Artist who sheltered Crumbleys 'hadn't heard anything about charges,' attorney says
An attorney for a Metro Detroit artist linked to an Oxford Township couple whose son is charged in the shooting deaths of classmates said his client was only trying to provide a place for friends who said they had received death threats.
Following a manhunt, James and Jennifer Crumbley were arrested early Saturday at a warehouse studio connected to artist Andrzej Sikora in the 1100 block of Bellevue in Detroit by police, who had been tipped by the building’s owner that there was a vehicle matching the description of one being sought inside his fenced parking lot.
Attorney Clarence Dass described Sikora, a 65-year-old artist and Polish immigrant, as having no knowledge that his friends had been charged with a crime or were the subject of the manhunt last week.
“They knew he had a studio in Detroit and they wanted to put some distance between themselves and Oxford because of death threats,” Dass said Sunday. “They called and asked if they could stay with him for a while, and he met them at his studio Friday afternoon. When he left to go home about 5 p.m. he told them to lock up with they left … He had no idea they planned to spend the night there."
James and Jennifer Crumbley failed to appear for their arraignment Friday afternoon on involuntary manslaughter charges related to the shooting allegedly by their son on Nov. 30 and dropped out of sight, leading to the multi-agency manhunt for them.
“He hadn’t heard anything about charges or press conferences or really anything about what was going on until the next day,” Dass said. “When he did hear about it Saturday morning, he immediately called Detroit police, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and my law firm.”
The Crumbleys’ attorneys insist Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald’s office wasn’t communicative and the couple planned to turn themselves in.
Dass said he was arranging an interview this week with detectives to discuss his client's relationship to the incident.
“He is offering his full cooperation,” Dass said. “There is no way he was obstructing justice or harboring fugitives. He was just temporarily giving them a place where they felt safe and could figure out what they were going to do next.”
Dass added Sikora and the Crumbleys had met on a ski trip several years ago and Jennifer Crumbley had provided marketing services for his artwork.
Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe confirmed that Sikora’s attorney had contacted the Sheriff’s Office. An interview was being arranged, likely to take place for Monday afternoon, according to a release Sunday from the office of Sheriff Michael Bouchard.
"Andrzej Sikora, 65, will be interviewed Monday afternoon by Sheriff’s Detectives as to any connection he may have to the disappearance of Jennifer and James Crumbley," the release said. The couple was the focus of an intensive manhunt Friday and Saturday by the Sheriff’s Fugitive Apprehension Team, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, FBI, Michigan State Police and the Detroit Police Department.
"... They were arrested by Detroit Police early Saturday in a commercial building in the 1100 block of Bellevue near Jefferson Avenue in Detroit. The commercial space is linked to Sikora.
“We will vigorously investigate the totality of the situation so a determination can be made if there is any criminality or obstruction of justice involved,” Bouchard said. “Our findings will be presented to the prosecutor.”
McCabe declined to elaborate on specifics regarding the Crumbleys' relationship with Sikora and what, if any, criminal charges he potentially could face for any involvement with them.
Meanwhile, the Crumbleys' son, Ethan, 15, is being held in the Oakland County Jail without bond and faces charges of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony related to Tuesday's mass shooting at Oxford High School.
Detroit police Chief James White said in a press conference Saturday morning shortly after the couples' arrest that the couple had help getting into the building shortly after their arrest.
“They were aided, and we’re looking into that portion of the investigation, that part is very active now,” said White, adding police know who let them in.
At a Saturday afternoon press briefing, Bouchard said the sheriff's office was asking the public for tips about a person who may have helped the Crumbleys hide.
"We believe they were assisted in that location, to get there and get in," Bouchard said. "We're gathering information and will present that to our prosecutor for potential charges for either aiding and abetting, or obstruction of justice."
Sikora has been doing a mural of Lyle “Red” Knapp, whose relatives operate Red Knapp’s American Grill in Oxford, as part of a renovation of the place, according to a Nov. 18 story in the Oxford Leader.
The cutline for the photo in the story has been erased. But a photo of Sikora for the story was taken by a Jehn Crumbley, according to an archived version of the story. Jehn is Jennifer Crumbley’s nickname.
Video obtained by CNN showed the Saturday morning arrests of the Crumbleys, and Sikora’s name and phone number were listed outside the basement room where they were apprehended.
The phone number outside the room where the Crumbleys were captured is connected to a firm called Decora, which was founded in Detroit in 2011 and listed Sikora as a contact, according to a Dun & Bradstreet database.
Asked if there could be additional charges, White said Saturday it was likely. The department is “working an angle on one other person,” and that Detroit police would work with prosecutors in Wayne and Oakland counties.
White said the couple appeared to be hiding in the building, were not armed when they were arrested and appeared “very distressed as they walked out.”
Police found them in the building "locked somewhere in a room, hiding," McDonald said during the couples' Saturday morning arraignment Saturday morning in 52nd District Court.
Staff Writers James David Dickson and Mike Martindale contributed.