Family court judge accused of hiding abuse of grandson

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Tracy Green

The 11-year-old grandson of a Wayne County family court judge testified that his grandmother knew he was being beaten by his father and that she covered bruises on his face with makeup the night before he went to school.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Tracy Green testified that she never saw bruises on her grandson and denied using makeup to cover them. She did acknowledge in court seeing a handprint on her grandson's face from her son and said she knew he used a belt to discipline his two oldest sons. 

The case is unusual given her role as a family court judge who decides whether children should be removed or reunited with parents in similar situations. 

"This was her own family," Wayne State Law professor Peter Henning said. "'How is she going to judge a situation in the future?' an attorney might ask."

"It could call into question her judgment in a close case. This is a very challenging situation."

If she is found to have lied on the stand, the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission could take action, said Deborah Paruch, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. 

"That seriously goes to her ability to remain as a judge," Paruch said. 

A jury heard Green and her grandson's testimony in March and found there was enough evidence to allow the courts to exercise jurisdiction over the kids and start the process to terminate 31-year-old Gary Davis-Headd's parental rights to the 11-year-old and his four other younger children, who are now living with their biological mothers.

The case is pending and more hearings are scheduled for next month in front of visiting Judge Bryan Levy, who stepped in after another judge recused himself. 

Green was elected in November to the court's family division after a more than 20-year career as an attorney and is known for work as an advocate for reuniting parents and kids in the foster care system, particularly low-income families.

As a judge, court rules bar Green from commenting on pending court cases.

“Because I am a judge, I cannot ethically speak about someone else’s pending litigation — even, and especially, my own son's case. But I can say this: I have done nothing wrong, I am not on trial here, I stand by my previous testimony, and I pray that my reputation for integrity and decency will speak for me," Green said in a written statement. 

Green has had a strained relationship with the older boys' biological mother, Choree Bressler, and cited her "active undermining of my relationship" with the two older grandsons in emails to state child abuse investigators. Davis-Headd's attorney Brenda Richard argued in court that the kids may have been coached.  

Green said she didn't learn about her son's use of a belt until she met with state investigators. She also maintained in the emails that state workers didn't properly investigate the case and were biased. Officials the state's Children’s Protective Services declined comment. 

The 11-year-old son testified in March that his mom, Bressler, told him to "just tell the truth."

"I know he told the truth," Bressler told The News. "I am trying to reverse what they did to my sons."

Davis-Headd was charged in November with two felony counts of second-degree child abuse and two counts of third-degree child abuse. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. His trial is scheduled for June. 

He also was charged at the same time with domestic violence and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, accused of strangling his wife on April 15, 2018. That woman was the step-mother of the 11-year-old. 

Davis-Headd has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is out on bail. 

The children were removed from Davis-Headd's home on June 24 after Detroit police responded to 911 calls from neighbors.

The 11-year-old testified in March about that day, saying his dad took his 9-year-old brother in the bedroom first and that he could hear his screams and him getting hit. When his brother came out, he was crying and his legs were red. When it was the 11-year-old's turn in the room, his dad told him to take his clothes off before he struck him with a whip or belt, according to a transcript of the testimony.

The 11-year-old said this happened "plenty of times before" and described other instances where the father tied his arms and legs to the bed during the beatings. 

The father admitted striking the children, telling investigators he "made them kneel on a pillow with their face down on the bed and hit them with a belt" while in their underwear, according to a CPS report. 

When lawyers asked the 11-year-old who he told about what was happening, he said he told his grandmother. 

"How often do you think you told your grandmother what was going on, how often?" Assistant Attorney General Joseph Ortiz asked.

"Like, almost every time I saw her I told her," the child testified. "I told her about the time he choked (his stepmom). I told her about the time he beat us that I remember. I don't remember too much now. I told her about most everything."

He also testified Green put makeup on his bruises. 

"Was there a time (child's name) where you went to school when you were going to public school and you had bruises and they were covered up?" asked Troy Tipton, the lawyer for the children. 

"Yeah, because Tracy, she would put makeup on my face," the child testified. 

Tipton later asked: "Was the makeup put on your bruises?"

"Yeah, but she wouldn't do it before school," the child testified. "She would do it the night before school. Like, if it was Sunday and we had school on Monday, she would do it, like, we were at her house on Sunday, she would do it before we left to go back home," the child testified.

He testified Green wouldn't put the makeup on his younger brother because the father was hitting him "around the legs."

In a summary report from state Children's Protective Services, Green was reported to have told investigators that "she knows her son is a very strong disciplinarian and she never thought that 'it' was this bad."

The report states that Green told CPS that after seeing the handprint on her grandson's face, she "spoke to her son about how he disciplined the children", according to the report. 

"Ms. T. Green reported that the children had told her in the past that they would get 'spankings' but she never asked what a spanking was," the report reads. 

Before the March testimony, the older boys told CPS workers about makeup being put on their bruises, with the 11-year-old saying "they put makeup on it."

Davis-Headd and Bressler had a contentious divorce, which ended in 2015 with him gaining custody of the two older boys.

Green met with CPS investigators in October and the Michigan Attorney General's Office called the meeting "inappropriate" in court filings because she was an attorney. She had not been elected as Judge until the following month.