2 exonerated in tainted Detroit drug cases; others likely to follow
Detroit — Wayne County prosecutors have dismissed charges against two men whose convictions relied on tainted evidence presented by Detroit drug cops — the first of what authorities say will likely be multiple exonerations to come from an ongoing investigation into corruption in the police department's narcotics unit.
Prosecutors say one of the exonerees, Darell Chancellor, was convicted in 2012 by fraudulent evidence that was submitted by an officer who is still on the police force. Police officials say they're deciding what action to take against the officer, whose name is being withheld because he has not been charged with a crime.
"We were notified by prosecutors last week that they were dropping the cases," said Christopher Graveline, director of the Detroit police Professional Standards Section. "We’ve opened an internal investigation into the officer, and when that's done I'll be making a recommendation to the chief about his status."
Darrell Richmond, the second man whose case was dismissed Tuesday, was convicted of a drug charge last year after former Detroit police narcotics officer Michael Mosley presented false information in a search warrant affidavit, Graveline said.
Last month, Mosley pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting $15,000 in bribes from a drug dealer. On Aug. 22, the same day Mosley was indicted, Detroit internal affairs investigators raided their department's narcotics unit, seizing 50 computers and dozens of files.
Police chief James Craig said he ordered the raid because he suspected there were more tainted cases involving Mosley and members of his crew. The seven-month investigation has uncovered alleged corruption that includes drug cops planting evidence, lying to prosecutors in search warrant affidavits, robbing dope dealers and embezzling funds, Craig said.
Graveline told the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last month that the probe, which is being conducted by Detroit internal affairs officers, FBI agents and Michigan State police investigators, has unearthed "about a half-dozen possibly false affidavits," and he suggested there could be more.
In announcing she was dropping charges against Chancellor and Richmond, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said she expects more wrongful convictions to be uncovered.
"These are the first cases that deal directly with fraudulent search warrant affidavits and other activities by highly unethical and compromised narcotics police officers," Worthy said in a press release Tuesday. "These cases take time to review, and we expect that there will be more. I will not hesitate to free other wrongfully convicted individuals if we find tainted or fraudulent evidence."
The prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit, which looks into claims of wrongful convictions, recommended dropping charges against Chancellor, while the prosecutor's Public Integrity Unit, which investigates misconduct by public officials and police, recommended Richmond's release from prison.
Graveline said only one of the two cases dismissed this week was directly tied to the ongoing probe.
"Mr. Richmond's case came directly from the investigation that was opened up by the chief," Graveline said. "Chancellor's case was from a report that initially went to the prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit.
"The Integrity Unit worked Chancellor's case with normal internal affairs investigators over the past year, then, independently, the task force (working on the current narcotics unit investigation) brought Richmond's case to the prosecutors' attention," Graveline said. "Mosley was associated with Richmond's case."
Graveline said he isn't certain whether Chancellor's case is tied in with the alleged corruption that sparked the current investigation, although the allegations about drug cops submitting false search warrant affidavits are similar.
After the August raid, investigators seized records going back 10 years, although so far only a few years of cases have been scrutinized, Graveline said.
"(Chancellor's) conviction is from 2013, and (the current probe) hasn't gone back that far yet," Graveline said. "It may be connected but we don't know."
Although the investigation into the narcotics unit has uncovered multiple instances of officers presenting false affidavits, Graveline said not all of those cases resulted in convictions, or even arrests.
"Sometimes the evidence was thrown out in court during motion hearings, or no arrest was made because nothing was found in the house (after a raid)," Graveline said.
Police officials said the drug unit probe found multiple cases of narcotics officers raiding suspected dope houses, and improperly turning drug dealers into informants instead of arresting them. The dealers would tell the officers where they bought their drugs from, and the cops would allegedly raid the supplier and repeat the process.
Graveline said some of the false affidavits his team has uncovered since August involved those cases, as well.
Gabi Silver, the attorney for Chancellor and Richmond, said her clients were the victims of dirty drug cops.
"I don't want to release too much information right now, but these cases are related to the ongoing investigation into the narcotics unit," Silver said.
Chancellor was convicted in December 2012 of possession of 450 grams to 999 grams of cocaine. He was sentenced to 14 years, three months to 30 years as a habitual fourth offender.
Richmond was convicted in August of delivery/manufacture of narcotics less than 50 grams, and second-degree felony firearm. He was sentenced to 3-20 years on the drug charge and a five-year consecutive sentence on the felony firearm charge.
"The alleged evidence in the case about Mr. Chancellor cannot be corroborated and has been credibly refuted," the prosecutor's press release said. "It was based upon a fraudulent search warrant. Mr. Chancellor’s claim that he was wrongfully convicted is credible.
"The DPD and FBI investigation clearly shows that the information provided in the search warrant for Mr. Richmond’s home was based upon false and not-credible information," the release said.
Silver praised prosecutors for working to quickly free her clients.
"What's remarkable here is that Kym Worthy and Val Newman (who heads the Conviction Integrity Unit) worked tirelessly to get these guys out of prison in the midst of this (COVID-19) pandemic," Silver said. "I appreciate it, and so do my clients' families."