Hoping for justice

Jul 4, 2001 at 12:00 am

A case that literally began with a bang ended with a pitiful sort of whimper last week when the City of Detroit agreed to make yet another payment as a result of a fatal shooting involving one of its police officers.

What’s unfortunate, in the opinion of News Hits, is that the 1999 killing of 30-year-old Billy Gissendanner is not going to be examined by an impartial jury.

A jury had been selected. Opening statements were made. And the officer who did the shooting, Eric Ewing, had been grilled on the stand. Then, on Wednesday, the second day of the trail in Wayne County Circuit Court, Gissendanner’s widow, Tina, failed to show.

She had been absent the afternoon before as well. After a lengthy delay, one of her attorneys told Judge Gershwin Drain that she was in the hospital after apparently taking an overdose of the prescription antidepressant Prozac.

In our article about the shooting last year, we reported that Tina Gissendanner was battling alcoholism and, according to a psychiatric report, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression as a result of seeing her husband gunned down.

As the trial began, News Hits wondered what it must be like for her, sitting in the courtroom at a table just three chairs away from the man who did the shooting.

Apparently, it was too much to bear.

Her attorneys emerged from a conference in Drain’s chambers, shaking their heads. News Hits suspects some judicial arm-twisting occurred behind those closed doors, because it was announced soon afterward that the case would be settled for $350,000.

We hope, however, that this is not the end of things.

As we reported in December, the city claimed the shooting was justified because Gissendanner came at an officer with a kitchen steak knife.

Tina claimed her husband held no knife that night. Beyond that, accounts from other witnesses and a substantial amount of evidence gathered by attorney Nathan French seriously called into question the police version of events. Clinton Donaldson, a well-respected former commander in the Detroit Police Department, provided sworn affidavits saying that, in his opinion, it appeared one officer involved in the case filed a false report to mislead investigators and another officer provided apparently false testimony during a sworn deposition.

We strongly urge that the U.S. Justice Department take a long and hard look at this case as part of its investigation of the Detroit Police Department. If the feds are serious about determining whether the department actively whitewashed its investigations of shootings involving wrongful use of lethal force, this case in particular deserves thorough scrutiny.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette, the Metro Times news editor. Call 313-202-8004 or e-mail [email protected]