Suit targets Detroit, church, companies in burial plot mixups

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the City of Detroit, a church and two local companies in connection with the recent discovery of burial plot mixups at Gethsemane Cemetery.

The 18-page lawsuit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, accuses the city, New Calvary Baptist Church, Necaba Management Group Inc. of Southfield and the Enduring Memories Cemetery Management Company in Detroit of gross misconduct and business practices and failing to provide adequate burial services and maintenance of plots at the cemetery on the city's eastside.

Persons wearing shirts that say 'FBI Evidenct Response Team', and others digging at Gethsemane Cemetery, Mausoleum and Crematory in Detroit on June 7, 2021.

New Calvary was subcontracted by the city's Recreation Department to maintain the grounds of Gethsemane Cemetery from 1992 to 2012, according to city documents. In turn, the church subcontracted the maintenance services to Necaba Management Group, which was the maintenance services provider of the cemetery until its contract was terminated last year.

Enduring Memories Cemetery Management took over the maintenance of Gethsemane last year, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are Tawauna Perkins and Tony Thomas. 

Perkins' brother Owen Gray was buried at Gethsemane after his death in 2018. While visiting her brother's grave, Perkins discovered, according to the lawsuit, burial plots were "seemingly" destroyed and many headstones at the cemetery appeared to have been dug up or "laying in disarray" behind a building.

Perkins said her brother's headstone was cracked as if it had been moved or broken.

Thomas alleges that his mother's headstone had been moved while he was visiting the cemetery on three different occasions. Thomas said he also noticed that there were boulders and dirt around where his mother's burial plot had been. He later discovered, according to the lawsuit, that his mother's grave had been relocated without notifying him or his family.

Thomas'  mother, Mary Ann Thomas, died in 2011.

Perkins and Thomas were not available for comment Wednesday on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that burial plots were "double sold" but families were told they were buying single plots.

"Families have been victimized by defendants' action and their gross disregard for the final resting place of plaintiffs' loved ones, " the lawsuit alleges.

Joe Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf in Berwyn, Pa., which filed the class-action lawsuit along with a Troy law firm, said Wednesday: "We look forward to litigating this case to seek the appropriate relief for the families who have been impacted by these egregious allegations and pushing for the answers they deserve."

On Monday, investigators from the Detroit Police Department and the local office of the FBI began exhuming remains at Gethsemane as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the complaints of mixups in burial plots.

A Detroit woman complaint that her brother's body was missing and although his headstone was there, the body of her brother was missing and the burial plot contained the bodies and caskets of four other individuals instead.

 John Roach, a spokesman for the city, said the city took over the cemetery about 20 years ago. He declined to comment further.

Efforts to reach New Calvary, Necaba Management Group and Enduring Memories Cemetery Management Company for comment were unsuccessful Wednesday.