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Woman wants lawsuit reopened after learning of dirty Detroit drug cop allegations

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Attorneys for a 64-year-old woman whose house was raided by Detroit police in 2016 are asking a judge to reopen her lawsuit against the city because they say new evidence has surfaced.

At issue is a search warrant obtained by Detroit police Officer Reginald Beasley, which allowed him to raid the home of Fanester James on Sept. 6, 2016. No drugs were found, but city attorneys insist the warrant was solid, and point out that a federal judge rejected claims to the contrary last year by tossing James' lawsuit.

James' lawyers say the matter should be given another look, based on information they learned from reading an Oct. 14 Detroit News story about a press conference in which police Chief James Craig discussed an ongoing internal affairs investigation into alleged widespread corruption in the department's narcotics unit.

Detroit police chief James Craig

During the briefing, Craig said seven officers had stepped down, one had been fired, two others suspended and two more expected to face criminal charges in the wake of the investigation that started in August 2019, when internal affairs officers raided the department's drug unit and seized computers and records.

Among other findings, Craig said the investigation had uncovered about 50 cases of officers lying on search warrant affidavits, which James' attorneys argue should prompt the reopening of their lawsuit that was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in December 2019.

Craig did not identify the officers involved, but James' attorneys say they'd like to know if any members of the crew that raided her house are among them.

"When we originally sued, we were unaware there was an investigation against the narcotics unit," said James' attorney, Jim Razor, who filed a motion for a ruling Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

"We're asking the judge to reopen the matter, so we can discover whether the officer involved in our case is among those who are being investigated for wrongdoing, because the officer's behavior in our case sounds like what was being alleged in (The News') story," Razor said.

After Parker dismissed the lawsuit, Razor and co-counsel Andrew Laurila appealed the decision, but they're now asking the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to hold off on hearing the case until Parker makes her decision on whether to reopen the lawsuit. No hearing has been scheduled, Razor said.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said James' latest motion has no merit.

"Fanester James' case was dismissed months ago," Garcia said in an email. "She appealed the dismissal of her claims, and the matter is currently on appeal.  

"Before her case was dismissed, (James) was given all the materials and information called for as a part of the discovery process in litigation," Garcia said. "I am not aware of anything that could be properly called 'new evidence' — and certainly nothing to upset the dismissal on appeal."

Since the internal DPD investigation began, Wayne County prosecutors have dismissed charges against two men whose convictions relied on tainted evidence presented by Detroit drug cops. Authorities have said they expect multiple exonerations to come from the probe.

According to court documents, in September 2016, Beasley signed a search warrant affidavit swearing that he'd received a tip from a confidential informant that marijuana was being sold out of James' house on Mackenzie Street on Detroit's west side.

Beasley said in the affidavit that he set up and watched a drug buy with the informant, who allegedly bought a "dime bag" of marijuana on the front lawn of the house. The officer wrote that he saw a man go "through the front door" of the home and return with the drugs.

"But in his deposition Beasley contradicted this by saying that the seller only entered the enclosed porch, not the 'front door,'" James' attorneys argued in a court motion. "That is, the only nexus evidenced here is between the porch, allegedly, and the seller. There was nothing connecting plaintiff’s home or plaintiff to this sale.

"While defendant Beasley testified that it is reasonable to assume drug dealers will hide drugs in porches etc., it was just as reasonable that a drug dealer from a different home utilized plaintiff’s porch for his operation and plaintiff’s home had no more drug-relatedness than anybody else. Beasley omitted this evidence from the warrant."

James' attorneys claimed that omission invalidated the warrant, but city attorneys wrote in a response to the motion: "Plaintiff argued that Officer Beasley’s warrant was invalid because it was misleading, an argument which plaintiff had the opportunity to investigate during discovery, and which (the judge) squarely addressed and rejected."

James said she was not home during the reported drug transaction on the front lawn, which city attorneys say negates her claim that there was no such purchase.

Razor said Beasley and other members of the narcotics crew injured his client during the raid.

"They bashed the door into her face, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury — all because someone supposedly had sold a dime bag," Razor said. 

Although Craig publicly discussed the findings of the internal investigation months before giving an update in his October press conference, Razor said those briefings occurred before the judge dismissed the lawsuit.

In the latest filing, James' attorneys said Craig's allegations should be enough to reopen their lawsuit.

"The facts that Beasley testified to pertaining to his use of a confidential informant, which provided the probable cause for the warrant to search plaintiff’s home, eerily mirror these corruption allegations Chief Craig publicly discussed," the filing said.