Probe to investigate why man accused in 6 slayings was used as police informant

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Local and federal authorities said Wednesday they've launched investigations to find out how and why an informant was allowed to stay out of prison before allegedly killing six people.

Kenyel Brown, 40, who committed multiple violations while on federal probation for a 2015 weapons charge, was used as an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, before he was "handed off" to a federal task force made up of Detroit police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Detroit police Chief James Craig said.

The task force began working with Brown on Oct. 29 — the same day he was released from federal supervision, Craig said. Court records show Brown was used as an informant for a federal agency while on probation. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used him for information before the Detroit police/DEA task force signed him up on Oct. 29, Craig said.

READ MORE: Killing spree suspect was informant freed by feds

The chief said one of his officers who was assigned to the task force brought in Brown as an informant without realizing the drug addict had repeatedly violated his probation terms.

Craig said Brown was paid $150 for information about a southwest Detroit gang's drug operations, but "the information didn't pan out. We never used him again," the chief said. 

"Had we known about his violations, we would have never used him as an informant," said Craig, adding he wants to know what, if anything, federal officials did in response to Brown's actions while under their supervision.

The chief and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider both said they have launched investigations into what happened.

"This is a horrible tragedy," Schneider said in a written release. "We are going to do everything in our power to get to the bottom of this matter.

"Kenyel Brown was a law enforcement informant for a period of time, and we have — and currently are — working closely with our law enforcement partners to determine exactly what happened."

Craig said he's changing the procedure for how his officers in federal task forces will vet potential informants.

"What will change, given what happened in this case, is that if a DPD officer assigned to a federal task force wants to use an informant, that has to be vetted through this department, and we won't rely on the feds vetting them," he said.

Craig blamed a "lack of communication" between law enforcement agencies for his department signing Brown up as an informant.

"A bigger concern for me is, when this informant was under the supervision of the ATF, what, if anything, was done when there were numerous violations committed by the informant while under federal supervised release?" he said.

"I don’t have the answer to it; that continues to be my chief concern. Because ultimately, this suspect murdered six people, shot another and committed two carjackings."

A spokesperson for ATF was not immediately available Wednesday. 

Brown, who was on federal probation after he was arrested in 2014 with a stolen 9 mm pistol, is suspected in six homicides, a nonfatal shooting and two carjackings, all allegedly committed during the past several weeks in Detroit, River Rouge and Highland Park.

Despite his probation violations, Brown was kept out of prison at the request of an unnamed federal law enforcement agency, a spokesman for the U.S. District Court said.

Detroit police chief James Craig addresses the media during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.

Rather than being locked up for the multiple probation violations that included missing mandated meetings, failing drug tests and being arrested for drunken driving, Brown remained free and allegedly went on a crime spree starting in January. 

Brown shot himself in the head Monday in an Oak Park backyard, following a weeks-long manhunt. He is in critical condition.

From 2017 to 2019, while on supervised release from prison, Brown committed multiple violations of his probation terms that would have normally landed him back behind bars, but "our court released Mr. Brown at the behest of a federal law enforcement agency," U.S. District Court spokesman David Ashenfelter said in an email Tuesday.

During a press conference Wednesday in Public Safety Headquarters, Craig said he's launched an investigation into the "miscommunication" between local and federal law enforcement agencies that allowed Brown to be used as an informant by Detroit police.

"My feeling is clear: he should’ve been violated in the past," the chief said. "I’m not saying that alone would’ve prevented (the recent string of alleged crimes), but there were telltale signs that this person was not following the conditions of his release."

Brown was the last informant employed by Detroit police after Craig revamped the Major Violators Section, which handles narcotics investigations, following an August raid by Detroit police internal affairs officers. An investigation into alleged corruption by drug cops is ongoing.

Craig said after Detroit officers learned Brown was a suspect in a Feb. 2 triple shooting in River Rouge that left two men dead, Brown was deactivated as a Detroit police informant. Other informants had previously been deactivated, the chief said.

In December 2015, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman sentenced Brown to 21 months in prison, to be followed by two years of supervised release. Court records show Brown was released in February 2017 — after serving only 14 months in federal prison — and sent to a residential re-entry center, where he was to serve 180 days.

His supervised release was revoked in May 2017, and he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, to be followed by 21 months of supervised release. It's unclear from court records why the release was revoked — but by July 2017, he was out of prison and placed on supervised release again.

During his supervised release, Brown violated his probation multiple times, court records show. A warrant was issued for Brown in July 2018 after he was arrested in Lincoln Park for drunken driving. He tested positive for cocaine and marijuana five times between September and November 2018. 

Kenyel Brown

In January 2019, Brown tested positive for cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines.

According to a Sept. 6, 2019, federal probation report, Brown "failed to comply with the substance abuse program ... (he) missed his scheduled treatment session on October 2, 2018."

On Nov. 2, 2018, a therapist reported that "(Brown) has not contacted her to schedule any treatment sessions and has not returned any attempt to contact him."

There were several other violations, court records show.

DEA spokesman Brian McNeal said Brown was never employed by his agency, adding he doesn't believe the DEA was the agency that requested Brown stay out of prison.

"This is still developing, but from what I know now, it was not the DEA," McNeal said.

Chris White, Director Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, called the situation "gross negligence."

"This lapse in record-keeping between agencies led to the loss of lives," White said in a written statement. "This is bad management and the real question is are there others walking the streets that should be serving time?"