Originally published on October 5, 2014, at NationofChange.org
A judge has dismissed the involuntary manslaughter charge against a Detroit police officer responsible for shooting a 7-year-old girl in the head. Although Officer Joseph Weekley has been caught lying about the incident to lessen the severity of his punishment, he has not been charged with perjury or obstruction of justice. With the felony manslaughter charge dropped, Weekley only faces a misdemeanor charge of negligent firing of a weapon causing death.
On May 16, 2010, a camera crew from A&E’s “The First 48” filmed the Detroit Police Department’s Special Response Team executing a “no knock” search warrant just past midnight. Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones slept on the couch alongside her grandmother, Mertilla Jones. Wrapped within a blanket, Aiyana laid her head on the armrest next to the front door. Mertilla laid on the couch with her head on the opposite armrest.
A window shattered as police threw a flashbang grenade onto the couch burning Aiyana’s blanket. After opening the unlocked front door, Officer Weekley fired a single bullet into the top of Aiyana’s head. According to Macomb County Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz, the bullet had passed through her brain, exited through her neck, and grazed her chest.
Unbeknownst to the police, they had raided the wrong apartment. The suspect, Chauncey Owens, lived upstairs.
Weekley accused Mertilla of grabbing his Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun causing him to accidentally shoot Aiyana. Even though Mertilla had been positioned on the far side of the couch, away from the door, she was taken into custody and held for roughly 12 hours. Police administered toxicology and gunshot residue tests before releasing her.
According to a high-ranking Detroit police official, the informant who led police to the residence had told detectives that children lived there. As Weekley and other members of the Special Response Team approached the front door, they passed children’s toys strewn across the front lawn. With the cameras rolling behind them, the cops broke protocol by using a flashbang grenade even though they are rarely used in executing search warrants.
“I’m worried they went Hollywood,” admitted the high-ranking Detroit police official, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It is not protocol. And I’ve got to say in all my years in the department, I’ve never used a flashbang in a case like this.”
Although Weekley confessed he had failed to follow his training by entering the room with his finger placed on the trigger, his first trial ended with a hung jury in June 2013. His retrial began last month, and to avoid possible perjury charges, Weekley will not be testifying again.
In her testimony, the lead investigator in the case, Michigan State Police Detective Tawana Powell admitted Mertilla was never charged with assaulting or interfering with a police officer. Forensic tests revealed Mertilla’s fingerprints and DNA were not found on Weekley’s submachine gun. And the gunshot residue test proved Mertilla never touched Weekley’s weapon.
“Why’d you do that? Tell me why you do that, came into my house like that,” Mertilla addressed Weekley in court. “You killed my grandbaby. You killed her and you tried to blame me. You know I never touched you, Mr. Weekley. You know I never touched you.”
After Mertilla’s emotional outburst, Wayne Circuit Judge Cynthia Gray-Hathaway excused the jury and ordered Mertilla to be escorted from the court. Judge Gray-Hathaway warned Aiyana’s family that further outbursts would result in another mistrial.
Gray-Hathaway dismissed the involuntary manslaughter because prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence showing that Weekley had been grossly negligent during the raid. Although Weekley had lied about Mertilla grabbing his gun and had willfully disregarded the results to others that might follow from his actions, Gray-Hathaway dropped the felony charge. Despite the fact that Weekley failed to follow his training, ignored evidence that children were present, made false statements against Mertilla, raided the wrong apartment, and his team utilized an unnecessary flashbang grenade, he merely faces a misdemeanor charge for shooting an innocent 7-year-old girl in the head.
In a statement condemning Gray-Hathaway’s decision, the chairman for Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee, Ronald Lawrence declared, “Not only is Judge Hathaway circumventing the role of the jury, she has totally lost sight of why Weekley is on trial.”