LELDF | Detroit Officer Faces 15 Years for Involuntary Manslaughter

In the early morning hours of May 16, 2010 the SWAT team was directed to serve an arrest warrant on Chauncey Owens who was wanted for murder in an earlier shooting death of a 17 year old at a nearby convenience store.  Charles Jones and his wife lived in the two level apartment along with their granddaughter Alyana Stanley Jones.  Chauncey Owens was in a bedroom on the second floor. Jones was also wanted in connection with the shooting.

The tactic of the SWAT team was to throw a flash-bang grenade through a window in the apartment and then in to enter the front door.  The flash–bang grenade is a device that explodes in a bright flash that disorients the occupants of a room and is literally blinding.  The practical use of the flash-bang grenade is to first throw it through a window to disable occupants; the officers then instantly enter through the front door.  In this case, for unknown reasons the timing of the operation was off and the grenade went off as Officer Joseph Weekley, the first officer through the door, entered with his badge in his left hand and service weapon in his right hand.  Officer Weekley was partially blinded by the flash and was confronted by the wife of Charles Jones.  Officer Weekley’s firearm discharged and seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Joins, sleeping on the living room couch was shot and killed instantly.

Chauncey Owens was arrested in a second floor bedroom and he and Charles Jones have been charged with murder in the shooting of seventeen year old Jerean Blake.

The Michigan State police conducted the investigation, and after months of review and analysis did not reach a recommendation.  The case was then reviewed by the prosecutor’s office, headed by Kim Worthy.  You may recall that Kim Worthy headed the prosecutions of Budzin and Nevers and Jay Morningstar.  The prosecutor’s office did a thorough investigation over many months.  Kim worthy explained that when a police officer is charged her office conducts a more detailed investigation that includes “review of reports, all evidence and forensic reports, questioning of witnesses, and in this case a request for additional investigative work by the police.”  She claimed that the decision to charge was a fair one based on the evidence.  The charges were made seventeen months after the incident.

Officer Joseph Weekley was indicted on October 4, 2011 by a Detroit grand jury.  Officer Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent discharge of a firearm in the death of seven year old Alyania Stanley Jones in May 2010.  Involuntary manslaughter in Michigan carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Officer Weekley is a fifteen year veteran of the Detroit PD and has been on the SWAT team for five years. He is married to a former Detroit police officer and they have two daughters ages eight and ten.  Officer Weekley is on disability status now as a result of the trauma and psychological effects of the death of Alyania Stanley-Jones.

The Detroit police are trained to use deadly force when they or another are in danger of death or serious bodily harm.  This is not a case of “use of force” necessitated by the forceful actions of a criminal adversary, but rather an unfortunate shooting. Steve Fishman, Weekley’s attorney, advised that the cause of the shooting was the fault of Mrs. Jones, who he claims not only bumped and jostled officer Weekley, but also grabbed for his weapon. Mrs. Jones is 46 years old.  Officer Weekley is only 5’5” tall and claims to have been blinded by the flash-bang grenade. The Detroit police union is supporting Weekely and is providing minimal financial help.

This is not a case, like many of our cases, where an officer faced, and indeed, accurately believed that he was in a dangerous and violent situation, and used deadly force.  Rather this is a case of a tense situation where an officer faced unknown danger as he entered a residence where a known murder suspect and an accomplice were located.  Officer weekly did not know what he faced, but properly had his badge displayed and his service weapon ready.  Did officer Weekley act reasonably and responsibly?   I think he did.  He knew that he was going to confront a suspected murderer; and he knew his accomplice was there also.  He was partially blinded by the flash-bang grenade and was bumped and jostled by an adult who grabbed for his weapon.  In that case the firing was not caused by him, but rather by an aggressive individual confronting a police officer facing a dangerous encounter.

The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is assisting Officer Weekley in this case and ask for your generous assistance.