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Detroit Free Press

Text message casts more doubt on mayor

He asked how to explain cop's firing

BY M.L. ELRICK, JIM SCHAEFER and BEN SCHMITT • FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS • March 26, 2008

A newly revealed text message shows that six weeks after dismissing Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown in 2003, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick referred to the move as a firing. Nevertheless, Kilpatrick testified last summer that he merely demoted Brown.

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The message emerged Tuesday after Kilpatrick and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty were arraigned on felony charges, making history while complicating efforts to revive their hometown.

The previously undisclosed message, included in a report by an investigator for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, shows the mayor pleading with staffers to provide a reason why Brown was ousted.

"We must answer the question? Why was Gary Brown fired," Kilpatrick wrote on June 24, 2003. "It will be asked, I need short, powerful answer. ... I just need a good answer whatever it might be."

Since removing Brown as the head of internal affairs on May 9, 2003, Kilpatrick has offered several explanations. He has said Brown was part of a faction that resisted reform and prompted the federal Justice Department to oversee the department. He accused Brown of violating the chain of command by conducting investigations without then-Chief Jerry Oliver's knowledge. And he testified that Brown failed to eliminate a backlog of discipline cases.

Worthy obtained the new text message from the mayor's paging device in the course of her perjury investigation. It shows that on the June 2003 day when Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox was to announce the findings of his investigation into Brown's firing, allegations of wrongdoing by members of the mayor's security team, and a rumored but never-proven wild party at the mayoral Manoogian Mansion, Kilpatrick struggled to find a reason for what he called Brown's firing.

The prosecutor's office did not release any records showing a response to Kilpatrick's plea for an explanation. But the message itself contradicts the mayor's trial testimony last summer in Brown's lawsuit that he never fired the deputy chief, but merely "unappointed" him for violating the chain of command.

Brown's firing had been a thorny issue for Kilpatrick's staff in the late spring of 2003.

According to text messages the Free Press obtained but did not previously publish, mayoral spokesman Jamaine Dickens sent Beatty the following text message on May 11, 2003 -- two days after Kilpatrick dismissed Brown:

"Freep called. Says they hear that mayor fired Gary Brown from DPD. Want to confirm. I know the chief hires and fires, but is he gone?"

Beatty replied: "Yes he is gone. You don't need to say that the mayor fired him. He was simply let go. Let me know before you make a comment."

Text message came via subpoena

The text message Worthy disclosed Tuesday was obtained by subpoena from SkyTel, the Mississippi-based telecommunications company that provided the paging devices to the city for Kilpatrick and Beatty. Until Tuesday, only messages obtained by the Free Press that passed through Beatty's paging device had been made public.

On the witness stand last August, Kilpatrick insisted the decision to dismiss Brown was his alone. He testified that he wrestled with the decision. He said he even waited a day before determining that Brown had to go.

Under cross-examination by city lawyer Valerie Colbert-Osamuede, Kilpatrick provided a very specific reason for removing Brown.

"My intent was to move him out of the ... professional accountability bureau and find a more professional person who understood that. That had grew up in that process and get that person in there," the mayor testified. "It was a tough decision. These decisions are always tough."

Tuesday's arraignment marked the first time in Detroit's history that a sitting mayor has faced criminal charges.

It was also the first time Kilpatrick has appeared in a court since giving the testimony that led Worthy to charge him and Beatty with multiple felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office and perjury.

Worthy announced 12 counts against the pair Monday, saying her investigation was prompted by Jan. 23-24 Free Press reports that divulged the existence of text messages from Beatty's paging device.

The messages showed that Beatty and Kilpatrick lied on the witness stand when they denied having an extramarital affair. They also tried to mislead the jury about firing Brown.

Brown and former mayoral bodyguard Harold Nelthrope won a $6.5-million verdict from a Wayne County jury, claiming they were forced from their positions for their part in an investigation of the mayor, his family and his security team. They claimed the probe might have uncovered the affair.

Kilpatrick pledged to appeal the verdict, but later settled it and another police whistle-blower case for $8.4 million in a bid to keep Beatty's text messages secret. Including the mayor's legal bills, the case has cost Detroit taxpayers more than $9 million.

Defendants silent at arraignments

As demonstrators for and against the mayor marched in front of Detroit's 36th District Court, where the arraignments took place, TV news crews set up tents for their live broadcasts.

Beatty was the first to be arraigned.

Silent and stoic, she stood beside her lawyer Mayer Morganroth as Chief Magistrate Steve Lockhart entered a plea of not guilty for her on seven felony charges and agreed to release her without requiring bail. He set a preliminary examination date of June 9 at 8:30 a.m. and told Beatty not to leave the state without getting permission from court officials.

Prosecutors said Morganroth has a potential conflict of interest because he represents Beatty in her criminal case and the city in various lawsuits.

Minutes later, Kilpatrick -- led by his Washington, D.C., public relations consultant Judy Smith -- strode out of the prisoner holding area. He darted glances at prosecutors and nodded to Lockhart before a court clerk read the eight felony charges against him.

"Sure," was the only word Kilpatrick uttered as his lawyers asked him whether a June 9 preliminary exam was OK.

Lockhart also entered a plea of not guilty for Kilpatrick and released him without requiring bail. He said that Kilpatrick could leave Michigan without permission from court officials but must tell them where he is going.

Sitting in the back of the courtroom was 36th District Judge Cylenthia LaToye Miller, a former Kilpatrick appointee who said later she wanted to show her support for the mayor.

Judges Ruth Carter and Lynise Bryant-Weekes of the 36th District Court will not be eligible to preside over Kilpatrick's and Beatty's preliminary examinations because they may be called as witnesses in the cases against the two. Carter ran the city's Law Department for Kilpatrick, and Bryant-Weekes testified for the mayor and the city in Brown's suit.

Mayor, lawyer stay positive

After the arraignment, Kilpatrick's lead attorney, Dan Webb, described the mayor's state of mind as "very positive."

"I think this is a weak case and I think we have a good chance of showing a jury that he is not guilty," Webb said. "He understands that and he's made it very clear to me that he is going to go forward and govern this city, and he's told me that I should take the responsibility of preparing this case for trial and not bother him."

Assistant prosecutor Robert Moran declined to comment.

City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta, who has led calls for Kilpatrick to resign, said the arraignment intensified a crisis engulfing the city.

"He needs to be the former mayor in trial as opposed to the mayor in trial, because if he goes into court as the mayor of the City of Detroit he takes the City of Detroit with him, and that's a problem," Kenyatta said. "That means we'll be on trial for the next year or so with appeals and whatever as opposed to the mayor or the former mayor on trial.

"I still believe, as I did last week, that this mayor ... if he loves Detroit ... then he needs to show Detroit love by stepping down."

Webb said the case will not distract Kilpatrick.

"You saw what happened in court today," Webb said. "That procedure took about three minutes. ... That's all it took to plead not guilty, and he's now back running the city as the mayor of this city."

Contact M.L. ELRICK at mlelrick@freepress.com. Staff writer Zachary Gorchow contributed to this report.

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