Detroit Cop Who Shot/Killed Seven-Year-Old in Flash-Bang Raid Blames His Superiors

Human Rights

In 2010, Detroit police in search of a murder suspect sent a SWAT team to Lillibridge Street just after midnight. The steel door to the building, as well as the lower unit's door, were both unlocked. Nonetheless, officers busted through the unlocked unit door and tossed a flash-bang grenade through the window. The grenade landed so close to seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was asleep on the couch, that it burned her blanket. Within seconds, a bullet from Detroit Officer Joseph Weekly's gun pierced her head, killing her her. The murder suspect police were actually looking for lived in the upper unit, above where Aiyana slept. Now, three years later, Officer Weekly's trial is starting up with jury selection on Wednesday. But questions about the events that led to Aiyana's death remain. 

Deployment of the flash-bang grenade, which is intended to create confusion, appears to have been a sloppy decision rarely made in these kinds of raids, and may have startled Weekly into firing his gun. Moreover, the film crew of the A&E reality television show "The First 48" was at the scene, prompting speculation that the flash-bang grenade may have been used to add drama for the cameras. 

Despite two different stories about what happened that night, one thing is clear: The flash-bang grenade, as is typical for these kinds of devices, created more chaos than control over the situation.

Police have claimed Weekly's gun accidentally went off after a confrontation with Aiyana's grandmother, but an attorney for the family of Aiyana Jones tells a different story. "There is no question about what happened because it's in the videotape," Geoffrey Fieger, their attorney, told the Huffington Post in 2010. "Aiyana Jones was shot from outside on the porch. The videotape shows clearly the officer throwing through the window a stun grenade-type explosive and then within milliseconds of throwing that, firing a shot from outside the home."

Still, Weekly's defense says he should not be scapegoated for behavior linked to the missteps of his bosses. His attorney, Steve Fishman, said in court filings that Weekly "had nothing to do with the planning of the raid and was merely a police officer assigned to a certain position ... by a superior officer." He argued his client shouldn not be deemed responsible for "ineptitude of the officer assigned to deploy" the flash-bang. 

Indeed, putting cops into combat-like situations often creates undesirable outcomes. 

"This was essentially a military assault on a private dwelling," Ron Scott, spokesman for a watchdog group, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, told the Associated Press, "I think the administration of the police department wanted to show Detroit was tough on crime and show something exciting for television."

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing banned reality TV crews from police rides after Aiyana's death. An A&E videographer, Allison Howard, is charged with perjury and withholding video documentation.  Her trial is set for late June.

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