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Judge told of informant's 'dangerousness' freed him anyway

George Hunter Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal judge was told about Kenyel Brown’s “dangerousness” and acknowledged “he’s had a hard time following the law and the rules,” but decided not to send him back to prison.

But about three months after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman gave Brown "a break" for violating his probation, the confidential informant allegedly killed six people during a crime spree in Detroit, Highland Park and River Rouge. 

Kenyel Brown

Brown, 40, was an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to Detroit police Chief James Craig. Despite multiple violations while on federal probation for a 2014 gun arrest, Brown was allowed to remain free at the request of an unnamed federal law enforcement agency, a federal court spokesman told The Detroit News this week.

But U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Thursday he has found no evidence of that.

"It has been reported that the federal court released Kenyel Brown from custody at the behest, demand, or request of a federal law enforcement agency," he said in a statement. "So far, I have seen no evidence of that.

"While our review of this matter is in the very early stages, I have seen nothing that shows that any law enforcement agency asked the federal court to release Brown or to keep him out of custody."

During an Oct. 29 hearing on one of Brown's probation violations, Friedman told Brown: “You’ve got to stop doing this,” but added: “I’m going to give you a break,” according to a transcript of the one-minute hearing.

The day of the hearing, Brown was freed from supervised release. Police allege that during an ensuing crime spree in January and February, he committed two carjackings and wounded one person, in addition to the six slayings.

Brown shot himself in the head Monday in the backyard of an Oak Park home, where police confronted him in response to a tip that he'd been spotted in a nearby adult bookstore. He remains in critical condition.

Friedman did not immediately respond Thursday to an emailed request for comment. Brown's attorney, Matt Savich, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

When told about Friedman's hearing, Craig said Thursday he was "troubled" by the judge's decision.

"According to his own words, the judge recognized (Brown) was dangerous, but he released him into the community anyway," Craig said. "What does that judge have to say to the families of the people who were killed?

"It would be one thing if the judge didn't know (Brown) was dangerous, but according to his statement in court, he knew — and now we've got six people dead."

During a press conference Wednesday, Craig said Brown was signed up as a confidential informant for a Detroit police/U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration task force.

According to Craig, Brown was paid $150 after he told police he had information about drug activity involving a southwest Detroit gang. "His information didn't pan out," said Craig, adding that was the only time Brown was used by the task force as an informant.

In March, Brown told a federal magistrate judge that he worked for a cleaning company and a temporary employment firm, earning $9.25 an hour.

During the Oct. 29 hearing, attended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Fairchild and Savich, Friedman said he wanted to give Brown a second chance, according to the transcript. 

“He’s had a hard time following the law and the rules and so forth, and I know what’s stated regarding his dangerousness," Friedman said.

"You’ve got to stop doing this," the judge told Brown. "I know you have an alcohol problem, and I know some other things are going on in your life right now, which I appreciate, and I think that it’s the right thing to do and as a result of that, I’m going to give you a break.

“I’m going to discharge you from probation, not give you any other time because I think, hopefully, you can stay out of trouble, and I think you’re doing some of the right things, too, and I appreciate that, and I think you’re entitled to a break for that," Friedman said.

“So stay out of trouble," the judge said. "I don’t want to see you again, OK?”

Brown said: “Thank you, judge.”

Friedman replied: “All right. Good luck to you.”

There was no reference during the hearing to Brown working as an informant, although it's customary for the government and defense lawyers to meet in private with the judge in the judge’s chambers before going on the record in open court.

Those private meetings provide an opportunity to discuss confidential information regarding informants and investigations.

It was unclear Thursday whether Friedman met with the government and Brown’s lawyer in private before holding the hearing last fall.

Police say Brown's recent crime spree started Jan. 8 when he fatally shot a man in River Rouge. On Feb. 2, police say Brown committed a triple shooting — a double homicide and a reported non-fatal shooting. 

In that incident, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office identified the deceased as Dorian Patterson, 48, and Kimberly Green, 52. Both died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Brown on Feb. 4 with two counts of first-degree murder as well as assault with intent to murder in connection with the alleged Feb. 2 incident.

On Feb. 18, police say Brown fatally shot a man in Highland Park.

Three days later, Brown allegedly fatally shot a 41-year-old man on Detroit's east side and carjacked two vehicles within 19 minutes of each other. The next day, police say Brown fatally shot a 36-year-old man during an argument about drugs.

ghunter@detroitnews.com