FBI offers $25,000 reward in judge's shooting

George Hunter, David Shepardson and Robert Snell The Detroit News

Detroit — The FBI offered a $25,000 reward Friday for information leading to the arrest and conviction of two men responsible for shooting U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg.

The FBI, meanwhile, continued hunting for the men, approximately 18-25 years old who apparently tried to rob the federal judge outside his Detroit home late Thursday.

The FBI would not discuss the search or Berg's medical condition after he was shot in the leg, but his injury is not believed to be life-threatening.

The shooting does not appear to be related to Berg's job or his career as a federal prosecutor, the FBI said.

Berg is a hero who protected his family from robbers and a possibly worse fate, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Friday.

"True to his character, Judge Berg heroically protected his family by refusing to let the robbers inside his home," McQuade told The News.

"He took a bullet in the leg, but possibly spared his family from a worse outcome. All of his friends and former colleagues at the U.S. Attorney's Office are rooting and praying for him for a speedy and full recovery."

Berg, 55, was wounded about 9:10 p.m. Thursday in front of his home in a normally quiet of the city near Seven Mile and Livernois.

The entire incident lasted about 30 seconds and came as Berg was getting his trash cans outside. The two came up from behind and asked to be let in the house. Berg told them he couldn't do that and he was shot, a person briefed on the matter said.

Police arrived at the scene first and asked if he wanted them to take him to the hospital. It's not clear when or if EMS had been called or arrived.

"He was walking up this path here and someone approached him, and I don't know why," said Berg's wife, Anita Sevier, in an interview with WWJ-AM (950).

"And I feel badly that somebody felt that they needed to do this. I feel for people that don't have something else to be doing. I'm sorry that this has to happen."

Police believe the suspects were either trying to rob Berg or strong arm him into letting them into his home. When Berg resisted he was shot in the leg by one of the suspects who then escaped in either a black Chrysler 300 or Charger.

Berg was rushed to a Detroit hospital. He was undergoing surgery Friday morning.

Sevier said she and her husband had lived in the neighborhood for 26 years and considered it safe and friendly.

Next-door neighbor Dalton Roberson Jr. said he was home with his wife and children when he heard one gunshot.

"We heard a loud noise, but we didn't initially attribute it to being a gunshot," said Roberson, 42. "We assumed it was just the kids playing around in the house."

Roberson said he was headed upstairs where his children were playing when he noticed activity next door.

"I heard (Berg's wife) Anita in a bit of distress," Roberson said. "I actually looked through my living room window and noticed that he was laid out."

Police responded almost immediately, Roberson said.

"I came outside to investigate what was going on but the police had responded, everyone was here," he said.

Roberson said he got to know Berg's family "quite well" after moving into the neighborhood over a year ago.

"His wife is quite kind to us," Roberson said. "She brought us a plate of cookies when we moved in … which is something I didn't think people did anymore."

The personal ties extend to Roberson's sister, who has worked with Berg at the Department of Justice in the past, Roberson said.

"They are a wonderful family," Roberson said. "I have nothing but positive things to say about him."

Roberson said he feels safe in the neighborhood.

"Like all neighborhoods in Detroit, there are issues with tire theft or attempted automobile break-ins," he said. "But I feel incredibly safe here. The neighbors all look out for one another; we know each other."

There also is a radio patrol unit that monitors the neighborhood, Roberson said.

"We see the flashing yellow lights on the vehicles patrolling the street quite frequently so I know that they have a very significant presence here," he said.

Roberson said it may simply have been bad luck the shooter struck while the patrol was on another section of its route.

"The radio patrol had done their patrol already and had probably moved on to another block."

Dozens of police officers and federal agents were at the scene early Friday, where yellow tape cordoned off the brick home.

The Detroit Police Department said the case has been turned over to the FBI. On Friday morning, David Porter, spokesman for the bureau, said there was nothing new to report on the attack but indicated more information may be forthcoming later in the day.

Neighbors described Berg as a community man who served as "block captain" for years and is involved in neighborhood running and bicycling groups.

Jen Willemsen, 34, said Berg and his wife purchased and rehabbed a foreclosed home across the street.

"They didn't want it to be empty so they bought it," said Willemsen, who lives several doors down from the judge's house on a street lined with large, well-kept brick homes.

Berg also helps his teenaged son shovel snow for people on the block, she said.

"His son is raising money for a mission trip but Terry ends up doing it," she said.

Ron Kelly, 59, said he did not hear anything when Berg was shot but saw the police response.

"He's a really nice guy," Kelly said of the judge. "I'm just glad he's going to be OK."

Kelly, who has lived on the street since 2009, said he was surprised to hear about the violent crime in a normally safe neighborhood.

"It's kind of unusual," he said. "I haven't heard of this type of thing happening since I've been here," he said.

But Willemsen said she was victim to a similar crime on the same street two years ago.

"I got robbed in front of my own house," she said. "It was about the same time of the night and (the robber) put a gun in my face."

After the robbery, the assailant fled to a minivan waiting nearby, Willemsen said.

"It's intentional," she said. "They had done it before."

On Friday morning, Michigan U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow commented on the assault on Berg.

"I have known Judge Berg for years and greatly admire his impressive record of public service and commitment to equality and justice," said Stabenow, who in 2012 recommended him for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

"Judge Berg acted bravely to protect his wife and children, and I wish him a speedy and full recovery."

Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen also said the entire federal court was thinking of Berg.

"While we are relieved to hear that all indications are that Judge Berg will be fine and make a quick recovery, the thoughts and prayers of our entire court family are with him and his family," Rosen said late Thursday.

Only a handful of federal judges have been shot in U.S. history, most recently Judge John Roll, who was shot and killed in January 2011 near Tucson, Arizona, outside a Safeway where Rep. Gabrielle Gifford, D-Ariz., was holding a meeting with constituents.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK-UP (1-800-773-2587).

Berg was nominated by President Barack Obama to the federal bench in April 2012 and appointed to the lifetime position in December 2012.

He is assigned to the federal courthouse in Flint. He has lived in Detroit for years, a rarity among the federal judiciary in the Eastern District. Many federal judges live in some of the more exclusive suburbs outside the city.

Berg, one of the more physically active judges, is known to run through his neighborhood, said friend Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor.

"He's committed to Detroit," Henning said late Thursday.

"The lucky thing for whoever did this, is that they didn't kill him," Henning said. "Because then, my goodness. I'm glad he's OK."

While early reports indicated the shooting was random, the perpetrators could face federal charges if Berg was targeted because of his job, Henning said.

"If there's any connection to his position as a judge, the guys would be prosecuted federally," Henning said. "Criminals do dumb things. Whoever did this put themselves in the cross-hairs."

Before his federal bench appointment, he was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan since 1989. Berg served as interim U.S. Attorney after former U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy was appointed to the federal bench in 2008. His term ended in January 2010, when Barbara McQuade was sworn in as the first female U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Michigan.

As an assistant U.S. attorney, Berg successfully prosecuted West Bloomfield Township resident Alan Ralsky in 2009. Ralsky was known as the "spam king" for sending millions of emails to boost the price of Chinese stocks.

He was chief of the high tech crime unit under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm when she was Michigan attorney general, under whom he served four years. She also knew him from her stint as a federal prosecutor in Detroit in the early 1990s.

Berg, a Detroit native, was born in 1959 and is married with three children, according to the federal district court website. He received his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1986.

Henning, a Detroit Lions season-ticket holder who along with Berg attended the Dec. 14 game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field, said the judge is well respected among defense lawyers.

"He's as thoughtful as any judge on the federal bench, and so even-tempered," Henning said. "He isn't easy on anyone, but you know you always get a fair shake."

Others weighed in on Twitter after the shooting.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, said she was "praying for the health of federal judge Terrence Berg of Detroit, with best wishes for a speedy recovery."

Detroit News Staff Writers Holly Fournier, Tom Greenwood and Mark Hicks contributed.