IN THE THICK OF THE FIGHT- Attorney fights Kilpatrick and Others for Dancer’s Family
Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick continues to make the news, and attorney Norman Yatooma is in the thick of some of the proceedings.
Yatooma, 37, represents the family of Tamara “Strawberry” Greene, the exotic dancer who was murdered on April 30, 2003 in a drive-by shooting. Greene is alleged to have performed at a party in fall 2002 at the Manoogian Mansion, home to then-Mayor Kilpatrick. While Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox has famously dubbed the party an “urban legend,” rumors persist that the party took place and that the mayor’s wife, Carlita, assaulted Greene.
The slain dancer’s family is suing the city of Detroit, Kilpatrick, former Detroit police chief Ella Bully-Cummings, former mayoral chief of staff Christine Beatty (with whom Kilpatrick admitted to having an affair), and several other parties in federal court. The suit alleges that Kilpatrick and the others obstructed the Greene murder investigation for political reasons. Kilpatrick and his fellow plaintiffs deny the claims.
“The [Manoogian Mansion] party is often referred to as the much-talked-about, never-proven party,” said Yatooma, whose office is in Birmingham. “The party is significant to this case only because it could be the reason why Kwame Kilpatrick ordered a shutdown of the murder investigation of Tamara Greene. If Carlita Kilpatrick assaulted Tamara Greene, that could be a reason. It’s one of many reasons why that shutdown could have happened.”
A wrongful death suit is out of the question, Yatooma said, because there is no defendant. Greene’s murderer is unknown at this time, and may never be known.
“Too great a time has passed, too many documents have been destroyed, too many witnesses have been intimidated,” Yatooma said. “Instead, we’re suing the people who prevented us from ever learning who killed Tamara Greene, and that’s the former mayor and all his underlings.”
Greene is survived by three children:16-year-old son Jonathan Bond and two younger daughters. Jonathon’s father, Ernest Flagg, is also a plaintiff in the case.
At this point, the case is still in discovery, the process during which attorneys gather evidence for trial through depositions and by sifting through various documents. In December, Yatooma deposed Cox – an event Yatooma described to reporters as “not cordial” and “not nearly finished.”
While Yatooma, a Bloomfield Hills resident, can’t speak directly about the case, certain facts are known through various media reports and other published statements. In May 2003, Governor Jennifer Granholm instructed the Michigan State Police to investigate the alleged party and Cox to review the results. Days later, Cox said he would lead the investigation. In June, Cox and his deputy, Tom Furtaw, interviewed Kilpatrick with no one else present. A few weeks later, Cox ended his investigation and issued the “urban legend” remark. The state police continued its investigation until January 2004 but was unable to uncover any evidence of a party or assault.
Flagg began the lawsuit in November 2005 and hired Yatooma in October 2007. Late in 2009, Yatooma deposed State Police Detective Sergeant Mark Krebs, who said that Cox, Detroit police officials and reluctant witnesses thwarted the investigation into the Manoogian party.
“It’s often forgotten that this case isn’t about politics or politicians,” Yatooma said. “It’s fundamentally about three otherwise defenseless and forever motherless kids. I think Jonathan Bond said it best: ‘I just want the same thing Kwame Kilpatrick would want if his mom was killed.’”
Yatooma will continue his deposition of Cox later this month. Depositions of Kilpatrick, Beatty and Bully-Cummings will also be scheduled.
Yatooma, whose father was murdered in 1993, is the founder of Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids, a non-profit organization that provides grief-counseling, mentoring, and assistance to children who have suddenly lost a parent.