Democrat who represents Michigan's 8th District, said the organization she founded, the Coalition to Integrate Technology and Education, purchased the property at 14567 Minock and several other homes from the Detroit Land Bank Authority near city parks with the goal of revitalizing them. 

The representative on Wednesday said that she was briefed by police that the suspect "gave a full confession that he demolished the property based on an inquiry for a quote from a third party."

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo

That company, she said, "without engagement, without authorization, without permits, without a down payment or anything" knocked the house down.

Officials with Gipson Brothers could not be reached on Wednesday for comment. 

Gay-Dagnogo said she gave police "everything I had" when she first met with them after she learned the house had been torn down. Police, she said, have since said that not providing the quote held up the investigation.

Demolition was among the options being considered for the house after a summer fire at a nearby property damaged it, and Gay-Dagnogo added she was upfront about that.

“They (police) indicated that they would have nailed this case a lot sooner had they had that quote," she said. "That quote to me was irrelevant. I gave you the people, everybody that I interfaced with. I felt I was cooperating to the full extent."

She said her talks with police over what happened to her house “got a little heated" and that she reached out Tuesday to the FBI to ask them to get involved in the investigation because "I just felt uncomfortable."

Gay-Dagnogo told The News Wednesday she also reached out to other law enforcement agencies, providing a "very detailed" breakdown and timeline. She declined to provide specifics. 

Craig acknowledged there have been claims in recent days that the department "wasn't being transparent" or forthcoming with information. But Craig stressed that this is a criminal investigation, which precludes the department from divulging details and the probe remains ongoing. 

“This investigation is not over," he said. "We believe we’ve identified a suspect, but we still have other interviews to do, and we may still learn about other issues.”

Craig said police believe the contractor took it upon himself to knock down the house. 

"He didn’t use the word ‘mistake,’ he just said he wasn’t given the go-ahead," he said. "There are a number of theories. The key is, we have no evidence the state rep. gave the direction to go ahead.”

McKay said evidence shows that Gay-Dagnogo learned on Sept. 26 from Motor City Blight Busters that her home had been demolished.

Gay-Dagnogo has said the house was removed from the site without a demolition permit, any effort to ensure utilities had been disconnected or environmental approvals.

"Our investigation began with a mere hole in the ground," McKay said. "Eventually, through reviewing (Project) Green Light cameras, we gathered evidence that led us to Gipson.”

The evidence, she said, was a prescription pill bottle bearing a label with Gipson’s name, which was left at the demolition scene.

“We interviewed Mr. Gipson, who … indicates he was reached out to by Nate’s Tree Service,” McKay said. “Nate’s told Superior Construction, which gave a $10,100 bid. That bid was passed along to New Start Construction, which is a partner with Gay-Dagnogo’s nonprofit.

“This estimate was emailed to the representative on Sept. 23, and she replied in the email that she received this estimate,” McKay said. “This was never shared with the police department. We only learned of it by discovering who demolished the home and working backwards.”

On Friday, officials with Waste Management confirmed that debris from the home was found at a landfill more than 20 miles away.

The home, previously near Stoepel Park, was picked up and taken to Waste Management's Woodland Meadows landfill in Wayne, Tanisha Sanders, a spokeswoman for Waste Management confirmed on Friday.

Detroit Building Authority Director Tyrone Clifton has said that the city did not order, direct or fund the demolition.

Gay-Dagnogo has said that the house in question had undergone an investment of about $42,000 for a new roof and windows and other repairs. The nonprofit purchased the property for about $1,000 and the sale closed on July 25, 2018. 

In mid-June, it sustained damage when an adjacent property owned by the city caught fire. The fire-damaged house at 14561 Minock, she said, was razed in July by the demolition firm Adamo Group. That work was fully completed on July 19, according to the city. 

Since the fire, Gay-Dagnogo said her nonprofit and its partners ensured the house was secure and were seeking quotes to have repair work done. The city, she said, had set a compliance deadline of Oct. 14.

She and New Start were working together on the project and for quotes to rehabilitate the house.

She said she got several quotes, including one via mail on Sept. 19 that she rejected several days later. From there, she said, third-party conversations unrelated to Gay-Dagnogo and New Start allegedly resulted in the house coming down.

Gipson Trucking has been hit with multiple violations from state and federal authorities in the past few years.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2018 charged Gipson with seven violations after his company improperly razed two structures at 10010 and 10020 Gratiot, according to records reviewed by The News. 

On Jan. 24, 2018, Tammy Bell, a senior environmental quality analyst of the MDEQ’s Air Quality Division, sent a violation notice to Gipson and Sadier Abro of Abro One Property, LLC, and Abro Three Property, LLC. Abro was the owner of the two Gratiot properties that were demolished by Gipson’s firm in April 2018. Attempts to reach Abro were unsuccessful. 

“During the inspection, (Air Quality Division) staff observed that demolition of the two adjacent buildings occurred outside of notified project dates,” Bell wrote. “Floor tile was sampled during the inspection and tested positive for asbestos. Proof of asbestos abatement prior to demolition was requested from the owner and was not provided to the AQD.”

The company also failed to notify the state when the demolition was set to begin and failed to remove asbestos material or deposit the hazardous material in a proper landfill.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, as of January, Gipson Trucking operated 10 trucks and employed eight drivers.

The firm was inspected by the transportation department 14 times since 2017, according to the agency. Only one of those inspections did not result in violations, according to the department’s website, although “no acute/critical violations (were) discovered.”

Gipson was cited by the transportation department for 115 vehicle maintenance violations, according to the department. There were three safety violations after drivers were found to be operating trucks without wearing their seatbelts.


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