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Acquitted In Killing, Trooper Files A Lawsuit

BY BEN SCHMITT
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

He says civil rights violated in arrest
March 15, 2006

A State Police trooper acquitted on a murder charge in January after shooting a homeless man last year sued the City of Detroit on Tuesday, claiming civil rights violations connected to his arrest.

Jay Morningstar also sued Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and eight police officers, claiming malicious prosecution and defamation. He alleged that Detroit police lied in initial reports and testimony that led to his arrest.

Morningstar, who is back at work, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

A Wayne County jury acquitted Morningstar, who shot and killed 40-year-old Eric Williams outside the Detroiter Bar near Greektown on April 14, of second-degree murder and manslaughter after a six-week trial.

Morningstar said Williams approached him aggressively after repeated commands for him to stop.

Detroit officers, who also responded, recorded the shooting with a video camera mounted on a police car dashboard. Their report said Williams was unarmed and partially naked, with his pants around his knees.

Morningstar’s lawyer, Richard Convertino, said Detroit Police Officer Tyrine Wheatley falsely testified at a preliminary hearing that he was outside of his police car when Morningstar fired the fatal shot. Wheatley said he didn’t hear Morningstar tell Williams to stop.

Convertino, in the lawsuit, said Wheatley was in his car with the windows up and that that the camera’s microphone was not turned on. He said false statements, suspicious police reports and poor police training all contributed to violate Morningstar’s rights.

Convertino also said Williams had more than 140 contacts with Detroit police and that investigators withheld that information prior to Morningstar being charged May 9.

Worthy is named as a defendant on a defamation claim for telling the media that: “We feel we can show and prove beyond a reasonable doubt murder in the second degree” in Morningstar’s case.


 

Trooper wins $500,000 in lawsuit against Detroit police

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

DETROIT — A federal jury on Wednesday awarded a $500,000 verdict to a Michigan State Police trooper who brought a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Detroit police.

Trooper Jay Morningstar sued after he was charged and acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of a homeless man while Morningstar was on duty in Detroit’s Greektown area in April 2005.

Morningstar, who is white, testified in his lawsuit that he did not believe a black officer would have been charged in the shooting, given the same set of facts. The homeless man, Eric Williams, was black and unarmed.

Jurors apparently found that Officer Tyrine Wheatley of the Detroit Police Department, who is black, lied at Morningstar’s preliminary examination when he said he was standing outside his patrol car and did not hear Morningstar order Eric Williams to stop advancing toward him.

During the trial in U.S. District Court, jurors heard evidence that Wheatley was inside his car, where he may not have heard such a command.

Morningstar, who did not testify at his murder trial, testified in the lawsuit that Williams ignored repeated orders to stop advancing and show his hands. Morningstar, who killed Williams with a single shot to the chest, believed Williams was a threat and may have had a weapon, he testified.

“This tragic incident where a man was killed, though tragic, was justified,” Morningstar said after the verdict. He embraced his wife and praised his defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino.

The eight-member jury, which included one black woman, deliberated about six hours over two days. The trial before U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan began Jan. 13.

“I’m in total disagreement,” said Wheatley. “I’m very surprised.”

Wheatley was the last remaining defendant after Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and several others were earlier dismissed from the case. Before the case went to the jury on Tuesday, Duggan dismissed the city of Detroit and Officer Lisa Bryson as defendants.

City attorney Jacob Schwarzberg said he respected the work of the jury, but the city would appeal the case.

“I did not believe the case should have gone to the jury because Officer Wheatley did not initiate or continue the criminal prosecution against Trooper Morningstar,” Schwarzberg said after the verdict. “His involvement was minimal.”

The jury awarded Morningstar compensatory damages of $250,000, future damages of $100,000, and punitive damages of $150,000.

Convertino said the lawsuit was never about money.

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