BY: COREY WILLIAMS
DETROIT — A Detroit police officer was charged Tuesday in the slaying of a 7-year-old girl who was shot to death during a midnight raid on her home by a special unit that was being shadowed by a reality television show crew.
Officer Joseph Weekley, a member of the Detroit Police Special Response Team, was indicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge after a nearly yearlong Michigan State Police investigation into the May 16, 2010, death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones.
Aiyana was on a sofa on the first floor of a two-family home when Detroit police tossed a flash grenade through a window and burst through the front door. Detroit police have said Weekley’s gun accidentally discharged after he was bumped or jostled by the girl’s grandmother.
A film crew with the A&E Network’s “The First 48” crime reality cable TV show was shadowing Detroit police on the raid. The TV show tracks murder investigations during the first two days after a slaying, and Aiyana’s death put a spotlight on the growing number of reality shows focusing on law enforcement.
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that the TV show’s principal photographer, Allison Howard, also was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.
According to the indictment, Howard, of Brooklyn, N.Y., is accused of lying to prosecutors about showing or giving video footage of the raid to “third parties.” It did not specify who the third party was, but after the raid, an attorney for the family told reporters they had seen a few minutes of the video footage.
Further details about the charges against Howard were not immediately available. Assistant prosecutor Robert Moran told a judge on Tuesday that the investigation into the girl’s death was delayed seven months “because of the perjury,” but he did not elaborate. All Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy would say was that “impediments” surfaced during the investigation. She declined to provide more details.
A judge entered a plea of not guilty for Howard on Tuesday at a court hearing. A message seeking comment was left with her Detroit-area attorney, Robert Harrison. A message seeking comment also was left after business hours Tuesday for an A&E spokeswoman.
A judge also entered a plea of not guilty for Weekley at the afternoon court hearing. The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. He also faces a charge of careless discharge of a firearm causing death.
“He knows he was acting as a police officer in a dangerous mission,” Weekley’s lawyer, Steve Fishman, said of his client.
“I don’t think anybody realizes how their lives change,” Fishman said of police officers involved in shootings. “People think they’re androids and robots, and they’re wrong.”
Soon after Aiyana’s slaying, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing banned reality television crews from tagging along with police. He also admonished then-Police Chief Warren Evans for not telling him that he was permitting TV cameras on raids.
On May 18, 2010, an attorney representing the girl’s family in a civil suit against the city and police department and told reporters that he viewed three to four minutes of video footage of the raid and that it showed a group of black-hooded officers approaching the house before the flash grenade was thrown through the window and the shot being fired.
“We know there’s only one shot,” attorney Geoffrey Fieger said during the press conference last year with Aiyana’s family. “It’s vividly depicted in the videotape … right after the throw and the explosion of the bomb. At that point the officers rush into the home.”
Fieger declined to say what footage he viewed and said he did not retain a copy. A message seeking comment from Fieger was not immediately returned Tuesday.
The focus of the raid was Chauncey Owens, the fiance of Aiyana’s aunt. Owens was wanted in the May 14, 2010, shooting death of 17-year-old Je’rean Blake outside a nearby convenience store. Owens was found in the separate upstairs apartment.
Owens pleaded guilty in April to second-degree murder in Blake’s death. On Tuesday, Worthy also announced that Charles Jones, the girl’s father, had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in Blake’s slaying. Jones did not have an attorney on Tuesday and phone number for him and his family could not immediately be found.
“It is alleged that after an argument, Jones accompanied Owens to the scene of the shooting and aided, abetted, and encouraged Owens during the murder of Blake,” Worthy said in a statement.
Charles Jones was expected to be arraigned Wednesday. A pretrial hearing is scheduled Friday for Weekley and Howard.
Weekley was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond. Howard was required to come up with a $5,000 of a $50,000 bond to be released.
“Our condolences remain with all affected by this tragedy. We must use this difficult moment to continue bringing our community and police department together,” Bing said in a statement.
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