Police to search landfill for body of 17-year-old Eastpointe girl

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Lenox Township — Dozens of investigators from multiple agencies and civilians plan to search a landfill for the body of a 17-year-old Eastpointe High School student who was reported missing in January, officials said Thursday.

Detroit Police Chief James White embraces Ciera Milton, mother of Zion Foster, who disappeared on Jan. 5. 2022 as the Detroit Police Department announces Operation Justice for Zion, which is described as a collaborative recovery operation to bring Zion Foster home to her family during a news conference in Lenox Twp. on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

As police prepare to search for Zion Foster's body in the Pine Tree Acres landfill on 29 Mile Road in Lenox Township, prosecutors are considering a warrant request.

During a press conference at the Lenox Township Community Center, Detroit Police Chief James White said investigators believe Zion is dead, and that the multijurisdictional effort, dubbed "Operation Zion" is a "recovery effort."

Investigators suspected Zion was killed within weeks of her Jan. 5 disappearance, Detroit Police Cmdr. Michael McGinnis said. Police think her remains were left in a Dumpster after she was killed, and that the container's contents were taken to the landfill.

Detroit police investigators notified landfill officials in late January to secure the area and stop adding new trash. But White said police will wait until May 31 to commence the search because of contaminants and other "health concerns."

Zion's mother Ciera Milton broke into tears during Thursday's briefing. She said it was difficult to grasp "that my baby has to be recovered from the trash."

Milton said her daughter had turned 17 in November and was looking forward to several upcoming milestones.

Ciera Milton, the mother of Zion Foster, who disappeared on Jan. 5, 2022, breaks down with emotion in response to  Operation Justice for Zion which is described as a collaborative recovery operation to bring Zion Foster home

"We were supposed to have pictures, and graduation and prom, and getting a license," she said between sobs. "I just want to know what happened to my baby."

Investigators plan to search a 100-foot by 100-foot mountain of trash, Detroit Police Sgt. Shannon Jones said.

"There will be about 40 searchers (from police departments), plus additional manpower of 30 people," said Jones, who investigates missing persons cases.

McGinnis said police have submitted a warrant to Wayne County prosecutors seeking murder charges against Zion's cousin, 23-year-old Jaylin Brazier. 

Brazier, reportedly the last person seen with Zion before she disappeared, was named as a person of interest in the case in January. 

The day after he was publicly named as a person of interest, Brazier surrendered to police. In March, he was convicted of lying to Eastpointe police about the investigation into Zion's disappearance. He is serving a one- to four-year sentence at the Charles Egeler Reception And Guidance Center in Jackson.

"We are convinced that Mr. Brazier was responsible for the death of Zion," McGinnis said. "We've submitted a warrant request, and prosecutors are reviewing that."

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller confirmed her office is reviewing a warrant seeking homicide charges in the Foster case, although she would not confirm the request involved Brazier. 

Center Line attorney Timothy Doty, who represented Brazier when he was charged with lying to police, questioned why investigators waited so long to conduct the search.

Doty said he isn't currently representing Brazier "because he's not been charged yet, and nobody has contacted me."

Ciera Milton (left), mother of Zion Foster, who disappeared on Jan. 5. 2022, gets an emotional hug from Kayla Foster during a news conference in Lenox Township on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

It may be difficult to find evidence after five months, Doty said.

"If they find evidence of strangulation or a bullet hole, maybe they'll be able to charge him," Doty said. "But after five months, if the body is decomposed and they can't find something that implicates him, then they can't charge him with anything."

Doty said during court hearings in the Eastpointe case, Brazier claimed Zion died from smoking marijuana.

"He admitted in court that when they got back to their house, they pooled some pot together and smoked it," Doty said. "He went upstairs and when he came down 20 minutes later, she was barely breathing. He tripped out and by the time he went back to her, she'd stopped breathing."

McGinnis said in order to protect the "integrity of the investigation," he couldn't share some information about the case.

"I wish I could get into the specifics and details; if I could you'd all be as disgusted as we are with this case," he said. "I will say that Zion Foster left her home with Jaylin Brazier and she never returned.

"Within two weeks it became evident that Zion was deceased," McGinnis said. "The investigation supports that Zion is likely deceased and that her remains were placed in a Dumpster that was later transferred to the landfill."

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said he'd provide whatever resources were needed for the search.

"It's our responsibility as law enforcement to this mother to find the answers to two questions," said Hackel, a longtime Macomb County sheriff. "Where is she? And how did this happen?"


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN