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Witness: Police were warned during raid that resulted in death of little girl in Detroit

By Diane Bukowski | Last updated: Jun 14, 2013 - 8:43:09 AM

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‘There’s kids in the house’

(L) Aiyana Jones (far right) and her brothers in a family photo. (R) Dominika Stanley, Mertilla Jones and Krystal Sanders rally for Aiyana on March 8. Photo: Diane Bukowski

DETROIT ( - The first week of testimony in the trial of Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley for the 2010 killing of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 7, painted a chilling picture of the militarization of the Detroit Police Department used in her poor, predominantly Black neighborhood.

Ofc. Weekley is charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm resulting in her death. Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Moran and Offc. Weekley’s defense attorney Steve Fishman both have justified the military-style raid which resulted in the child’s death. It was conducted by a team from an armored truck in “full battle dress uniform.”

The TV show, “The First 48,” an A & E production, was filming the raid.

Ofc. Joseph Weekley is on trial for a shooting resulting in the death of 7 year old Aiyanna Jones. Photo: A&E Detroit SWAT website
Prosecutor Moran has argued that Ofc. Weekley did not keep his finger off the trigger of the MP5 submachine gun with which he killed Aiyana, as he was trained to do. Atty. Fishman has blamed Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, who was set to testify June 10. He claims she knocked into Ofc. Weekley’s gun.

On June 6, Aiyana’s cousin Mark Robinson, 22, described the Special Response Team (SRT) raid. He said he had gone outside to get his two puppies back into their pen.

“I turned around and I see like a big metal tank truck with lights all over it, and officers get out dressed in black,” Mr. Robinson said. “They come up to me and had guns in my face, made me get on the ground, and put a big foot in my back. Next thing I see cops running up to the house. I was yelling to them, ‘There’s kids in the house.’ They ignored me. They continued to bum rush the house. They threw the flash bang through the window and it went off with a boom. Then I heard a sound like a gunshot.”

Aiyana Stanley-Jones and her grandmother Mertilla Jones were sleeping on a couch under the window through which the grenade was thrown.

“At that moment, I hear my auntie screaming ‘You killed my baby; you killed Aiyana,’” Mr. Robinson continued, with his voice trembling. “Then one cop ran out of the house with Aiyana over his arm, carrying her like a rag, with her head slumped one way and her feet the other way.”

He said afterwards he saw police bring his aunt, the child’s grandmother Mertilla Jones, out of the house in handcuffs and take her away in a police car.

Toys in front yard of Aiyana’s home are the same ones seen in evidence tech photos at trial. Photo: Diane Bukowski
The officer who carried the child out, according to testimony, was Kata’Ante Taylor.

Prosecutor Moran displayed an evidence technician photo of the home showing brightly-colored children’s toys in the front yard to a series of officers and the jury, which is all-White except for one Black member. All the officers denied seeing the toys during extensive surveillance before the raid.

SRT Sergeant Tim “Malibu” Dollinger, who along with Ofc. Weekley, nicknamed “Brain,” is featured on A & E’s website, was in charge of the raid team. He testified June 6 that he drove by beforehand with Ofc. Weekley and another SRT officer. He denied seeing the toys, and said knowing that children were present would not have changed the team’s plan.

“If someone says, ‘hey be careful there’s kids in there,’ I’m not going to stop and not execute the search warrant,” he said. “Not that you wouldn’t be careful, it’s important to know. You’re already giving them a lot of trauma because there’s a lot going on.”

SRT raid team leader Tim Dollinger. Photo: A & E website
According to his testimony, the SRT officers wore highly impenetrable flak vests, helmets, balaclavas (hoods which expose the eyes), and padding all over their bodies. Ofc. Weekley carried a large bullet-proof shield in one hand and his MP5 in the other.

Aiyana’s mother Dominika Stanley and two officers testified that after the shooting, police forced her, Aiyana’s father Charles Jones, and grandmother Mertilla Jones to sit on the blood-soaked couch where Aiyana had been killed “for hours.”

“They sat me on the couch my baby was killed on,” Ms. Stanley said June 3. “They didn’t allow me off the couch until they took me to the hospital. The doctors came and talked to me and told me my baby didn’t make it, three hours later.”

At first weeping uncontrollably and covering her face, Ms. Stanley said she and Aiyana’s father Charles Jones, with their three infant sons, were sleeping in a back room when she heard loud noises, screaming, and Charles’ mother Mertilla Jones crying, “They killed Aiyana.”

Both the prosecution and defense have portrayed Chauncey Owens, the target of the search, as a vicious murderer and drug dealer with an extensive criminal record. Atty. Fishman has blamed family members for “harboring” him in the home where he actually lived—which was upstairs in the two-flat.

Mr. Owens, however, has not yet been tried for the death of Je’Rean Blake, 17, in a confrontation two days before police killed Aiyana. Court records show no drug-related convictions for Mr. Owens, only more minor offenses for which he received probation or short terms in the county jail.

No arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Owens until May 19, 2010, two days after the raid, according to court records. Instead, officers testified, they obtained a “search warrant” for the two-family flat where the Jones family lived downstairs, running it to 36th District Court Judge Sidney Barthwell’s home for a signature just prior to the raid.  

Surveillance officers and members of a “take-down team” testified that they saw Mr. Owens leave the home earlier in the evening and walk with another man to the end of the block. One said he did not arrest him then because he was not “comfortable” and it was not his job. An officer from the “take-down team” said they did not arrest him after they were contacted because he had not gone far enough away from the home.

Many community members have contended the SRT team wanted to put on a show for the TV cameras by raiding the house instead.

Aiyana’s aunt LaKrystal Sanders, who had lived with Chauncey Owens for 17 years at various residences, testified June 6. Ms. Sanders said she and Mr. Owens heard the loud noises and came down from the upper flat. Police arrested Mr. Owens, who was in his boxer shorts, and took him into the lower flat, she said.

JoAnn Robinson and grandson Mark Robinson on porch the morning of Aiyana’s killing. Photo: Diane Bukowski
“I heard my mother screaming, ‘They killed Aiyana,’ ” Ms. Sanders said. “She was screaming my name. . . . I asked a sergeant did they let my brother go to the hospital. I heard on the police radio different things, including that she was doing all right, or going into surgery, or had an asthma attack, or got burned ... After a few hours, someone told me ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ ”

Her testimony cast doubt on the prosecution’s case against Mr. Owens.

Atty. Fishman quoted testimony she gave to a grand jury regarding the day teenager Blake was killed.

“You told the grand jury, all of you were sitting outside on the front porch that day and saw Chinaman (nickname for Owens’ brother) fly by. He told you I gotta get rid of this bike and gun. You said Shannon, Lebron, all the kids, you, Charles Jones, Dominique Simpson, McKenzie Robinson, were there.”

Ms. Sanders said “Chinaman” had only relayed that information to his brother.

Earlier, based on that grand jury testimony, Atty. Fishman blamed Aiyana’s mother for letting her children stay in the same house with Mr. Owens. However, the transcript Atty. Fishman read clarified that it was not Dominika Stanley, but Dominique Simpson, the mother of Jones’ other children, on the porch. Ms. Simpson and her children were not in the house during the raid.

The prosecution played portions of A & E’s videotape of events including a pre-raid briefing, and the raid itself. Sgt. Dollinger is heard during the briefing saying he doesn’t know if there are kids in the house.

“Our people went out there earlier. There was just a mess of people out there. That’s a pretty hot neighborhood,” he said.

Another officer says they’re conducting the raid at that hour because by 7 a.m., people like the Jones are “hung over and f*!*!g sleeping.”

References are made to “baby daddy,” and other derogatory, racially-loaded terms about the family and neighborhood. Officers swear and joke, claiming Mr. Owens is a “crack dealer” who had been to the penitentiary and that it “looks like narcotic activity” is taking place at the house.

No evidence has so far been brought forward during the trial to verify contentions by both attorneys and officers that the neighborhood was a hotbed of drug-dealing.

The tape of the raid itself was shown to the jury June 4. On it, the “flash bang” grenade blast and gunshots can be seen, heard. Sounds of shattering glass, screaming and dogs barking ensue.

“We want justice and we are going to get justice, and we want peace,” Dominika Stanley’s father Jimmie Stanley said during a break. “Aiyana was our loved one, and she has a very large family. She was my heart. I have her photos all over my house. When she would see me, even if she was with her grandma, she would come running to me.”