Daughter of Cliff Woodards, Detroit attorney killed in crash with Detroit police, files lawsuit

The daughter of a prominent Detroit defense attorney killed last year after his vehicle was struck by a Detroit Police Department scout car has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer who was driving the city vehicle.

Southfield attorneys Arnold Reed and Harolyn Beverly filed the lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against the city and police officer Teaira Iris Funderburg.

Woodards II, 58, was a popular local attorney and radio talk show host known for his sharp legal skills, wit and big personality. He was killed about 1 a.m. on Feb. 8 when a Detroit police patrol vehicle responding to a request for backup struck his Lexus IS 250 at the Interstate 96 Service Drive and West Chicago. 

Detroit defense attorney Cliff Woodards II was killed about 1 a.m. on Feb. 8 when a Detroit police patrol vehicle responding to a request for backup struck his Lexus IS 250 at the Interstate 96 Service Drive and West Chicago. His daughter has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city and the officer who was driving a patrol vehicle that struck's Woodards's vehicle.

Reed and Beverly represent Woodards' daughter, Melissa Connelly.

Connelly has faced "overwhelming grief and disappointment" during the preliminary exam in Funderburg's criminal case as she listened to the testimony "that squarely placed the responsibility for her father’s tragic death on the hands of officer Funderburg," said Reed.

Funderburg was driving to a non-emergency call, ran a red light and struck Woodards' car as he made his way home from Detroit's west side, Detroit police said previously.

Funderburg is charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony, and willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor. She is awaiting trial.

Efforts to get comments from the city of Detroit and Funderburg were not successful Monday. Funderburg's attorney, Jill Schinske, declined to comment at a June preliminary hearing but said during the hearing that "this situation was a tragic incident" and that Funderburg has been in counseling since the crash.

Reed said the details surrounding Woodards' death were tragic.

"Cliff died out in the cold of the winter, no friends or family around. He died all alone in the dark of the night," said Reed. “The worst part may be the conscious pain and suffering endured by Cliff prior to his tragic death.

"This all could have been prevented if the officer simply would have obeyed commands and conformed her conduct to the law,” Reed added.

The lawsuit claims Funderburg was "operating the vehicle carelessly, recklessly, and at an excessive speed while continuing to accelerate." 

At the time that she exited the freeway and drove along the service drive, the police department dispatcher "specifically" informed Funderburg that there was no emergency in the situation to which she was to provide assistance, according to the lawsuit.

Funderburg's partner also informed her that the situation to which she was responding was not an emergency but Funderburg continued to drive at an excessive speed, the lawsuit alleges.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig previously said the police vehicle, a Ford Explorer with its lights and sirens on exited the freeway at 59 miles per hour. It slowed to about 47 mph when it reached the intersection before striking Woodards' vehicle, a Lexus IF 250, which was southbound on West Chicago. The speed at impact was 32 mph, Craig said previously.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Kyle Heika told a judge last year that "This crash has been found by multiple of her superior officers to have been preventable," adding that Funderburg was "driving in a grossly negligent way."

Funderburg, according to the lawsuit, had previously been warned and/or disciplined by Internal Affairs on matters relating to her conduct while on the job.

Woodards, according to the lawsuit, was driving lawfully, within the speed limit, with a green signal that gave him the right of way to enter the intersection. He did not have any drugs, alcohol, or other illicit substances in his system that would have impaired his judgment or his capacity to drive safely, according to the lawsuit.

The impact of the crash caused Woodards' vehicle to flip over and smash into a light pole.

Funderburg is due back in court April 11 for a pre-trial conference in the case. She is suspended without pay, Second Deputy Detroit police Chief Rudy Harper said Monday.

Reed said the lawsuit will enable him to get justice for Woodards.

“Cliff would have done the same thing for me,” Reed said.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com