Detroit police officer charged in crash that killed longtime attorney Cliff Woodards

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A Detroit police officer has been charged in connection with the death of longtime Detroit defense attorney Cliff Woodards II.

Woodards, 58, was killed about 1 a.m. Feb. 8 when his Lexus IS 250 was struck at the Interstate 96 service drive and West Chicago by policeofficerTeaira Iris Funderburg's patrol vehicle. Funderburg, 29, of Detroit was on duty with another officer traveling eastbound on I-96 with emergency lights and the vehicle's siren activated in response to a call of an officer needing assistance.

Funderburg is charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, a felony which could land her in prison for up to 15 years if she is convicted as charged, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Thursday. She is also charged with one count of willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor with a penalty of a maximum of a year in jail.

Cliff Woodards II is remembered during a memorial service at the Charles Step Funeral Home in Redford Township on Saturday, February 13, 2021
Max Ortiz, The Detroit News

When Funderburg exited the freeway onto the I-96 service drive, she was driving at a high rate of speed and disregarded a red signal light at the intersection of West Chicago Road and the Jeffries Service Drive before striking Woodards’ vehicle, Worthy said in a press release. 

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig previously said a police Ford Explorer with its lights and sirens exited the freeway at 59 miles per hour. It slowed to about 47 miles per hour when it reached the intersection before striking Woodards' vehicle, which was southbound on West Chicago.

Funderburg was arraigned via video conference Thursday in 36th District Court and given a $100,000/10% bond. A not guilty plea was entered on her behalf. A formal reading of the charges was waived.

Funderburg is due back in court for a probable cause conference on July 7 and a preliminary examination on July 14, and both hearings are scheduled before 36th District Court Judge Kenneth King.

Her attorney, Jill Schinske, declined to comment but said in the hearing that "this situation was a tragic incident" and that Funderburg has been in counseling since the crash.

Schinske said Funderburg, a Redford mother of three, needs to drive and asked Magistrate Joseph Boyer not to restrict her driving privileges. Schinske said Funderburg is on disability leave from the department.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Kyle Heika asked that Funderburg be restricted from driving, saying she has three prior vehicle crashes, including one in which she ran a red light while on duty. Funderburg, according to Heika, also has four prior speeding citations.

"This crash has been found by multiple of her superior officers to have been preventable," Heika told Boyer, adding that Funderburg was "driving in a grossly negligent way."

Funderburg is on medical disability from the force, Second Deputy Chief Rudy Harper confirmed.

Detroit Police Officer Teaira Iris Funderburg

Calling the loss of Woodards a "tragic, tragic" event, interim Detroit Police Chief James White said Thursday he will recommend to the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners that Funderburg be suspended without pay. 

He added that Funderburg's actions don't represent those of "the thousands and thousands of police officers that I have here that do this job day in and day out."

"I can't get into the head of the officer and exactly what occurred," he said. "I think it's best to let the judicial process play itself out. My heart and prayers go out to the Woodards' family."

Attorney Arnold Reed, who is representing Woodards' family, said Thursday the family is grateful for the latest development in the case.

"It's a relief," Reed told The News. "There has been a lot of criticism and rumblings in the community about how long this process took. But people have to understand that the prosecutor is extremely thorough and in this investigation they left no stone unturned. On behalf of the family and myself we are extremely appreciative that they left no stone unturned. We’re fortunate to have a prosecutor be so thorough as they were in this investigation."

brand-williams@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @oralandar_dn