Berman: A tough cop, a beaten man, and Inkster, the city left behind.
If you know anything about Inkster, Floyd Dent’s brutal trauma was predetermined. Like Ferguson, Missouri, another urban suburb with identity issues, Inkster is a place where bad things happen and good people look away.
Or, more to the point, otherwise good people don’t bother to look.
Until now, Inkster got no respect. It has no large cheering section or even a center. As an aging, inner-ring suburb, it’s a city of rundown strip malls and a no-there-there feeling.
When the state closed the city’s underperforming school district two years ago, the district very quietly disappeared, like spring ice melting in a lake.
But in the case of Dent, whose beating was captured on video, looking away was harder. The autoworker was vindicated earlier this week when Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Inkster officer William Melendez with the assault.
Melendez is accustomed to suspicion.
He was once Detroit’s most notorious officer, an oft-accused rogue cop whose reputation for excessive use of force cost the city of Detroit at least $1 million in legal settlements. Known on the streets as a fearsome presence nicknamed “Robocop,” he was tried on federal corruption charges in a 2004 trial that portrayed him as the ringleader of a virtual police gang that planted evidence and threatened suspects. He was acquitted, along with other defendants. Jurors said they didn’t believe the witnesses, most of them drug users or criminals.
One of those witnesses was Kyle Smith, a 24-year-old woman with an infectious laugh and big heart who was gunned down at the height of the 2006 Detroit Super Bowl celebrations. She was a small town girl, from Tecumseh. Kyle’s mother, Vicky Cupp, says her daughter testified against Melendez and was terrified of him. “After that,” Cupp told me Wednesday, “she always slept with a loaded gun beside her.”
Inkster is a city left behind: Once the largest village in Michigan, it is now a shrunken suburb, with fewer people — 25,000 down from 30,000 a dozen years ago — and declining expectations. A police force that had 60 officers working three years ago now has 24. Its school district is closed, and weeds grow on the high school playing field where its football teams were once champions.
Even the city’s mayor, Hilliard Hampton, a political fixture, is stepping aside after 16 years in office. He wishes he could look back at a greater record of accomplishment and progress.
“We are distressed here. We are challenged,” he says.
Inkster’s latest beleaguered police chief, Vicki Yost, submitted her resignation Wednesday, not even a year after her predecessor Hilton Napoleon quit, citing “extreme working conditions.”
She’s at the center of this long overdue storm, including an investigation into how an Inkster cop with a long history of problems, was hired and retained — and essentially promoted after Dent’s hospitalization.
Without an inconvenient videotape being aired on TV, it’s likely that nobody would have seen Floyd Dent beaten and Tasered. Nobody would have believed his story of police abuse.