Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rick Wershe and the Police Culture of Lying

Police officers lying in court to support criminal cases is a long-standing scandal of nationwide proportions. Prosecutors and judges know it but there’s little they can do to stop it because it’s become so ingrained in our “law and order” criminal justice system. It certainly is a factor in the life sentence of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. In fact, his reputation as a “drug lord” and drug “kingpin” is built on police lies as Informant America has demonstrated week after week.

In America’s police departments narcotics enforcement is a volume business. Buy and bust. That’s because there’s money to be made in focusing on the bottom of the drug dealing pyramid. Police departments get federal grants for the number of arrests they make and the amount of property they seize in the long-running fiasco we call the War on Drugs. 

There’s financial incentive for the local police to make lots of low-level cases. It does nothing to stop the flow of drugs, but no one cares. Police chiefs know as well as we do the War on Drugs was lost before it was ever started. But if there’s federal grant money to be had for doing buy-bust drug enforcement, what’s a police chief to do?

The pressure to crank out case after case prompts cops to lie and game the system in order to make their target arrest stats for drug enforcement.

The Truth, Whole Truth and Whatever I Make Up

Police perjury on the witness stand is so pervasive and widespread in the United States the cops themselves have come up with a name for it. Testilying. Not testifying—testilying.

In a 2011 piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, former San Francisco Police Commissioner Peter Keane wrote:

“Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

Some years ago I was talking with a veteran cop who had served for a time as a suburban police chief. He was talking about the importance of police departments having clear, well-established policies and procedures as opposed to the MUS method of policing.

What is MUS? I asked.
“Make Up Shit,” he replied.

He could have been talking about police testimony in criminal cases.

Was there law enforcement lying in the Rick Wershe, Jr. case? Oh hell yes. We’ve already explored that a bit in previous Informant America blog posts. [See Did a DEA Agent Mislead the Parole Board about White Boy Rick? (8-16-15) Also, Key ‘Witness’ against Wershe Denies DEA ‘Lies’ (10-11-15)]

But it isn’t fair to let the DEA take all the criticism.This blog post will focus on the truth—or lack of it—in the testimony of police officers in general and in particular in the case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr., the Michigan prison inmate known in the media as White Boy Rick.

As citizens, our expectation is the police will tell the truth in court. Usually, that’s true. But far too often, especially in narcotics cases, the “good guys” are so determined to get the “bad guys” that they see nothing wrong with lying under oath. After all, this guy, whoever it may be, deserves to be in jail, right?

These officers ignore the fact that in some cases the only things separating them from the bad guys are the law, the facts and the truth. It never occurs to them if they lie, if they plant drugs or otherwise cheat and manipulate the system to nail a suspect, they are no better than the person they send to jail. They have thumbed their nose at our nation’s bedrock belief in truth and justice, of law and order. But that’s alright because in the prevailing cop culture the brainwashed mentality is it’s us-against-them. For too many the popular police department motto, ‘To Protect and Serve’ means only each other.

In Detroit and cities all across America, many of the “finest” frequently get blotto in cop bars and tell each other that their violations of the law and criminal legal procedure and their blatant lies under oath are justified because they’re making the city, county, state, country—whatever—safe from the criminals. And if it weren’t for those damned “liberal” requirements in the laws, more slime balls would be locked up. 

So what if lying on the witness stand makes them felons, too? They are good felons don’tcha know. The public just doesn’t understand their frustration and what they go through in trying to keep the ungrateful citizenry safe. When you’re up to your ass in alligators it’s hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp, blah, blah, blah. “Bartender! Another drink!”

In the good old days a cop could stop and frisk a street mope and if he found drugs, hey, it was a good collar. So what if he didn’t have probable cause to believe the mope had dope on him? So what if he had no indication the mope had committed a crime? Probable cause? What’s that? 

Then, in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mapp v. Ohio that evidence obtained illegally without probable cause was inadmissible because the police had violated the Constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure. Another damned liberal court ruling!

Soon, police officers were testifying about probable cause information from unnamed reliable informants who started sprouting up like dandelions in springtime. Or, they claimed the defendant dropped the drugs, the gun, the jewels, whatever, on the ground in front of them as they approached. 

It became known as “dropsy” testimony. Did the defendant really drop the goods on the ground in front of the cop? Probably not, but the dropsy story sidesteps the problems of stop-and-frisk in the Mapp v. Ohio ruling, so it is used a lot in police testimony. “Yes, the defendant dropped a grocery bag on the sidewalk containing what was later identified as 20 pounds of cocaine when he saw me approaching him, your Honor.”

In the drug case that sent Rick Wershe, Jr. to prison for life, the cops didn’t even say they ever saw him with the 17 pounds of cocaine he was accused of possessing. 

The police produced several neighborhood witnesses who claim they saw Wershe put a box under a porch in his neighborhood during a chaotic police bust. 

One of those witnesses later said the police coerced his testimony, kidnapping him, taking him to a downtown hotel where they pressured him and hit him in the head at least once to let him know that “Rick is going down” and this guy better testify the way the police wanted him to.

At trial the police and prosecution never produced any evidence of Rick Wershe’s fingerprints on the box of cocaine or any of the packages inside it. He was sent to prison for life, anyway.

So what if the evidence was shaky? The use of crack cocaine was at epidemic levels and somebody had to do something. Sending a guy known in the media as White Boy Rick to prison for the rest of his life would send a strong message, right? A Detroit jury convicted Rick Wershe of possession with intent to distribute over 650 grams of cocaine. He hasn't spent a day out of jail since.

Wershe had hired two politically-connected attorneys, Ed Bell and Sam Gardner to defend him in the case. He did so at the urging of Cathy Volsan-Curry, his bedmate of the moment who was the niece of the late Coleman Young, Detroit’s powerful black mayor. At Wershe’s 2003 parole hearing William Bufalino II, the veteran defense lawyer he pushed aside to hire Bell and Gardner, testified Bell “hung him (Rick Wershe) out to dry.” Like Young, Bufalino is now deceased.

One of the narcs who pursued Rick Wershe relentlessly in 1986-87 was Detroit Police Officer Gerard “Mick” Biernacki, now deceased. Biernacki was part of the self-styled No Crack Crew of local police and DEA narcs working as a local/federal team.

Detroit Police Officer Gerard "Mick" Biernacki and Pinocchio, his role model for testifying. (Detroit Police Photo/Walt Disney Co. image)

Biernacki was known among his fellow cops and federal narcs as “Pinocchio.” It was a reference to a wooden puppet character in a children’s story whose nose grows whenever he tells a lie.

Mick Biernacki never let the truth get in the way of obtaining a search warrant to kick in some door at a house or apartment the narcs wanted to toss, nor did he let truth clutter jurors’ minds when he testified at trial.

In his book Land of Opportunity, author William Adler profiled the Chambers Brothers who arguably operated the biggest cocaine organization in Detroit in the 1980s. They were pursued by Biernacki and the No Crack Crew. In Adler’s book he recounted how Officer Greg Woods explained the probable cause used to get a court-ordered search warrant for a certain raid on a suspected Chambers Brothers drug pad.

“Officer Mick Biernacki had a very different and most likely false story he told to obtain the search warrant, invoking an informant who ‘had just been inside’…”, Adler wrote.
Real informants certainly exist. Rick Wershe was one of them. But if you’re Mick Biernacki, why bother when you can make one up?

There is a Biernacki tale that is something of a legend among the local and federal narcs of that era. The story involves Biernacki’s testimony in a drug trial. On the witness stand he recounted the timeline and sequence of events in a drug raid that was part of the case against the defendant.

Biernacki said an unnamed “informant” went in to the location, made a drug buy, then came out. Biernacki testified he typed up a search warrant, took it to a judge who signed it, and then Biernacki and crew kicked in the door and executed the search warrant.

A savvy defense attorney listened to all of this and reviewed Biernacki’s claim of the elapsed time. Something didn’t add up. How, the defense attorney asked, did Biernacki and his team have time to go to a police station or headquarters, type up the search warrant for the judge and accomplish that task in the time between the informant’s buy and kicking in the door? Biernacki’s prior testimony about the timeline didn’t allow time for going somewhere to type up a search warrant.

“I typed it in the car on the way downtown,” Biernacki testified. Laptop or notebook computers hadn't been invented yet so we must imagine Officer Biernacki using a manual typewriter on his lap while his partner sped to the courthouse.

Witnesses in criminal cases are typically sequestered. That means they wait outside the courtroom so they can’t shade their testimony to match what the jury has heard from previous witnesses.

On the way out of court in this case, Biernacki leaned over to one of his fellow narcs, waiting to testify. “I typed it in the car,” Biernacki whispered as he walked past.

Officer Biernacki was one of the witnesses, by the way, in Rick Wershe’s drug trial, the one that put him in prison for life. There’s more to tell about Officer Biernacki and Rick Wershe and it will be featured in a future blog post.

While Mick “Pinocchio” Biernacki was a cop of questionable integrity he was far from a police aberration in the Detroit battle front in the War on Drugs.

Retired FBI Special Agent Herman Groman, who was Rick Wershe’s primary “handler” when Wershe was working as an FBI confidential informant, was on the drug squad of the Detroit FBI when the crack cocaine epidemic swept the city beginning in 1984. Federal and local narcs suddenly had to work together. The locals needed the FBI’s money and the FBI needed the locals’ knowledge of the local drug trade.

Groman told me that during that era he once attended a farewell party for a Detroit Police narc who was being transferred to other duty. The party was on Detroit’s Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River. The Detroit narc was known as Popeye. He was known for pocketing dope dealer cash during drug raids. That is, when the police would raid a place, Popeye would find the money stash and grab a generous wad of bills for himself, stuff the cash in his pockets and turn in the rest as seized assets.

Groman admits he joined in the raucous laughter of the assembled narcs when Popeye opened his farewell present. It was a shirt with lots of extra pockets sewn all over it.

In the winter of 1989, a year after Rick Wershe was sent to prison for life for a non-violent drug crime the Detroit News published the results of the paper’s investigation of police misconduct. The report said in the year 1987, the year Rick Wershe was arrested in his life-sentence cocaine case, Detroit ranked first among the nation’s top ten cities for police officers accused of committing crimes. 

The News investigation found Detroit police officers had been accused of rape, hiring an arsonist to set fire to an occupied building, auto theft, insurance fraud, personal possession of cocaine and heroin, selling gun permits, concealing stolen property, armed robbery and hiring a contract killer.

Are there other examples of police lies and misdeeds involving Richard “White Boy Rick” Wershe, Jr., the teen they alleged was a drug kingpin? Absolutely. They will be explored in another blog post.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Richard Wershe, Jr. is still in prison - and that's a crime

It’s time to review the scoreboard in the Rick Wershe story. Each week since March Informant America has been documenting in exhaustive detail why the legend of White Boy Rick, the media name for Richard J. Wershe, Jr., is a lie. 

The oft-repeated descriptions of Wershe as a “drug lord” and “kingpin” are pure fabrications. They don’t stand up to scrutiny. 

Law enforcement and the criminal justice system need to hang their heads in shame for keeping Wershe in prison for a life prison term when everyone else in Michigan prisons convicted of the same non-violent drug crime committed as a juvenile has been set free. The only difference between Wershe and all the others is he exposed police/political corruption.

‘Why is he still in jail?’
 I’ve been asked that many times since Informant America started reporting and commenting each week on the case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr., known in the media as White Boy Rick.

Rick Wershe, Jr. as a teen and in recent years (Deadline Detroit)

It is a good question. Claims by prosecutors and police that he was a major figure in Detroit’s drug underworld in the last half of the 1980s are a combination of misrepresentations and outright lies. The only thing Rick Wershe dominated in his teen years was the headlines.

When drugs engulfed the city many black Detroiters were convinced whites had to be behind it.

White Boy Rick, a teenager with a peach fuzz moustache wasn’t quite what they imagined “The Man” behind the dope trade would be, but for a city desperate to cast blame somewhere, he would do.

Arguably the most damning accusations against Rick Wershe were contained in a 2003 letter to the Michigan Parole board from then-Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan. The Parole Board was considering Wershe for parole. Duggan’s office objected—strenuously.

The Duggan letter to the Parole Board about Richard Wershe, Jr. painted a picture of a juvenile organized crime boss of epic power and control. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request earlier this year to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office asking for the documentation behind the accusations contained in the Duggan letter yielded a stunning reply.

“After a diligent search for the requested records, we have determined and certify the records do not exist,” the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office stated in its official FOIA response. 

To follow are the key accusations contained in the Duggan letter about Wershe:

  • Rick Wershe actually “had” the drugs he was charged with possessing in his 1987 conviction—“the records do not exist.”
  • Wershe had a gang present at the time of his arrest—“the records do not exist.”
  • Authorities had the names of individuals allegedly involved in a Rick Wershe “gang”—“the records do not exist.”
  • There was a “task force” assigned specifically to the Rick Wershe investigation—“the records do not exist.”
  • Several Wershe “gang” members were found dead—“the records do not exist.”
  • Witnesses against Wershe “just disappeared”—“the records do not exist.”
  • Wershe was a “gang leader” and “violent kingpin”—“the records do not exist.”
  • Wershe was involved in ‘violent collateral crimes”—“the records do not exist.”
  • Wershe had a “gang” and/or a “criminal enterprise”—“the records do not exist”
  • Wershe’s late father was a “technician” for the Mafia—“the records do not exist.”

Mike Duggan, now the Mayor of the City of Detroit, says through a spokesman he does not remember the Wershe letter. It may be because he didn’t write it, even though it was sent to the Parole Board in his name on official letterhead. The signature on that letter and Duggan’s real signature don’t look the same to many observers.

Does the letter matter? You bet it does. The Michigan Attorney General’s Office used it as Exhibit 3C in a brief in federal court in Grand Rapids opposing any relief for Richard J. Wershe, Jr. Wershe has a case pending there against the Michigan Parole Board. The lawsuit, before U.S. District Court judge Gordon Quist, charges he has been denied a reasonable opportunity for parole in violation of several laws. Judge Quist dismissed the lawsuit but the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and remanded the case back to Judge Quist for a hearing. Judge Quist has not acted on the Wershe lawsuit in over a year.

In Rick Wershe’s one and only parole hearing in 2003, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office presented several witnesses opposing parole for him. Their ranks in the Detroit Police Department were impressive; commander and inspector. Another was an investigator for the prosecutor’s office who had been a Detroit police homicide detective.

How powerful was their testimony? Let’s take a look.

Commander Dennis Richardson who was in charge of the Major Crimes Division of the Detroit Police Department testified to the Parole Board: “I don’t know Richard Wershe. I never arrested him…uh…I was never involved in any of his cases.” But Richardson did testify that crime is bad.

There was former homicide detective James Bivens, now Chief of Investigations for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office who testified about murders in Detroit but said: “I do not know Mr. Wershe.”

Assistant Michigan Attorney General Charles Schettler was on the parole board panel and he had the presence of mind to ask Bivens a question:

Schettler: “Mr. Bivens do you have any evidence linking…uh…Mr. Wershe to any of the murders you enumerated at the beginning of your statement?”
Bivens: “No.”

Bivens’ boss at Detroit Homicide was Inspector William Rice who also testified at Wershe’s parole hearing. It turns out Rice later went to prison on charges of fraud and drug violations.

But last year Rice signed a sworn affidavit that he did not know who Rick Wershe Jr. was. Rice says in his affidavit he was ordered to testify against Rick Wershe by “higher-ups.” He also says he was shown Wershe’s federal grand jury testimony about the Best Friends murder-for-hire drug gang. Wershe’s secret grand jury testimony was sealed and remains so to this day. Yet, somehow, it wound up in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office so witnesses against Wershe’s parole could review it and find things to use against him.

Rice didn’t have anything to say at the parole hearing about Rick Wershe because he admits he didn’t know anything. But he was the top homicide cop, so if he was testifying against Wershe there must be a reason, even if it wasn’t clear to anyone.

Significantly no Detroit Police narcs, not a single one, was at the hearing to give testimony against Wershe. They were the ones who arrested him in 1987.

Then there are the two Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents who tried to sound authoritative about the war on drugs in Detroit. Any serious and thorough review of their testimony shows they misled the board on some things and out and out, um, said some things that were, um, not correct.

For instance, DEA Agent Greg Anderson claimed without any substantiation that between the ages of 16 and 17 Rick Wershe, Jr. was moving 200 to 300 kilograms of coke on the streets of Detroit every month.

To spare you the math, what Anderson told the Parole Board is this teenage drug lord was somehow peddling 440 to 660 pounds of cocaine on the streets of Detroit every month without any worries or violent competition until the brave cops of the self-proclaimed No Crack Crew of DEA and DPD narcs brought him down and made the streets safe from this major dope slinger.

This adolescent kingpin had no gang, had no crack houses, and never was involved in any drug violence. There are no court records, state or federal, that show otherwise. He was never charged with conspiracy or racketeering. No one was ever prosecuted or even named as a member of a "Wershe gang." He was never named as a conspirator, unindicted co-conspirator or even as a witness in any of the major federal drug prosecutions of that era.

Special Agent Anderson gave the Parole Board a history of the major cocaine operations in Detroit in that era, beginning with YBI—Young Boys Incorporated.

“…they basically controlled the east side of Detroit and they utilized young juvenile…uh…Detroiters to sell the narcotics in the Detroit area on the east side,” Anderson testified, according to the official transcript of the hearing.

There’s just one little problem with Anderson’s sworn testimony at the Wershe parole hearing. Young Boys Incorporated ruled the drug trade on the WEST side of Detroit, not the EAST side. Either Special Agent Anderson can’t tell east from west or he lied because Rick Wershe was an eastsider and he wanted to make it sound like Wershe was following in the footsteps of YBI, perhaps figuring the Parole Board would be too ignorant to know the difference.

Then there was DEA Special Agent Richard Crock who introduced “Exhibit # 1” as “evidence” against Rick Wershe. It was his debriefing of DEA informant Terry Colbert who said “Rick Wershe” sold some guns to a guy who knew the Chamber Brothers, who were in fact, operating a major cocaine ring. Selling some guns to some guy who knows some guys isn’t exactly evidence of involvement in a cocaine conspiracy, but…

Crock’s “exhibit” doesn’t specify if the guns were sold by Rick Wershe Senior. or Junior. Rick Wershe, Jr.’s late father, Richard J. Wershe, Sr. was a licensed gun dealer. The “exhibit” doesn’t tie Richard J. Wershe, Jr. to any drug deals with the Chambers Brothers but it managed to get them in to the hearing record and to suggest guilt by very tenuous and questionable association between Rick Wershe and the infamous Chambers Brothers gang.

Crock also failed to mention to the Parole Board that his informant in “Exhibit # 1” was Terry Colbert a crack cocaine addict who was such a chronic liar that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit had him indicted and prosecuted for multiple counts of perjury.  He was found guilty and given the maximum sentence for perjury under federal law. The DEA’s own records show Crock was fully aware that the informant in his “exhibit” against Rick Wershe, Terry Colbert, was a convicted perjurer but the agent forgot to mention it in his testimony.

Terry Colbert - Convicted Perjurer and DEA Informant (Kentucky Dept. of Corrections)

Crock’s other “witness” to Rick Wershe’s kingpin drug trafficking was Roy Grisson, one of Rick’s friends from the neighborhood. Crock introduced an official DEA “debriefing” of Grisson which talked about Wershe trafficking in 200 kilograms of cocaine every month.

In a recent series of interviews Grisson said, “It’s total bullshit. I never told them any of that stuff.” What’s more, Grisson said he was kidnapped from a hospital by the DEA and Detroit Police and taken to a suburban motel in “protective custody” where the cops “sweated” him, Grisson says, for hours trying to get him to make statements and make recorded phone calls to Wershe and others. Grisson says they later drove him to Detroit and dumped him on a downtown street.

As noted in last week’s blog post, Grisson says the “information” in the DEA “debriefing” doesn’t pass the smell test. 

“Who would trust a child with that kind of dope? (As mentioned previously, Rick Wershe was 16-17 at the time.) “That’s crazy! That’s stupid!” Grisson said.

There’s more about the Rick Wershe 2003 Parole Board hearing that doesn’t pass the smell test. That’s why there is a real need for a full evidentiary hearing regarding prosecution claims that Rick Wershe was, and remains, a menace to society.

There needs to be an evidentiary hearing in the Rick Wershe case in the interest of justice.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Key 'Witness' against Wershe denies DEA 'Lies'

At Rick Wershe’s 2003 parole “hearing” a Drug Enforcement Administration agent presented “evidence” to show Wershe, known in the media as White Boy Rick, was a drug “kingpin” in Detroit. He submitted a DEA investigative report of a “debriefing” of Roy Grisson, one of Wershe’s close associates, alleging the then-17-year old Wershe was peddling 200 kilos of cocaine a month in Detroit. Grisson has at long last been located and he categorically denies everything in the DEA document attributed to him. “I never heard such a crock in my life,” Grisson says. 

The only “informant” to allegedly claim Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was a major drug figure in Detroit, denies he ever told a Drug Enforcement Administration agent and Detroit Police narcs any of the things cited in the man’s so-called debriefing. The “debriefing” of Roy Grisson is perhaps the most important “evidence” ever presented officially to “prove” Wershe was a major drug dealer in Detroit in the late 1980s.

“It’s total bullshit,” says Roy Grisson of Detroit. “I never told them any of that stuff.” 

He tells a radically different story of his “debriefing” from what is portrayed in the DEA investigative report known as a DEA-6, which was presented to the Michigan Parole Board as “evidence” of Wershe’s high level in Detroit’s drug underworld. 

A DEA-6 document purporting to report an "interview" with Roy Grisson. 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this repudiation of the “evidence” against Rick Wershe. The Roy Grisson “debriefing” is the one—the only one—piece of informant evidence linking Wershe to law enforcement claims that he was a cocaine “kingpin” and “drug lord.” 

A previous Informant America post showed the other DEA informant “evidence” against Wershe at his 2003 parole hearing came from a snitch so unreliable the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Office charged and convicted the man on multiple counts of perjury—lying—in drug investigations. The only other documentation presented to the parole board for the contention that Rick Wershe was—and is—a menace to society, was the purported statement of Roy Grisson about the level of Wershe’s drug dealing. Now Grisson is saying on the record and for the record that what the DEA claims he said about Wershe is a total fabrication. 

What’s more, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has officially “certified” in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from me, that the “documents do not exist” to support claims in a letter purportedly written by former Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan, now the Mayor of the City of Detroit, that Wershe was the leader of a violent drug empire.

In sum, the “evidence” supporting prosecution claims that Wershe needs to continue serving a life prison sentence simply doesn’t exist. It’s a pile of unsupported accusations that cannot withstand the scrutiny of a full hearing—in any venue. 

Grisson has been hard to track down. It has been a months-long effort. Dave Majkowski, Rick’s lifelong friend, finally found him. Majkowski manages the Free Richard Wershe, Jr. Facebook page. I interviewed Roy Grisson late this past week by phone in two separate sessions.

Grisson freely admits he knew Rick Wershe, the Curry Brothers—convicted as a major drug gang on Detroit’s east side—and Cathy Volsan Curry, the niece of Detroit’s late mayor, Coleman Young. “We grew up together,” Grisson says of the Curry Brothers and Rick Wershe. “My sister had a baby with Leo (Curry),” Grisson notes. 

Grisson was running with Wershe when the so-called “No Crack Crew” of DEA agents and Detroit Police narcs had Wershe in their sights as a prosecution target in the spring and summer of 1987. 

In July of 1987, Grisson says, Rick Wershe asked him to give a ride to another associate named Mike Riley. The ride ended with Riley trying to kill Grisson. The story in the DEA report and the story Grisson tells today couldn’t be more different.

DEA Special Agent Crock’s report states Grisson “was the victim of an attempted contract murder assassination.” The report implies Rick Wershe ordered the murder. The DEA report quotes Grisson as remembering that just before he was shot, “Riley stated ‘Rick told me to show you this.’”

Grisson says this is completely false. Grisson believes Riley was “skied up” on drugs. “He wanted to rob me,” Grisson states firmly. “He kept saying, 'where are the keys?' Where are the keys? I guess he thought I had some keys of cocaine.” Grisson added, “He (Riley) never said ‘Rick told me to show you this.’” The DEA “debriefing” claims that’s what happened. 

The implication is that Rick Wershe ordered Riley to murder Grisson as a contract hit.

“Grisson feels he was the target of this contract killing because WERSHE Jr. fears he will testify against him in an upcoming narcotics case,” Agent Crock wrote in the “debriefing” of Roy Grisson. Roy Grisson says this is ridiculous. 

(Memo to Special Agent Crock: Grisson didn’t die so it wasn’t a killing, it was an attempted murder, but apparently no one on the Michigan Parole Board nor anyone in the DEA reads your investigative reports closely. Thus, your sloppy reporting was able to slide—until now.)

A Mac 10
Grisson says what really happened is when they arrived at an address on Baldwin Street in Detroit Riley pulled out a Mac 10 machine pistol and demanded to know where the “keys” were. Grisson says Riley (now deceased) shot him in the arm. Grisson then grabbed Riley in a bear hug to pin his arms against his body to prevent him from freely firing at close range. This put the Mac 10 behind Grisson. He says Riley then shot him twice in the back. 

As the two men fell out of the car and to the ground, Grisson claims Riley shot him in the hip. Grisson says as a result of nerve damage from that wound he wears a leg brace to this day. 

Grisson recalls Riley got up and fired a shot at his head. It grazed his forehead but Grisson blacked out. When he came to, a woman was using towels to try to stop the bleeding. He passed out again. When he regained consciousness a crowd of young kids had gathered around him. “He dead,” Grisson remembers hearing them say. “I woke up and said, ‘I ain’t dead.’ They all jumped back,” he recalls with a laugh. 

An EMS rig took him to the hospital. He had them call his niece who notified his entire family he had been shot. They knew he was in the hospital. He had surgery for his gunshot wounds. 

The next thing Grisson knew, some narcs were hovering around him asking questions. Crock’s DEA-6 states: “The following paragraphs give a detailed description of GRISSON’S motivation and statement.” (The last names of people on police reports are frequently capitalized for easy location on pages of reports.) 

The hospital questioning was followed, Grisson says, by the cops having him transferred to a gurney. A sheet was placed over him as if he were dead. He says he was wheeled to an unmarked police van and transported from the hospital, without his permission or agreement, to a motel in suburban Plymouth, Michigan. “They kidnapped me out of the hospital,” Grisson says. 

What came next was an effort by anywhere from three to six narcs at various times to “sweat” Grisson in to making statements and making phone calls, which he refused to do. 

First, Grisson says, they tried to get him to make a tape-recorded phone call to Cathy Curry, who was Wershe’s live-in girlfriend at the time. They wanted to hear what Cathy would say, Grisson states.

“I ain’t callin’ nobody,” Grisson says he told the narcs. 

Next, they wanted him to call Rick Wershe and set up a "deal." Grisson says he told the narcs they were crazy. This kind of exchange went on for hours. “They stayed on me,” he says. “They wanted to know if I was going to join their team,” Grisson recalls. 

Grisson says he knew nothing about any dope deals Rick Wershe may have been involved in but the narcs weren’t buying it. “Hell, no! I wasn’t in on no deals!” Grisson insists. 

The DEA-6 report on Grisson given to the Parole Board at Wershe’s 2003 hearing claims Grisson told Special Agent Crock about Wershe’s “narcotics organization” and that “WERSHE, Jr. directs the distribution of 200 to 300 kilograms of cocaine monthly.” 

Grisson purportedly told Crock he personally received five to ten kilograms a month from Wershe to distribute. The cocaine is purchased for $17,000 per kilogram in Miami and sold in Detroit for $22,000.” 

Grisson says Crock made it up. “That’s a bunch of bullshit,” Grisson insists. 

Regarding Rick Wershe’s alleged dope deals, “I didn’t know any of that,” Grisson insists. “That wasn’t any of my business.” 

The DEA-6 report further states, “GRISSON requested DEA protection from WERSHE in return for his total cooperation.” 

Not true, not even a little bit, according to Grisson, as we will see in a moment. 

Grisson states after hours of “sweating me” the DEA and Detroit Police narcs grew increasingly frustrated with him. 

Grisson recalls the narcs fell asleep while holding him at the suburban motel and that he eventually heard someone from the motel staff outside the room and scribbled a quick note and gave it to a young man who was some kind of employee at the motel, along with some money Grisson had in his pocket. He begged the young man to call his family. Grisson hoped but didn’t know if the motel employee would make the call. He did. 

The next morning, Grisson says, most of his family showed up at the motel and caused a disturbance in the lobby. They demanded to see him. The clerk called the room and told the cops Grisson’s family, who knew he had been in the hospital for gunshot wounds, was insisting they be allowed to see him. 

The narcs, Grisson says, spirited him down a back stairwell and threw him in their van and drove him to downtown Detroit. Grisson says the narcs dumped him in front of Funky Broadway, a clothing store. Grisson says he went to Henry the Hatter, a nearby store and used the phone to call his family. 

Once he was with his family, Grisson says he called Rick Wershe and Cathy Volsan. Wershe immediately offered to put Grisson in the Michigan Inn, a nice hotel in suburban Southfield. He stayed there recuperating from his wounds—and hiding out—for nearly a month. 

“I stayed out there to stay away from the DEA,” Grisson says. “I wasn’t hiding from the street. I was hiding from the DEA,” Grisson states. “I was scared of the DEA.” 

Grisson says the notion that Rick Wershe was a “drug lord” or “kingpin” is ridiculous.

“If he was such a big dope dealer why did he still live in the ‘hood?” Grisson asks pointedly. "Where was the money?" “Hell no! He didn’t have no big money! Grisson argues. He says Wershe bought some cars, some clothes, some jewelry, but that’s it. 

As for the “drug lord” and “kingpin” labels used by the law enforcement establishment, Grisson urges people to use their common sense. 

“Come on!” Grisson says with passion in his voice. "Who would trust a kid with 200 keys of coke a month??!!” Grisson asks rhetorically. Wershe was 16-17 during this time period. 

“Who would trust a child with that kind of dope? Come on!” Grisson says, voice rising. “That’s crazy! That’s stupid! A kid? Come on!”

Sunday, October 4, 2015

CRUEL and UNUSUAL Punishment

Rick Wershe’s battle for freedom continues. He suffered another legal setback when the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected a Detroit judge’s plan to re-sentence him to time served. It may be time to start fighting for Wershe’s civil rights. This post explains why there is a good case to be made that his civil rights have been and continue to be violated.

I was once so downhearted
Disappointment was my closest friend
Higher and Higher – Jackie Wilson

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. is used to disappointment. The 46-year old Michigan prison inmate has endured setbacks many times in his life. A recent ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals blocking a judge’s proposed re-sentencing to time-served instead of a life term is just the latest.

Rick Wershe, Jr. with his mother, Darlene, at Oaks Correctional Facility
(Photo Free Richard Wershe, Jr. Facebook page)

Wayne County Circuit Court judge Dana Hathaway noted the changes in law and criminal procedure in Michigan and other states regarding inmates serving life prison terms for crimes committed when they were juveniles when she ruled she intended to re-sentence Richard Wershe, Jr., who is the last remaining Michigan inmate serving a life term for a non-violent drug crime committed when he was a juvenile.

But a three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals said no. They said she failed to take in to account a technicality in Michigan law about multiple motions by a defendant who has been convicted and sentenced.

The ruling came with lightning speed after the prosecution and defense filed briefs with the higher court. It’s like they couldn’t wait to say no. That may be the case.

Michigan Court of Appeals - Chief Judge Michael Talbot circled in center.

The opinion was written by Michael Talbot, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, who has a reputation as a “hanging” judge. A former Grosse Pointe neighbor recalls how Talbot used to delight in describing how he stuck it to criminal defendants when he was a trial court judge in Wayne County.

So where does Rick Wershe’s struggle go from here? There are several options.

One is to appeal it to the Michigan Supreme Court. That may or may not lead to a different outcome.

Another option is to remedy the technicality the Court of Appeals cited and try again with Judge Hathaway in Wayne County. But since Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy is inclined to spend whatever it takes to keep Rick Wershe in prison and with Michael “the hanging judge” Talbot ruling the roost at the appeals level that may or may not lead to a different outcome.

Yet another option is to focus on Wershe’s pending lawsuit in federal district court in Grand Rapids. The case was filed in Grand Rapids because Wershe is incarcerated in Oaks Correctional Facility near Manistee which is in the jurisdiction of the Grand Rapids federal court.

Ralph Musilli, Wershe's Defense Attorney (WDIV)

In that lawsuit, defense attorney, Ralph Musilli, argued the Michigan Parole Board violated Wershe’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Federal judge Gordon Quist tried to dismiss the case as frivolous but the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and sent the case back to Quist to explore whether the parole board has given Rick Wershe fair consideration for parole. Quist has been sitting on the case for over a year.

“Since 2003 his case has been before the Parole Board six times,” Musilli notes. “He’s been given no (parole) consideration, yet they’ve been paroling convicted murderers, rapists and child molesters, thousands of them. Where is the fairness?”

The fairness is missing in action and has been in the Wershe case for years.

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
—Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

On its face the case of Richard J. Wershe, Jr. seems to be a violation of his civil rights, his Constitutional right prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

The State of Michigan, for dark and unexplained reasons, is subjecting Rick Wershe to unusual punishment for the simple reason he is being treated differently than everyone else. The Michigan Parole Board has released every juvenile sentenced to life in prison for a non-violent drug crime except one: Richard John Wershe, Jr.

“That’s unusual,” Musilli says. “Twenty eight years is cruel.” Wershe’s defense attorney believes this is clearly a civil rights case. “Civil rights is about treating someone differently than everybody else convicted of the same crime. He’s being treated differently.”

What makes Rick Wershe’s case different—the only difference—is that he was recruited by the FBI at age 14 to get in to the drug underworld as an informer against the Curry Brothers—a Detroit drug gang with family ties to the late Mayor Coleman Young. Wershe happened to be a neighbor of the drug dealers. They trusted him and that made him an ideal secret informant.

Over the years, Wershe helped the FBI prosecute and imprison drug-corrupted cops and the brother-in-law of Mayor Young. What’s more, prosecution claims that Wershe was a “drug lord” and drug “kingpin” are false. There are no facts, no charges in any court to support the claim of the Wayne County prosecutor that Rick Wershe is a menace to society who needs to remain in prison until he dies.

Someone needs to tell the White House about Richard J. Wershe, Jr. President Obama has made it clear he believes the time has come to change the nation’s policy on long prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes. The Obama Justice Department has issued guidelines for presidential clemency for non-violent drug offenders. Those criteria are:

  • They are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
  • They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
  • They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
  • They do not have a significant criminal history;
  • They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
  • They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

With the exception of his status as a state prisoner, Wershe qualifies for clemency on all the criteria established by the Justice Department.

Just as important is the fact Rick Wershe was a recruited federal law enforcement informant. By letting him rot in prison for what is clearly retribution for informing on drug corruption in Detroit, the Justice Department, through successive administrations, is sending a bad message to prospective future informants: “If you help us nab criminals with political connections don’t expect us to help you if you get in trouble with the locals.”

Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney, Detroit
(U.S. Government photo)

Detroit U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade needs to open a civil rights investigation of the Wershe matter. The Justice Department needs to back her up. The heat of public opinion might light a fire under her. Here’s how to contact her:

Barbara McQuade
U.S. Attorney
United States Attorney’s Office
211 W. Fort Street, Suite 2001
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 226-9100

Vanita Gupta, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
(U.S. government photo)

Another person to contact is the chief of the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division:

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Office of the Assistant Attorney General, Main
Washington, D.C. 20530
(202) 514-4609

Urge them to consider opening a civil rights investigation regarding Michigan prison inmate Richard J. Wershe, Jr., inmate # 192034. He is incarcerated in the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan. Explain why. Explain in your letter that he was an FBI informant who helped prosecute public corruption in Detroit and now his Eighth Amendment civil rights are being violated, apparently to get even for helping the U.S. Justice Department. Maybe, just maybe someone will pay attention.

Federal law enforcement administrators, assistant United States attorneys and Justice Department functionaries in Washington can rationalize and make excuses all they wish. The fact of the matter is the federal government, through the Wershe case, is telling the people who can help them make big cases that they don’t matter. They are expendable. No wonder the “war on drugs” is such a fiasco.