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Detroit — A Wayne County judge has ordered a Detroit police commissioner to testify in a lawsuit and reimburse the court for failing to show up for an earlier deposition.

Wayne Circuit Judge Kevin Cox on Jan. 6 ordered police commissioner Willie Burton to sit for a deposition by Jan. 24, and to pay $1,500 in court costs and fees after he failed to appear for an Oct. 4 deposition.

The motion to compel Burton to testify was filed as part of a lawsuit brought by activist Robert Davis, who alleges the Board of Police Commissioners violates the Michigan Open Meetings Act by holding "secret meetings" with Detroit Police officials to discuss personnel and business issues.

Davis, head of the group "A Felon's Crusade for Equality, Honesty and Truth," filed the suit in April.

"The testimony of Commissioner Burton is important, considering he’s been outspoken about revealing the unethical and unlawful actions of the board," Davis said Friday.

Burton, who has long criticized the board for holding committee meetings without the public present, said he was never notified to appear for the October deposition.

"Nobody ever sent me a letter or called me," Burton said Friday. "And now I have to pay $1,500 out of my pocket? I'm going to have to get an attorney." 

At the April 11 board meeting, a week after Davis filed his lawsuit, Burton placed a placard on the table next to his nameplate bearing the word "transparency" and introduced a motion to open all committee meetings to the public.

The motion, the third time Burton had moved to stop holding closed committee meetings, was not seconded.

The Detroit City Charter Section 7-802, which covers the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, reads: “All meetings shall be held in accordance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.”

Burton said that applies to committee meetings as well.

"Detroiters deserve to know what's being decided at those committee meetings," he said Friday.

Davis, a former Highland Park school board member who was convicted in 2014 of stealing $200,000 from the school district, said board members Polly McCalister, Willie Bell, Darryl Brown and former board secretary Gregory Hicks have been deposed.

Board chair Lisa Carter is scheduled to be deposed this month, Davis said. 

Carter said Friday that's news to her.

“I have not heard that I am being deposed," she said in an email. "The board has taken steps to ensure that we are in compliance with the open meetings act. On December 9th, 2019 the board received training provided by the Michigan Municipal league. The board has also changed its bylaws to ensure that all decisions are made in public by the board as a whole.”

Davis said Friday he also wants Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha to sit for a deposition, but, he claimed, "she doesn't want to be deposed."

Ha in October issued a report that said the board abused its authority by manipulating its hiring practices and violated the Open Meetings Act by allowing Hicks to change the board's organizational chart.

“When the board voluntarily gave away their charter mandated authority to Mr. Hicks, they also gave away the public’s right to access the board’s decision-making process through the Michigan Open Meetings Act," wrote Ha, who did not return a phone call Friday.

Two months after Ha's report was released, the board voted unanimously Dec. 5 to fire Hicks, and the board's policy director Melanie White was named interim secretary.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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