Greene family, city of Detroit keep legal battle alive in bankruptcy court
Detroit— More than a decade after a rumored party at the Manoogian Mansion and the slaying of exotic dancer Tamara Greene, the battle over whether the city and former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick quashed the murder investigation continued Thursday with a filing in federal bankruptcy court.
Greene’s family filed a lawsuit in 2005 in U.S. District Court against Kilpatrick and the city, claiming the disgraced mayor and his appointees obstructed the police probe into her April 2003 drive-by killing. But the lawsuit is frozen because the city is in bankruptcy, so both the family’s attorneys and the city have filed motions in federal bankruptcy court to argue their cases.
The lawsuit, which sought $154 million in damages, was denied in 2011 by U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen. Norman Yatooma, attorney for the Greene family, appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The appellate court last year upheld the lower court’s decision.
Yatooma plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but when the city filed bankruptcy in July 2013, all lawsuits against the city were put on hold. In February, Yatooma filed a proof of claim in bankruptcy court listing Greene’s family as one of the city’s creditors; the motion filed Thursday by the city objected to Yatooma’s proof of claim.
“The city has no liability to the claimant … and seeks the entry of an order … disallowing and expunging the claim,” city attorneys wrote in Thursday’s court filing. “The city seeks the entry of an order disallowing and expunging the claim because the claim asserts alleged liabilities that have already been adjudicated on a final basis in the city’s favor.”
Yatooma said Thursday his filing and the city’s were perfunctory.
“We filed an appeal for writ to the U.S. Supreme Court, but bankruptcy automatically stays all litigation,” he said. “We had to file a proof of claim in bankruptcy court to say our case is still pending. If we didn’t file that in bankruptcy court, we’d waive our right to appeal (to the Supreme Court), and if the city had to file their objection. That’s what happened (Thursday).”
Yatooma expressed hope that the High Court would rule in favor of the Greene family, since both Rosen and the appellate judges found the city destroyed evidence in the Greene case.
“The federal court dismissed our case, but in the same hearing the magistrate made a scathing recommendation for sanctioning the city for destroying evidence,” Yatooma said. “So the judge accepted that recommendation, then dismissed our case for lack of evidence. So the city destroyed evidence, but didn’t hamper the investigation? That’s incredible.”
The appeals court judges wrote: “Even assuming that all missing items and counterproductive personnel assignments were pursuant to a policy of obstruction, plaintiffs fail to raise a genuine question of disputed fact as to whether a reasonable probability exists that Greene’s killer would have been found absent the alleged policy. Thus, the District Court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Kilpatrick and the city of Detroit.”
Rumors of a raucous party at the mayor’s residence eventually led to Kilpatrick’s downfall. The mayor fired then-deputy chief Gary Brown, who claimed in a lawsuit he was dismissed for investigating the alleged party. Officer Harold Nelthorpe also sued the city on the same grounds.
In 2007, a jury awarded Brown and Nelthrope $6.5 million after a trial in which Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty denied they had an affair. After vowing an appeal, Kilpatrick abruptly changed course and settled for $8.4 million.
It was later revealed that Brown’s attorney, Mike Stefani, had given text messages to the Detroit Free Press prior to the settlement, which showed Kilpatrick and Beatty were involved in an affair.
Stefani claimed he’d given the text messages to the newspaper “for safekeeping.”
Kilpatrick was charged with perjury, and eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and agreed to abdicate the mayor’s seat.
After serving a four-month jail term and moving to Texas, Kilpatrick was indicted by federal authorities for public corruption in a separate case. In October 2013, he was sentenced by federal Judge Nancy Edmunds to 28 years in prison, matching the longest sentence ever given to a public official.
Kilpatrick is serving his sentence in an Oklahoma federal prison.