Kilpatrick denies muzzling Greene probe, calls suit ‘frivolous’ in testimony

Detroit— Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick discounted years of accusations that his administration scuttled the Tamara Greene investigation, saying he never talked about or had e-mail discussions about her murder.

“Unequivocally, we never discussed Tamara Greene,” Kilpatrick said.

Near the end of his more than two hours on the stand today in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Kilpatrick called the civil lawsuit against the city, brought by the Greene family, “frivolous.”

“You did a good job stretching it out this long,” Kilpatrick told Greene family lawyer Norman Yatooma.

Yatooma has pursued the case since 2005, claiming the former mayor and city obstructed an investigation into the woman’s unsolved death.

The hearing will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday and feature testimony from ex-Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings and two former Kilpatrick bodyguards.

Kilpatrick also testified today he did not remember a federal judge ordering the city to preserve e-mails and other evidence in 2008 relating to the unsolved death of Greene, an exotic dancer.

The disclosure by Kilpatrick about Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald E. Rosen’s March 2008 order to preserve evidence emerged today while Kilpatrick testified at the hearing. It was the first time the former mayor has publicly answered questions under oath in the long-running case.

“I don’t think I was violating any federal court order in pushing ‘delete’ on an e-mail,” Kilpatrick said this afternoon in response to Yatooma. “I don’t think you do, either.”

Yatooma responded: “No, I do.”

Yatooma was trying to prove whether Kilpatrick or the city intentionally destroyed e-mails that could shed light on Greene’s death. Greene allegedly performed at a rumored Manoogian Mansion party in the fall of 2002 and was killed in April 2003.

Under only five minutes of cross-examination by city attorney John Schapka, Kilpatrick said “no” when asked if heintentionally deleted any e-mails after the court entered its preservation order. He also said he never sent or received e-mails referring to Greene or the homicide investigation.

Kilpatrick also told the judge his primary means of communication while he was mayor was text messaging.

At the conclusion of nearly two hours of questioning, Kilpatrick said, “I thought it (this lawsuit) was frivolous then and even more so now.”

‘I’m not a computer guy’

Kilpatrick, dressed today in a light-blue dress shirt and a gray and yellow tie, appeared comfortable warding off potentially difficult questions. The former mayor, whose public career was derailed by text messages exchanged with former chief of staff Christine Beatty, also admitted to being an unsophisticated computer user unfamiliar with creating subfolders for his e-mail or using his city-issued laptop.

“I’m not a computer guy,” Kilpatrick said.

Throughout the hearing, Yatooma clashed with Kilpatrick’s attorneys and U.S. Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen. In one exchange, Yatooma tried to bring up the whistle-blower case involving former police officer Gary Brown, who was part of a lawsuit that won $8.4 million from the city.

Brown, now a Detroit councilman, was fired along with another officer in 2003 for investigating mayoral misdeeds. Yatooma wanted to raise questions about whether Kilpatrick preserved e-mails after Brown filed suit.

But Whalen repeatedly stopped Yatooma, saying “you’re testifying” and said he could not bring up the Brown lawsuit.

“You know the parameters of my ruling, stay away from Gary Brown,” Whalen said.

Yatooma spent considerable time questioning Kilpatrick about his e-mail account and whether evidence was preserved.

“If (the preservation order) included me, I completely complied,” Kilpatrick said, laughing.

Yatooma replied: “You’re saying you completely complied with an order that you didn’t know about?”

Kilpatrick also said he has no idea what happened to the hard drive from his office computer after he resigned. He testified leaving it behind for his successor, then-interim Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr.

“I didn’t put it in his hand,” Kilpatrick said. “The computer was there when I left.”

Kilpatrick called his office desktop computer “old school,” because it had been used by former Mayor Dennis Archer. Kilpatrick was elected to replace Archer in 2001.

Yatooma has accused city lawyers before of failing to turn over computer hard drives and thumb drives containing files belonging to Kilpatrick he believes could be connected to the case.

Whalen this morning also rejected an attempt to question Kilpatrick and others about city e-mails exchanged over a broader period of time.

The ruling by Whalen preceded plodding testimony by the former mayor, who was transported to federal court in Detroit from a prison in Milan.

Yatooma wanted to question Kilpatrick about e-mails from Sept. 1, 2002, to the present. Whalen ruled the questions have to be limited to the period from Aug. 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003. Questioning began without acrimony, but Kilpatrick’s lawyer, James Thomas, soon objected to Yatooma’s repeated questioning about the computer.

The judge’s response was to warn Yatooma with: “You’ve beaten this horse to death.”

The hearing was held today in U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman’s larger courtroom to accommodate the media.

It is the start of a busy and possibly contentious week for Kilpatrick, who will also be deposed Wednesday inside the federal prison in Milan by lawyers representing SkyTel, the city’s former text message provider.

Ex-city attorneys testify

Following Kilpatrick’s testimony, Yatooma began questioning 36th District Judge Ruth Carter. Carter was a former top city attorney during the Kilpatrick era.

Carter also said she never destroyed e-mails about Greene or the homicide probe.

Carter told Yatooma while she was head of the city’s law department she never told Kilpatrick to save e-mails or any evidence related to the lawsuit.

“I didn’t do it. No,” she said.

Carter’s successor, John Johnson, followed, saying he, too, wasn’t aware of e-mails being purged despite a judge’s order.

Yatooma asked Johnson if there was a “systematic effort” to destroy evidence that would hurt Kilpatrick.

“Not to my knowledge,” Johnson said.

Johnson, did say, however, all of Beatty’s and Kilpatrick’s e-mails and electronic records were purged at the end of Kilpatrick’s first term in office. Johnson discovered this while looking for e-mails after getting a subpoena from Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Then-Deputy Human Resources Director Patricia Peoples, Kilpatrick’s cousin, informed Johnson, he said.

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