Injusticebusters

Daron Caldwell

"We will not be satisfied until every loose end is tied up in this matter," Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings pledged after the shootings, just before the arrest of the man she says is the Hart Plaza shooter. But in the rush to make a quick collar, she and her investigators have ignored many "loose ends" that strongly suggest they've arrested and locked up the wrong man.
-- from WXYZ website

Detroit Police assistant chief resigns

Daron Caldwell

Detroit Police Assistant Chief Harold Cureton has resigned after serving 32 years on the job.

Cureton turned in his resignation Tuesday, according to James Tate, a police spokesman.

Tate said Cureton cited health issues, adding the resignation is not connected to the release of Daron Caldwell, who spent three months in jail before prosecutors dropped charges against him Monday in the Hart Plaza fireworks shooting.

Cureton oversaw the investigative portfolio of the police department that includes major crimes, organized crime and internal affairs.

The resignation is effective on Nov. 3. A replacement has not yet been named.

Cureton is expected to address the media later today.

The police department has two assistant chiefs under Chief Ella Bully-Cummings. Assistant Chief Walter Shoulders holds the other post.


Charges Dropped in Detroit Fireworks Shooting

Daron Caldwell is now free. Monday morning, Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, and Detroit's chief of police, Ella Bully-Cummings, held a press conference where they dropped all charges against the man previously accused of June's Hart Plaza fireworks shootings.

Caldwell had been had been charged with second-degree murder and six counts of assault with intent to murder. He was held on a $100 million bond before his release Monday afternoon.

Of the 9 people shot at the Hart Plaza Freedom Festival fireworks, on June 23, 2004, one died in August as a result of his injuries.

The 32-year-old Caldwell has spent the past three months in jail. In that time, Action News has repeatedly shown that some witnesses doubted Caldwell's role as the shooter.

Doubt was also cast on the investigation when a police report surfaced - two months into the investigation saying that Caldwell had shot a gun on the night of the fireworks shooting.

The timing of that report raised questions. So too did the fact that it was written by Derryck Thomas, an officer known to have provided false information to prosecutors in a previous case.

Worthy and Bully-Cummings cited DNA evidence as a reason for dropping the charges against Daron Caldwell. They said they learned late Friday that DNA found at the scene did not match their suspect.

Because of the DNA discrepancy, Worthy said it would be "irresponsible" to prosecute Caldwell "at this time." The prosecutor and the police chief did not rule out future charges against Daron Caldwell.

"This does not exclude Mr. Calwdewll," said the chief of police. "It does not preclude charges being made against Mr. Caldwell at a future date," Ella Bully-Cummings said.

Citing the need to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," Worthy said, "What we think and what we can prove in court are two different things."

Monday, Caldwell's friends and family were in court for a hearing when word came that charges would be dropped. Over the past three months, they wore t-shirts reading "not guilty" and bearing Daron Caldwell's image.

"It was wonderful after spending months not eating, not sleeping," said Caldwell's mother, Blanche Thomas, of Monday's news.

"He's ecstatic," said attorney Marlon Evans who gave word to his client Monday morning.

"They made me look like a menace to society," said Daron Caldwell, after his release. "I have a family and kid."

Chief Bully-Cummings told press that she was satisfied with the way in which her department handled the fireworks shooting investigation. At Monday's press conference, the chief and the prosecutor also noted that two different weapons were used in the shooting.

In speaking of evidence in the crime, Bully-Cummings specifically noted a watch and articles of clothing found at the Hart Plaza scene. She would not say whether these items yielded DNA evidence that led the prosecutor's office to drop the charges against Caldwell.


Fireworks Shootings Follow-Up

Steve Wilson

Government has virtually no greater power than to lock up a citizen and deny him of his liberty. Beyond the claims of eyewitnesses who say Daron Caldwell is not the Hart Plaza shooter, 7 Action News chief investigative reporter Steve Wilson uncovered some startling new information about how police helped assure Caldwell's arrest and prosecution by producing false reports-and then failing to follow-up on information that may well exonerate him.

"We will not be satisfied until every loose end is tied up in this matter," Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings pledged after the shootings, just before the arrest of the man she says is the Hart Plaza shooter. But in the rush to make a quick collar, she and her investigators have ignored many "loose ends" that strongly suggest they've arrested and locked up the wrong man.

Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings

Chief Cummings told reporters immediately after the arrest of 32-year-old Daron Caldwell, "Several witnesses have identified this individual as the shooter."

Hold on - our own review of the case shows that is just not true. Yes, there's Air Force Academy graduate Christopher Thackaberry, who fingered Daron Caldwell when police showed him photos of six black men, but remember what he testified in court:

"I tell you I cannot be 100% sure, no."

Even immediately after the shooting, when he talked to police that night he told them it was dark and he couldn't really remember much about the shooter. When he did identify Caldwell, did he point him out as the shooter, or just maybe a face he saw in the crowd when pandemonium broke out?

"They asked me to identify, you know, who was the shooter and I said this person is definitely somebody who I had seen that night when it happened," Thackaberry said on the stand

And the police report that says Doria Jackson observed the defendant shooting a handgun?

Wilson to Detroit Police Commander Craig Schwartz: That woman never said that she could put the gun in the hand of the individual.

Schwartz: That's correct.

Police say maybe such an outright misrepresentation was an "oversight" or an "honest mistake."

Marlon EvansDefense attorney Marlon Evans says, "Sounds to me like a lie. My position is why do you have to bolster your case if you're dealing with the truth?"

Police claim Aaron Edmondson is one of their "several witnesses" who saw the gun in Caldwell's hands, but he says police weren't interested when he and others showed up to say they're certain Daron Caldwell is not the shooter.

And if the promise is to follow every lead and tie up all loose ends, Brandon Patterson, who was face-to-face with the gunman as he pumped two slugs into his legs, wonders why the police haven't ever come by to hear why he's so positive Caldwell is not the man who shot him.

Chief Cummings could not answer a number of troubling questions like that when we sat down the other day to discuss the high-profile case. After a few minutes she walked out of the interview, unable to respond to some very basic questions about gaping holes in the case against Daron Caldwell.

Did the Mayor promote an atmosphere where a quick arrest was expected to enhance the city's image? Is the prosecutor alarmed at police providing false information to her and the court? And another stunning admission from police who claim this was an honest, ethical and thorough investigation. Judge for yourself as our investigation continues.


Daron Caldwell, set free Monday, sits down to an interview with Frank Turner

Exclusive Interview: Daron Caldwell Speaks to 7

Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings

"I swear to God and on my children, I was not at the fireworks." Those were the words of Daron Caldwell, set free Monday after months in jail, charged as the man who shot 9 at Detroit's Freedom Festival fireworks.

Caldwell and his attorney, Marlon Evans, sat down to an interview with Frank Turner on Monday night. They credit 7 Action News with exposing conflicting witness statements and questioning police work in the case.

7 Action News found that the fireworks shooting investigation was not done fairly. Frank Turner explained this before asking directly whether Caldwell committed the crime.

"I watched the fireworks on the news, just like I watched the fireworks shooting on the news," Caldwell said in the exclusive interview.

In the interview, Caldwell maintained that he was at a motel during the shootings. He said his mother never told police that she was with her son at the time of the incident.

"I never told police that," Caldwell said in reference to a statement that he had fired a pistol on the day of the fireworks.

Caldwell speculated that the city rushed to name a suspect in the aftermath of the shooting. "You had the Super Bowl people here," he said.

Daron Caldwell had been held on a $100 million bond. Prosecutors now say they do not have enough evidence to hold him. Now free, he said, "I'm just going to take it a day at a time."


Charges dropped against suspect in fireworks shooting

DETROIT (AP) -- Charges were dropped Monday against a man who was accused of shooting into a crowd of people watching a fireworks display this summer.

Daron T. Caldwell was released from jail after Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone dismissed the charges at the request of county Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Worthy said she decided to drop the charges against Caldwell because DNA found on items at the scene did not match his. She said she received the results of the DNA analysis on Friday.

But Worthy said she still believes Caldwell may have been involved in the shootings.

"We do not think we erred in any way in charging Mr. Caldwell," Worthy said.

Worthy also said that forensic evidence showed that more than one gun had been used in the shootings.

Caldwell, 32, had been charged with second-degree murder and six counts of assault with intent to murder. Police said he shot nine people in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit during the June 23 fireworks. One of the shooting victims, Donald Murphy, died Aug. 2 of complications from his gunshot wound.

"I said from day one that I was an innocent man," the Detroit Free Press quoted Caldwell as saying after he left the Wayne County jail. "For some reason, they made me look like a menace to society."

During Caldwell's preliminary examination in July, witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting, with some saying they were sure they saw a different man pull the trigger. The one witness who testified he saw Caldwell shooting said he was not 100 percent sure.

Caldwell's friends and supporters have shown up at his court appearances wearing T-shirts with slogans such as "Not Guilty" on them. His supporters also have tried to raise money for his defense at street fairs and other community events.

A smiling Caldwell mugged for reporters before Monday's hearing, which came after Worthy had announced her decision. After it ended, he hugged his lawyer and waved to family and friends before being escorted out.

"I feel good for the first time in three months," Blanche Thomas, Caldwell's mother, said afterward.

"We're going to give God the glory of this, all right? All the glory," defense lawyer Marlon Blake Evans said, hugging a smiling Thomas outside the courtroom.

Waterstone dismissed the charges without prejudice, which means Caldwell again could be charged in the future in the same case. Worthy said she didn't want to risk an acquittal, which would preclude her from bringing charges again if more evidence against him turns up.

Worthy said the items used for the DNA comparison included clothing and a watch found at the scene, as well as the weapons.

The shootings happened shortly after the fireworks started. Crowds had packed into downtown and the surrounding areas along the Detroit River that runs between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, to watch the display, which is a summertime tradition.


A timeline of Detroit fireworks shooting case

June 23: Shooting in a crowd of people watching a fireworks display in Detroit leaves nine people wounded.

June 24: Charges authorized against Daron T. Caldwell in the shooting.

July 7: Caldwell's preliminary examination held. Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting, with some saying they were sure they saw a different man pull the trigger. A judge finds there's enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Aug. 2: One of the shooting victims, Donald Murphy, dies of complications from his gunshot wound.

Aug. 9: Wayne County medical examiner rules Murphy's death a homicide, opening the door for a second-degree murder charge.

Oct 1: Report given to the Wayne County prosecutor's office shows DNA found on items at the scene did not match Caldwell.

Oct. 4: Circuit Court Judge Mary Waterstone dismisses charges against Caldwell at the request of county Prosecutor Kym Worthy. Caldwell is released.


Fireworks Shootings: What Do the Witnesses Say?

Two days after the fireworks shootings at Hart Plaza, Aaron Edmondson was certain about two things. He was certain that he was lucky to survive two gunshots, and he was certain the man who shot him was not Daron Caldwell, the man police had in custody.

"I watched the news and as they had him in handcuffs and everything, I looked like that's not the guy," Edmondson said.

Aaron Edmondson's startling revelation to Action News is among a host of statements that raise this question: Why are police and prosecutors so sure Daron Caldwell is the Hart Plaza gunman when so many witnesses and victims are not?

At Daron Caldwell's preliminary hearing, nine witnesses took the stand. Only one witness, Chris Thackaberry, testified that on the night after the shooting he picked Daron Caldwell out of a photo line-up, but Thackaberry also testified he is not certain Caldwell was the shooter.

Three other witnesses at the hearing said they saw a gunman. Sherita Echoles said she didn't get a good look at the gunman's face

"I really didn't see the face of person," were her exact words.

Dominic Kennedy and Brandon Patterson testified they did see the gunman's face, and they're certain it was not Daron Caldwell.

"I swear on my kids that's not the guy," Kennedy testified.

Doria Jackson was another prosecution witness whose testimony only added to the confusion.

In a police report obtained by Action News, police list Doria Jackson as a witness who observed the defendant Daron Caldwell shooting a handgun at the scene.

But at the preliminary hearing, Jackson testified she never told police she saw a shooter pointing a gun at the crowd.

"I didn't see the guy shoot a gun," Jackson said in court.

Jackson did testify that after she heard gunshots, she saw Daron Caldwell get up from the ground. When he got up, Doria Jackson says she saw a gun on the ground, but she couldn't say who the gun belonged to.

Defense attorney: When you saw him get up and walk away did you notice something?

Jackson: There was a gun on the blanket.

Defense attorney: You don't know what relationship that man had to the gun correct?

Jackson: Correct.

The description of the shooter also raises questions. Some witnesses described him as dark skinned, while others said he was light skinned.

Three witnesses testified the shooter wore a black t-shirt, but Chris Thackaberry said he wore a white t-shirt.

Some witnesses testified the shooter was involved in a fight over sunglasses, but others testified they never saw the shooter fighting with anyone.

Despite conflicting statements, police reports that don't match witness testimony and not a single witness who is 100 percent sure who fired the gun on the night of the fireworks, police and prosecutors are somehow certain Daron Caldwell is the Hart Plaza gunman.


Fireworks Shootings Follow-Up Part 2

Is a Detroit man being railroaded into a conviction as the one who opened fire and shot nine people in Hart Plaza during the Freedom Festival fireworks display back in June? Chief investigative reporter Steve Wilson has led our own investigation that is raising some troubling questions.

Police have certainly not followed every lead and tied up every loose end as Chief Ella Bully-Cummings promised, and what's worse, their official report is laced with false and misleading information, while police and prosecutors keep insisting the right man is in jail awaiting trial.

Repeated flashes from the barrel of a semi-automatic handgun brought an abrupt halt to the fireworks fun. Nine festival-goers were shot one of them recently died.

As the shooting made news around the world, Detroit's mayor was quick with this message:

"Public safety in the city of Detroit is at a level that we haven't seen. I mean a positive and productive level that we haven't seen, I believe, ever."

The pressure to polish Detroit's image, tarnished again by more senseless gun violence, was a mayoral priority the morning after because among the crowd were visitors from New York who rate and sell the city's bonds, and NFL officials here to size up the city in advance of the super bowl Detroit is hosting 17 months from now.

"Talking to the NFL last night and this morning, with their reps that are in town, they want to see how we respond to this," Kilpatrick announced that morning. "This is not who we are. This is who he is, the person we're looking for, and we'll get him. And we'll make sure that he understands and the community understands at the same time that this is not the Detroit that we're going to be and we're turning the page and we're moving forward."

Then, not 24 hours after the shooting, police grabbed up the suspected shooter-32-year-old Daron Caldwell, who was not even wearing handcuffs when they brought him in. When he came out he was cuffed, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and denying any guilt.

"I didn't shoot nobody," Caldwell told reporters that day. "I'm positive."

At another news conference, the mayor praised his police chief and her investigators for the quick arrest. He called it "a defining moment" for the city, a moment he no doubt hoped would impress the visiting V-I-P's.

"They saw a mature Detroit that not only stepped up to the challenge but handled it with dignity, grace, and a lot of commitment and focus on getting the job done," Kilpatrick announced.

"So we do have one individual that we have several witness identifications that puts him as being the shooter," Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings has said.

But as we first reported here earlier, police have never released any evidence that supports such a claim. The truth is only one eyewitness under oath has identified Caldwell as being the shooter, and immediately after the shooting, what did this star witness tell police that night?

"I said, you know, I mean it was dark I didn't get, you know, I was looking straight at him, but when I make the police report that night I couldn't really remember too much about him or anything that night," witness Christopher Thakaberry said he told police.

And when he did pick Caldwell out of array of photos of six black men saying if any of them was there at the scene, was he recalling the face of the shooter, or just a face he'd seen in the crowd when pandemonium broke out?

"They asked me to identify, you know, who was the shooter and I said this person is definitely somebody who I had seen that night when it happened," were Thackaberry's words.

But when Caldwell's defense lawyer asked the simple and obvious question, the prosecutor's star witness faded considerably.

Defense: You can't sit here today and say that's the person that you saw shooting, can you?

Thackaberry: I tell you, I cannot be 100% sure, no.

Is that why the police bolstered their case against Caldwell with the false claim in their official report that another witness could testify to being there and "observing the defendant shooting a handgun at the scene?" because witness Doria Jackson says now, under oath:

Defense: You didn't see this guy shoot a gun, did you?

Jackson: I didn't see the guy shoot a gun.

Defense: You never saw this guy point a gun into the crowd, did you?

Jackson No.

Defense: And you never told the police that you saw anybody point a gun at a crowd of people, did you?

Jackson: No.

Defense: Because you didn't see that. Is that correct?

Jackson: I didn't see that.

When Action News asked Detroit Police Department Criminal Investigations Cmdr. Craig Schwartz if Jackson never said that she could put the gun in the hand of the individual, he answered:

"No. That's correct."

And just how seriously does the top command take such apparent misconduct? More than a week later when we asked the Detroit Chief of Police:

Wilson: Anybody ever tell you those officers didn't report truthfully on the report?

Cummings: No. This is the first I'm hearing of it and you telling me what a commander told you is hearsay to me and so I need to talk to my commander.

The mayor says he knew nothing about any bogus claims by police.

"I brought them into my office asked them to over the information with me," Kilpatrick said. "I have a lot of confidence in the investigation that they put together and we'll see how this process works itself out."

Commander Schwartz: What you're attempting to do is try this case in the media and that is unethical.

Wilson: Okay, well let's talk about ethics for a minute. You tell me why it's ethical for one of your police officers to put into an investigative report something that is so far and away apart from the truth that it bears no resemblance to the truth.

Schwartz: People make mistakes all the time Mr. Wilson, and I suspect that on occasion, even you have.

Wilson: Even I have, yes sir. But I don't claim somebody did something that they never did. I don't go on the air and report something that isn't true. Mr. Caldwell is facing charges because the evidence is there to support him being charged.

And then in the midst of our Action News investigation at police headquarters, a double blockbuster. Commander Craig Schwartz says they have four more witnesses who say they saw the shooter that night in Hart Plaza.

Cmdr Schwartz: These four can place the gun in the hand of the shooter. The shooter has been identified as Mr. Caldwell.

Not by any of the four he just said could place the gun in the hand of the shooter, because astonishingly, he says police have never even asked them if Caldwell was the man they saw shooting.

Wilson to Schwartz: Wouldn't it make sense out of basic fairness to go to these four and say, "Here's the guy we think was doing the shooting. Was he the guy?" Wouldn't that then be a big benefit, certainly to Mr. Caldwell, and to everyone else out of fairness?

Schwartz: We've conducted a thorough investigation. Mr. Caldwell has been identified as the perpetrator of this crime. He's facing the charges.

Are police afraid they'll hear what shooting victim Brandon Patterson has said about the man collared for the crime?

Defense attorney to witness Brandon Patterson: As you sit here today, this is not the man you saw, is it?

Patterson: Nope.

Eyewitness Dominic Kennedy, who doesn't know Caldwell either, is even more certain police caught the wrong man.

Defense Attorney to witness Dominic Kennedy: This is not the shooter?

Kennedy: No, I swear to God, I swear on my kids that's not the guy.

Amber Adamik may be one of the four new witnesses police are relying on. Action News showed her video of Caldwell and asked the question the police have avoided: Is he the one?

Amber Adamik: I really don't - that's not what I remember seeing right there.

And as for the physical evidence in this troublesome case?

Cmdr Schwartz: We have another witness that saw him leave the gun at the crime scene.

Wilson: You can't connect the gun to him.

Again, police are stretching. Doria Jackson says only she saw a gun on the ground near a man she thinks is Caldwell, but she has no idea whose gun it was.

Police recovered the weapon but no fingerprints, not on the gun and not on any of the seven shells they found at the scene. Testing Caldwell for gunpowder residue was not possible by the time he was arrested, and even raising the filed-off serial number only told the Chief and her officers who bought it 10 years ago in Ohio.

Wilson to Chief Cummings: Have you connected the weapon in any other way to Mr. Caldwell?

Chief: I, I, that's some information that I don't have Steve.

Apparently, there is no physical evidence that connects Daron Caldwell to the shooting

Wilson to Marlon Blake Evans, Defense Attorney: You know what I keep hearing from them? You don't know everything we have? Evans: Well then, to me that's a travesty of justice if I don't know everything that they have. I think it's a waste of the taxpayers' money. It's a travesty that we have a community where we're not safe and we have the prosecution investigating the crime in which they're convinced that they have the right person but yet and still it appears that the real culprit might be at large.

Action News talked to Mayor Kilpatrick.

Mayor: I think that there was a natural thing that was going on in the community that said 'let's get the perpetrator of this crime,' I don't believe that it led to anything bad.

Wilson: Could it have led to 'let's get somebody, quickly?'.

Mayor: I don't think it did.

Larry Dubin, a professor at the Detroit School of Law, has been watching the case with interest. His bottom line?

Dubin: It certainly seems that there is going to be reasonable doubt presented to the jury. The prosecution had sufficient evidence to meet the burden of the preliminary exam. They may offer sufficient evidence to be able to get the case to the jury and then it's the function of the jury, the voice of the community in being fair an impartial and analyzing this, and if they don't feel that the prosecution's case meets that beyond a reasonable doubt threshold, it's their obligation to find the defendant not guilty.

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Publisher: Sheila Steele 1943-2006

Index to injustice stories on this site


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-end-