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Did Detroit Cops Intentionally Blame An Innocent Man For Murder?

Did Detroit cops arrest and help convict a man of murder charges even though they knew he was innocent? It's certainly looking that way to me after talking with a lawyer involved in the case.

After I posted about the freeing of Dwayne Provience last week, I had the pleasure of chatting about the case with Bridget McCormack, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which toiled to exonerate the Detroit man in the wake of his second-degree murder conviction in 2000. Our conversation ranged over a variety of topics, from how it feels to help an innocent man or woman get out of jail ("it can be life-changing," she told me) to McCormack's desire to work even more closely with prosecutors like Kym Worthy ("She did the right thing [in the Provience case], and should be commended for that.")

And while McCormack was absolutely upbeat and laudatory throughout our conversation, the one thing our talk certainly didn't leave me feeling that great about was the alleged behavior of some officers within the Detroit Police Department. According to McCormack, Provience, a son and father, would never have been wrongfully convicted if he hadn't been wrongfully tabbed by the police as a murderer in the first place.

Worse, she said, the Detroit police knew even before they handcuffed Provience that they had the wrong man.

"The Detroit Police Department had all of the information on who committed this murder months before Mr. Provience was arrested," she said. "But they moved forward anyway."

I'm not easily shocked, but this remark left me nearly speechless. McCormack, though, went on:

"This murder (for which Provience was arrested and convicted) was tied to this second murder. The police understood the connection very early on. They had witnesses who were there. They understood that the person was killed when he was about to come forward. The police knew about it. They knew what went down, but they couldn't get close to those drug dealers. Every time they had information from a person, he'd turn up dead. When the crack addict (Larry Wiley) said he could solve the murder, they went with that. They didn't call scene witnesses. They didn't seem to care that Larry Wiley's testimony didn't match. They buried the information they had.

"(The Innocence Clinic) found it, but got really lucky we did."

If you didn't know, the Detroit Police Department has been under federal oversight for years now as a result of complaints about excessive force, an inhumane lockup policy and other misdeeds that have led to millions in payouts from the city to victims of police abuse. And even though I know many cops in this city who are good ones, I think it's fair to say that something like what happened to Provience suggests that the feds' scrutiny is not only warranted, but probably needs to be intensified. (Not to mention that somebody probably should lose his/her job, if not his/her freedom -- although I'm not sure whether the department itself has internally addressed this apparent wrong.)

As for Provience, who spent nearly nine years in prison for the murder, McCormack said he probably wouldn't be able to make a case against the prosecutors who had him convicted. She explained that it's usually very tough for wrongfully convicted people to sue prosecutors, although she also pointed out that an ongoing case before the US Supreme Court is re-examining this.

But while the prosecutors may be safe from legal retaliation in the Provience case, she says, the Detroit police most certainly are not:

"Prosecutors are almost entirely immune from liability. If he can sue anyone, it'll be the Detroit police. And I think he has a pretty good case. Based on what we found and (details of the investigation, arrest and conviction) being in writing, I think he's got a pretty good case." But she also added: "I think he's most concerned with getting fully exonerated right now."

Still, his could be a costly case, too, not just in terms of millions in a potential payout that city taxpayers can ill-afford -- but also in terms of the sullied reputation of our men and women in blue. When I asked McCormack why a revelation like hers shouldn't checker people's opinions of the Detroit Police Department, she didn't go easy or offer up any sweet-sounding excuses.

"I am not sure it shouldn't," she said bluntly. "This kind of behavior is inexcusable. I don't know how you make Dwayne and his kids and his mom pay the price for your inability to get the right guy."

Neither do I. But I wouldn't be surprised if, because of this, the city wound up paying a steep price of its own.

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