Group to handle Detroit crimes against LGBT community

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — A nonprofit group will help Wayne County’s prosecutor and law enforcement investigate crimes against the LGBT community, officials announced Tuesday.

The Fair Michigan Justice Project will provide an investigator and a special prosecutor to solve and prosecute serious crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

The project was created after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy asked Dana Nessel, president of Fair Michigan, for suggestions on how to better serve the LGBT population when they become victims.

“I noticed a national trend, ticking upward, of people being killed because of their sexual orientation,” Worthy said during the announcement at the Penobscot Building.

Their conversation and initiative took place before the June shooting in Orlando that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub, Nessel said.

“Whether it’s same-sex marriage or fighting for protections for people based on their sexual orientation, Kym has been there (for the LGBT community) every step of the way,” Nessel said.

Fair Michigan is a nonprofit that that aims to “create a Michigan where the presence and contributions of everyone are welcomed and celebrated regardless of their gender, gender identity, sex, or sexual orientation,” its website said.

The project is hailed as the first of its kind — a privately funded effort to protect a specific community.

“(LGBT people) are more likely to be targeted for a hate crime in America than any other group,” Nessel said.

When such crimes happen, law enforcement isn’t always sympathetic, Detroit police Chief James Craig previously has said. That’s part of the reason why he appointed Officer Dani Woods as the department’s LGBT liaison in 2013.

Woods regularly meets with leaders of Detroit’s gay and lesbian communities.

The day after the mass shooting in Orlando, Woods walked in Detroit’s PRIDE parade in full uniform.

Craig was eager to join the justice project, Nessel said. For now, the project will work in Detroit. But the plan is to expand to other communities in Wayne County, Worthy said.

The project is funded by a grant from the law firm Hertz Schram. Nessel declined to say the size of that grant or how long it would last.

Worthy, who said she has become an expert in the art of “professional begging” during her multi-year effort to get 11,000-plus rape kits in Detroit tested and offenders prosecuted, will help raise funds, and Fair Michigan will seek out grants to continue and expand its work.

One case the initiative will take on is that of Amber Monroe, a 20-year-old transgender woman who was shot and killed while exiting a vehicle early Aug. 8, 2015, in the McNichols and Woodward area. Monroe was the 12th transgender person killed in America that year. Ten of them were transgender women who were minorities. Monroe had been shot twice previously.

Monroe’s death is one of 12 cases the project will focus on initially. Included are five other homicides, which Worthy described as “particularly brutal.”.

Police will comb their files in search of relevant cold cases.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office named former Assistant Prosecutor Jaime Horowitz as special prosecutor for the Fair Michigan Justice Project.

Former Inkster police Chief Vicki Yost, who has worked as a private investigator since resigning her post in April 2015, will be a special investigator.

Yost, a former assistant police chief in Detroit, described her new work as not only a “second act,” but a chance to work in two worlds she has long been a part of: Law enforcement and the LGBT community.