4 Detroit officers charged 2 with murder in beating death of motorist

November 17, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

DETROIT -- Two white plainclothes police officers were charged yesterday with murder in the widely witnessed Nov. 5 beating death of a black motorist, a case that has prompted comparisons with the 1991 Los Angeles police attack on Rodney King.

Two more officers -- including the black supervisor at the scene -- were charged with manslaughter and assault. But there was not enough evidence to bring charges against three other officers who had been among seven originally suspended in the case, authorities said.

"It's time for the healing to start by putting this into the justice system," Wayne County Prosecutor John O'Hair, who filed the charges. Mr. O'Hair said that he did not consider the beating death of Malice Green, 35, to be racially motivated.

But NAACP leaders disagreed and were hoping to head off an expected defense request that the trial be moved out of Detroit. Some police officers voiced doubt that the defendants could get a fair trial in Detroit because of what one called the "prejudicial" comments of city leaders.

The transfer of the trial of four white Los Angeles police officers in the videotaped beating of Mr. King, a black motorist, to suburban Simi Valley and the subsequent selection of a jury with no black members was a central reason the officers were acquitted, many believe.

Mr. Green died of head injuries after being struck repeatedly with heavy police flashlights, according to the preliminary police investigation. He was stopped after dropping off a friend at a suspected drug house, police say.

At least seven police officers, four emergency medical crew members and several bystanders witnessed the attack on Mr. Green, who was unarmed and seated in his car.

Mr. O'Hair declined to discuss the particulars of the beating. But witnesses have said that the beating began after Mr. Green argued and refused to open his clenched hand.

Charged with second-degree murder were Larry Nevers, 52, a 24-year police veteran, and his partner, Walter Budzyn, 42, a police officer for 19 years. Nervous and grim as they stood for arraignment, the undercover officers were freed on personal bond of $100,000 each.

They could get life in prison if convicted. Unlike a first-degree murder charge, prosecutors need not prove a specific intent to kill.

Charged with involuntary manslaughter and willful neglect of duty was Sgt. Freddie Douglas, the ranking officer and the only black officer at the scene. Mr. O'Hair said Sergeant Douglas "intentionally failed to take appropriate action" to stop the attack. Sergeant Douglas, freed on $25,000 bond, faces up to 15 years.

Officer Robert Lessnau was charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, punishable by up to 10 years. Mr. O'Hair said the blows by Officer Lessnau didn't contribute to Mr. Green's death. He was released on $10,000 bond.

Officers Nevers and Budzyn had been named in 25 citizen complaints and five lawsuits. Mr. Green had a minor drug record.

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