Feds Probe Detroit Cops’ Shooting of 7-Year-Old Girl

And it's not the first time Detroit police have been eyed by the feds amid brutality claims.

By Jamilah King Aug 12, 2010

The investigation into whether Detroit police officers used excessive force in the death of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones is moving forward. Justice Department officials announced yesterday the beginning of its own independent probe of the shooting, reports the Wall Street Journal.

"The shooting of Aiyana Jones has shaken the entire city community, and it demands a thorough and independent investigation," Michigan Rep. John Conyers said in a statement. Conyers serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and formally requested the investigation. "It is plain that something went very, very wrong in Jones’ home," he continued.

Jones was killed in the early morning hours of May 16 after police raided her home in search of a murder suspect. Members of the department’s special response team stormed into the family’s duplex, where one officer, Joseph Weekley, allegedly had an altercation with the girl’s grandmother. Weekley claims the encounter caused his gun to accidentally discharge, killing the second grader as she awoke from sleeping on the family’s couch.

At issue is whether officers threw a flash-bang grenade into the home and began shooting from outside before they entered.

A television crew from the A&E reality TV show "First 48" reportedly caught the entire incident on camera, leading some in the community to accuse the department of beefing up its tactics to draw higher ratings. Earlier this summer, former Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans was forced to resign after his own reality TV show ambitions came to light. Before Jones’ shooting, Warren’s tenure had been considered successful by some residents of the city, who saw violent crime take a steep nosedive.

Yet other residents felt that the city had simply become more militarized. When I spoke to Ron Scott, founder of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, shortly after Jones’ shooting, he remarked that the community’s relationship with the department had grown more hostile. Officers responding to calls had traded ordinary policing methods for riot gear and armored trucks, he said.

In an interview on Democracy Now, Scott went further, adding that the department had enacted "a zero-tolerance framework." He continued, "Essentially these special response teams, fugitive apprehension teams, multi-jurisdictional task forces, with the aid of federal money, have been conducting military-style raids."

This isn’t the first time the department’s been investigated by the feds. Back in 2003, the force was hit with two federal consent decrees based on lawsuits stemming from allegations of excessive force.

While the Justice Department begins its investigation, the Jones family is also moving forward with federal and state lawsuits. Members of the family and their attorney maintain that state police attempted a cover-up in their initial investigation.