More than a year after the shooting death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley has been indicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge. The shooting occurred during a raid that was being filmed for a reality television show. Weekley, a member of Detroit's Police Special Response Team, also faces a charge of careless discharge of a firearm causing death.
It began on the night of May 16, 2010, when Detroit police staged a raid on a two-family home. They were looking for Chauncey Owens, the fiance of Aiyana's aunt, who was wanted in connection with a murder outside a local convenience store. Police launched a flash grenade through a window and burst through the front door where, tragically, Aiyana was sleeping on the couch on the first floor of the home. In the melee, she was fatally shot by a bullet from Weekley’s gun. Detroit police have said Weekley's gun accidentally discharged after he was bumped or jostled by the girl's grandmother.
Providing an unsettling twist in the tragedy is the fact that Aiyana’s death was caught on tape, as the police team was being shadowed by a reality crew taping for the A&E show The First 48, the crime drama which chronicles the first two days after a reported murder. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has blasted then-Police Chief Warren Evans for not telling him that he was allowing TV cameras to accompany officers during raids. After Aiyana’s death, Bing banned reality television crews from tagging along with police. Aiyana’s family has brought a civil suit against the city and police department. Separate charges were brought Tuesday against the show’s principal photographer for lying to prosecutors about showing or giving video footage of the raid to "third parties."
Weekley pleaded not guility at Tuesday’s court hearing. The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, though some legal experts say a conviction is unlikely.
"I think that prosecutors are being very careful in charging police officers,” said David Henderson Martin, chairman of the Virginia-based Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, to Detroit Free Press. "Prosecutors want justice, and we feel if a police officer makes a mistake, we don't think that should be criminalized." The organization helps with money and resources for officers facing criminal charges. "Most juries tend to believe the officers and acquit."
In 2000, the Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit police led the nation's biggest departments in fatal civilian shootings, averaging about 10 fatal shootings annually in the 1990s. So far this year, the Detroit Police Force Investigation Unit of Internal Affairs has investigated 22 shootings by officers, including one fatality, the newspaper reports.
(Photo: Detroit Free Press/MCT/Landov)