The Westland based Neo-Nazis began visiting Ann Arbor annually beginning in 1982. They continued to come for a number of years and their demonstrations always led to a confrontation with counter protestors.
Each time they came the police department suffered criticism for “protecting” the Nazis. Each time our city attorney advised us that we had to do just that as there was no way to keep them from holding their “recruitment rallies” in Ann Arbor. The Nazis were usually comically dressed in fatigues and Nazi SS uniforms.
The 1982 rally was the start of the violence as the crowd turned ugly as the Nazis rallied at the Federal Building. Over 2000 counterprotestors confronted the Nazis and smashed out two windows at the Federal Building, cornering the Nazis near the front entryway. The crowd showered the Nazis with rocks, bottles, eggs and anything else that could be found nearby. No one suffered serious injuries before the riot could be quelled.
The crowd was momentarily thrown into a panic as a guard inside of the Federal Building drew his weapon and pointed it toward the demonstrators after one of the windows was smashed out. Many people suffered minor injuries, including a protestor who fell and broke his leg when he was pursuing the Nazis.
During the rally of 1983 the Nazis came to city hall in a rental truck. The police were in full riot gear, waiting for the brick and bottle throwing that was sure to come. Even before the rally could begin, rocks and asphalt was flying through the air. Several Nazis were knocked to the ground and the rest ran behind the police lines.
The riot equipped officers moved in and arrested five people, while separating the crowd. The Nazis were grouped back together and loaded on the rental truck for their ride out of town. In all, the Nazi rally lasted 6 minutes before the violence brought it to a close.
The Nazis returned to Ann Arbor in March of 1984 to the same response they received the previous year. Six protestors were arrested and two officers were injured during the violence that followed.
Eleven self-proclaimed Nazis dressed in solid black with Nazi swastikas and riot helmets, carried signs protesting American involvement in Lebanon. The group's spokesman stated the Nazis came to Ann Arbor to protest the communist movement in the city. While he was speaking, a counter protestor broke through the police line shouting, “Your a god-damned killer.” The protestor knocked the spokesman to the ground but was quickly arrested.
Several other protestors then rushed the rest of the Nazis, while the officers rushed forward to stop them. This scuffle was broken up and Chief Corbett ordered the rally halted and the Nazis were then escorted out of town.
The Nazis continued to come to Ann Arbor for a number of years but stopped without comment in the early 1990's.
Relations between Chief Corbett and the rank and file officers were strained early in the his tenure and some looked for dent in the chief's armor and found it with the “A-file.” The “A-file” was a file kept on prominent citizens who allegedly were involved in criminal incidents. This file was kept separate from the police records section and was located in the chief's office. Only the chief had access to it and few within the police department even knew about this file, which came to light with the arrest of a prominent city worker's wife.
Rumors still exist that an officer sent an anonymous letter to the Ann Arbor News, detailing the arrest and missing file as the officer attempted to find it in police records, but could not. The police officers association became involved charging that Chief Corbett unfairly intervened on the behalf of the city official's wife. Mayor Belcher formed a committee to investigate the charge and the file itself. Chief Corbett was cleared of any wrongdoing in the original case, but the “A-file” came to light because of the investigation.
When confronted about the file Chief Corbett defended the “A-file” saying certain cases would gain notoriety just because of the stature of the person involved. Chief Corbett himself decided which files entered the “A-file” and which did not. In doing so he stated, “We consider the stature of the individual and the potential damage to reputation and career.” Also included were reports which alleged criminal offenses by officers.
Mayor Belcher reviewed the entire file which consisted of six reports. Belcher was not overly concerned with this secret file. “There are a lot of files in city hall I probably don't know about,” he said. He did not feel the file was a “covert thing” as the files were cross referenced in the regular filing system.
Mayor Pro-Tem Edward Hood felt differently about the files stating, “The potential for abuse is obviously great.” He suggested a written guideline for maintaining such a file.
Chief Corbett stated the only difference between the “A-file” and any other report is the “physical, logistical storage of them.” Responding to a question if any city council members had reviewed the files the Chief replied, “Our files are sacrosanct. I'm not going to share the records of the department on a routine basis with members of the council, the press or anyone else. They're not entitled.
“The A-file is on a need-to-know basis. Those kinds of reports, involving people of that stature, and brother police officers, don't have to be fingered by 180 employees (on the police department payroll).”
The chief further stated the file was additional security intended to eliminate potential blackmail and gossip. According to the chief the file had been in existence for six years and existed when he took over the job from Chief Krasny.
There was a great amount of pressure on Chief Corbett to eliminate the file, including an editorial in the Ann Arbor News stating the value of such a file was “highly questionable”. The editorial also stated the file smacked as a “double standard” for those people of prominence. It called for the Ann Arbor City Council to demand an end to such a file.
Council was initially slow to move on any abolishment of the file, but pressure grew to do so. Without warning, Chief Corbett announced that he was dissolving the file and the six reports that were in it would be placed into the police department's central records. Council member Virginia Johansen commented on the demise of the file, “There's really no place for a double standard. We're all equal under the law, prominent or not prominent.”
Chief Corbett addressed the council stating, “Apparently there is some perception by the news media and the public that this is some type of sinister file. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“This (the A-file) is purely for the sake of the individual involved who may be completely innocent. We're talking about blackmail, extortion and character assassination by innuendo.”
The chief added that he had never given preferential treatment to any case in the A-file and all records maintained by the department fell within federal and state guidelines.