Still wondering

News Hits is perplexed, to say the least, by a recent letter it received from Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings. Last spring, we wrote the Police Department and other city officials regarding questions we had about Detective Derryck Thomas. The detective apparently provided false information about a homicide investigation in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court, claiming in a sworn statement that a murder suspect had passed a polygraph test when, in fact, the suspect was deemed to have flunked the exam.

We wanted to know if the department intended to do anything about the situation.

Apparently not.

The chief wrote to inform us that the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) looked into the matter and concluded that “there was an error in relating the facts of the incident that took place over a year ago, but not an intentional signing of an affidavit in a civil action that contained false information.”

Bully-Cummings also wrote that all questions regarding the matter should be directed to Lt. Billy Jackson of the homicide unit.

News Hits has plenty of questions. Unfortunately, Jackson did not return our calls.

Had we spoken to him, we would have asked Jackson how it was determined a) that Thomas had made an “error,” b) that it was unintentional, and c) what, if any, action has been taken to clean up the mess.

In short, the letter raises nearly as many questions as Thomas’ handling of the homicide investigation that his affidavit references.

Here’s the background:

Thomas headed the murder investigation of Janice Williams, who was shot and stabbed in her Detroit home in January 2002. Williams’ killing was the subject of a Metro Times exposé (“Confessions & recantations,” Jan. 21, 2004), which raised questions about the department’s handling of the case, as well as how Thomas and other officers obtained a confession from Williams’ then 13-year old son, Antoine Morris, who allegedly said he helped a friend, Vidale McDowell, kill his mother.

On the night of the murder, Morris denied having any knowledge of the crime. But about a month later, Thomas interrogated Morris for more than eight hours and obtained an incriminating statement from him. The following day another officer questioned Morris and obtained a second statement, in which Morris implicated himself and McDowell.

Morris almost immediately recanted the statements, saying Thomas and other officers coerced him.

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin allowed prosecutors to admit the second statement without ever calling Morris to testify at trial. The confession was read to the jurors, who convicted the then 18-year-old McDowell. (He was sentenced to life in prison, but was later released when the U.S. Supreme Court essentially ruled in another case that a defendant has the right to confront his accuser. Morris received probation.)

Also, on the night of the murder, Detroit police questioned Terry Thompson, a recent acquaintance of Williams, who was in the house when Williams was killed. The police cleared Thompson.

Last year, Metro Times interviewed Detective Thomas and asked why the police cleared Thompson of the murder. Thomas said that Thompson had passed a polygraph test and a gunpowder residue test; in fact, Thompson had failed both. When Metro Times told Thomas that Thompson failed the polygraph test administered by the Detroit Police and showed him the results, Thomas said, “Oh yeah, he sure did.”

Despite Thomas’ knowledge of the polygraph test results, the detective signed an affidavit in April 2004 claiming “That Terry Thompson did, in fact, submit to a polygraph examination the results of which reflected no deception as to all relevant questions pertaining to the homicide.”

Thomas’ affidavit was filed in a case before U.S. District Court Judge Paul D. Borman regarding a dispute over Williams’ life insurance proceeds, which were to be split among her three children. The federal lawsuit filed on behalf of her two daughters claims Morris should not receive his share because he allegedly helped kill Williams. A motion was filed earlier this year asking Borman to rule against Morris. Borman has not yet ruled and the case is still pending.

So, why did Thomas sign an affidavit containing false information? Thomas refused to comment when News Hits confronted him last spring.

As for the chief, though her letter verifies that Thomas’ affidavit contains false information, she does not indicate whether she or anyone at the police department told Borman. A recent review of the court file shows that Thomas’ inaccurate affidavit is still part of the court record. In fact, the motion asking the judge to exclude Morris from his share of his mother’s life insurance relies, in part, on Thomas’ false affidavit; it blames Morris and McDowell and clears Thompson of Williams’ murder.

If she hasn’t already, News Hits suggests that Bully-Cummings contact Borman — ASAP. Then she should ask Thomas how he cleared Thompson of this case when he not only failed the polygraph test, but was in Williams’ home the night she was murdered.

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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