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Reflections On The 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial

Reflections On The 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial image Reflections On The 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial image Reflections On The 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial image
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For the past six months, my time lias been occupied predominately and pretty near exclusively by the lOth Precinct Conspiracy Trial. Any experience which involves half a year of one's life is bound to be a significant one, but when the outcome of that experience affects all of one's peers as well, the experience hinges on the profound. And the outcome of this trial is exactly that: a profound victory for the citizens of Detroit. For the first time in the city's history, three Detroit cops stand convicted of complicity in the heroin racket. Patrolman Richard Herold stands guilty of obstruction of justice. Sgt. Rudy Davis stands, for the second time in as many years, guilty of obstruction of justice. And Sgt. Robert "Mustache" Mitchell stands guilty of obstruction of justice- and selling heroin. Six of these cops' civilian counterpartsalso stand guilty of selling heroin. Yet judging from the media attention awarded this historie battle, the case has hardly been worth the $2 million spent. securing the guilty verdicts. This tact is only a commentary on the nature of Detroit's media, both electronic and cold type. The Free Press, particularly, is outstanding for its sins of omission. Barely three years ago, the flagship of the mighty Knight-Ridder fleet was in the vanguard of pressing for a solution to Detroit's dope problem, thanks to the efforts of its then ace reporter Howard Kohn, whose actions can only be described as heroic- despite the general disrepute into which most acts of heroism have fallen in the wake of postWatergate cynicism. Hand in glove with Squad 318 chief George Bennett, Kohn and the Free Press exposed publicly for the first time- and then, with Bennett, were responsible for securing indictments against- members of a criminal conspiracy between Detroit cops and city heroin dealers. Immediately thereafter, Kohn's scalpel was removed when he was terrified half to death by evil forces connected with Detroit's underworld, and just when he needed its support the most, Kohn found himself denounced by the very paper that had fostered his investigation, whose stance changed dramatically. No longer could Free Press readers expect a scathing ii i Tril exposure of the heinous forces which have been in large part responsible for bringing Detroit to its knees; indeed, a full circle was completed as the Frce Press took, during its coverage of the trial, almost a singleminded stance of dousing the importance of the evidence by shamefully downplaying the news value of the trial, along with a sometimes tearjerking account of the defendants' point of view. The media impact of the jury's verdict, in fact, was that six cops who stood accused with their three convicted fellows walked- this, despite the absence of doubt in any spectator's mind as to their guilt, and a lack of doubt even among certain of their own attorneys. Two white sergeants who walked-Sgt. William Stackhouse and Sgt. Carlos Gonzales-have asked to be reinstated in the department with full back pay. And many of their unindicted cohorts whose ñames aróse with alarming frequency at the trial will now be able to avoid prosecution, and will, unless they fail to cover their tracks in the future, go on to retire gracefully with full pensions from the pólice forcé- an eloquent reminder that crime does indeed pay when you're a cop. But to blame the Free Press- or even the rest of the media, most of whose reporters only vaguely understood the specifics of the charges, much less the importance of the trial- is to blame Pinocchio without looking at his maker. No, the real blame lies squarely with the person charged with presenting the evidence to a jury of twelve citizens: Wayne County Prosecutor William C. Cahalan, the so-called "People of the State of Michigan." It is an indisputable fact that Cahalan, while an effective Democratie party hack, is a stupid, incompetent prosecutor of crimináis who manage somehow, through money or luck, to derail his diesel of justice and actually plead not guilty. Against those victims from whom Cahalan and the regular process of "justice" have managed to coerce a guilty plea, Cahalan has an outstanding record- a fact which accounts for at least 90 per cent of his convictions. Against anyone who can afford decent counsel- such as members of the Detroit Pólice Officers' Association, the Detroit Pólice Lieutenant and Sergeant's tion, members of organized crime, or even hitmen who make enougli bread-Cahalan is about as effective as a chicken in a fox's lair. In many circles, the charge of delibérate misconduct and even criminal neglect is heard against Cahalan. Certainly there is just cause to warrant such charges. But the overwhelming sentiment, in this observer's judgement, is that his basic stupidity was the prime criterion in his selection by the powers-that-be as Wayne County Prosecutor in 1966. Henee, his track record is all too predictable. Cahalan is at least smart enough to know that he cannot hire any assistant prosecutors who are smarter than he is. As an added incentive, the salary in the Prosecutor's Office for flunkies is about half that which a mediocre divorce attorney could make in private practice. Thus Cahalan's appointment list is made that much simpler, as he is able to piek the dregs of the law schools in most cases, while the cream goes into General Motors, Norman Lippitt's office, or to the increasingly lucrative- if not to say ludicrous- practice of defending govemment snitches (John Whalen being the most recent continued on page 4 ÍOth Precinct Continua! froin p. J example). An interesting illustration is provided by the ÍOth Precinct case. The hifalutin'-sounding Wayne County Organized Crime Task Forcé was the agency responsible for prosecuting the case. The case was brought to them on a . ver platter by Deputy Chief George Bennett, a black officer who has risen by sheer determination through the racist ranks of the Detroit Pólice Department. That, in itself, is usually a considerable victory.but Bennett used his willpower to bring to trial nine members of his own department, at a time when that department was being run by a power-hungry, racist Commissioner who had designs on the office of Mayor of Detroit . and thus total control of the city: one John Nichols. "Blackjack John," however, was defeated by an enlightened citizenry, and people like George Bennett now run the upper echelon of the Detroit Pólice Department. Roy C. ("Joe") Hayes was the chief prosecutor in this case. Joe is a U ot D boy, Notre Dame undergrad, an example of Grosse Pointe society at its seersuckered, good-ole-boy , shitferbrains best. Before a jury which was 75 per cent black, his timing and delivery throughout the trial were roughly equivalent to that of the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan at a Martin Luther King memorial rally. Walter Gibbs was his assistant. Walter is a man whose corpulent protuberance is equalled only by the insincerity of his affected Harvard accent (Walter, unfortunately, was able to attend only the U of Chicago law school, and on the GI bill at that). During the trial, Walter, at his best, most nearly approximated a fire insurance salesman trying to sneak away from a warehouse he has just torched. Gay Davis was the token black secutor in this case. One of the very few blacks in all of Calialan's phalanx of dunderheads. Da vis put to shame Bill "Bojangles" Robinson-who at least could dance great-in the scope of his humiliation in subservience to de boss. Jay Steele, the last prosecutor in the case, is a nice, reasonably competent young lawyer who will not last long aboard Calialan's ship of föols. Jay is responsible for the only good legal work by a prosecutor in this caseand that ability was manifested in the quality of his motions to the court, not in his ability (the little he was permitted to demónstrate) to present a case to a jury. The constant conflict in this observer's mind throughout the trial was whether such a contemptibie miscarriage of justice was not a dead giveaway to the delibérate nature of Calialan's criminality. Such deliberation, however, requires real skill -it takes some consistency to maintain a constant level of criminal behavior. No, I instead came to the same sad conclusión reached by the Left several years ago, after the Prosecutor could no longer blame Moscow and get an automatic conviction-Cahalan & Co. are just plain stupid. But ... as a change of pace, let us bestow some well-earned kudos. First, to Deputy Chief Bennett and his entire crew. Bennett bore the entire brunt of abuse that was heaped upon hini by the white establishment of the Detroit Pólice Department -abuse which included threats on his life-and he also endured the diurnal displays of ineptness by his prosecutorial team. He was also continually subjected to charges of opportunism, whilst the white-controlled media in this town sees nothing wrong with an L. Brooks Patterson busting porn houses for his own politica] gain, and in the case of the Free Press, even editorially supports the financial gain of a crooked Lieutenant Governor whose shenanigans were uncovered by its own reporters a week before the election. But let a black man try and earn some stripes in an attempt to rid this community of its most debilitating plague, and he is a charlatan at best, a Machiavelli at worst. Bennett has the distinction of being labelled both. A very special commendation should go to the unsung 318 cops- men whose occupational anonymity leaves their sacrifices out of the media spotlight, but without whose dedication there could have been no lOth Precinct case. And kudos to the judge in this case- Justin C. Ravitz, whose even-handed legal scholarliness, whose well-wrought and thought handling of the complicated issues raised in the trial, and whose courage and forthrightness remained undaunted throughout the two years of his life which this case took from start to finish. His performance adds a luster to the Recorder's Court Bench -indeed, to all of American jurisprudence -which is unwarranted by the tawdriness of character and scruple that accrues to most of its occupants. And, finally , to the jury in this case-twelve men and women who can only be congratulated for having the guts and insight to convict the defendants they did in a case where most juries would have been so overwhelmed with the simple logistics of a conspiracy trial involving sixteen people that a hung jury would have been inevitable. The guts to realize the importance of arriving at a verdict which vindícales this symbolic effort to destroy heroin's vicegrip on Detroit. And the insight to read between the botched lines of Cahalan's bogus script and see the basic integrity % of George Bennett's witnesses. We only hope that their verdict marks a watershed in Detroit's history