Fireworks Shootings Follow-Up Part 2

By Steve Wilson
Web produced by Jenny DiDomenico

August 27, 2004

Is a Detroit man being railroaded into a conviction as the one who opened fire and shot nine people in Hart Plaza during the Freedom Festival fireworks display back in June? Chief investigative reporter Steve Wilson has led our own investigation that is raising some troubling questions.

Police have certainly not followed every lead and tied up every loose end as Chief Ella Bully-Cummings promised, and what’s worse, their official report is laced with false and misleading information, while police and prosecutors keep insisting the right man is in jail awaiting trial.

Repeated flashes from the barrel of a semi-automatic handgun brought an abrupt halt to the fireworks fun. Nine festival-goers were shot one of them recently died.

As the shooting made news around the world, Detroit’s mayor was quick with this message:

"Public safety in the city of Detroit is at a level that we haven’t seen. I mean a positive and productive level that we haven’t seen, I believe, ever."

The pressure to polish Detroit’s image, tarnished again by more senseless gun violence, was a mayoral priority the morning after because among the crowd were visitors from New York who rate and sell the city’s bonds, and NFL officials here to size up the city in advance of the super bowl Detroit is hosting 17 months from now.

"Talking to the NFL last night and this morning, with their reps that are in town, they want to see how we respond to this," Kilpatrick announced that morning. "This is not who we are. This is who he is, the person we’re looking for, and we’ll get him. And we’ll make sure that he understands and the community understands at the same time that this is not the Detroit that we’re going to be and we’re turning the page and we’re moving forward."

Then, not 24 hours after the shooting, police grabbed up the suspected shooter—32-year-old Daron Caldwell, who was not even wearing handcuffs when they brought him in. When he came out he was cuffed, wearing a bullet-proof vest, and denying any guilt.

"I didn’t shoot nobody," Caldwell told reporters that day. "I’m positive."

At another news conference, the mayor praised his police chief and her investigators for the quick arrest. He called it "a defining moment" for the city, a moment he no doubt hoped would impress the visiting V-I-P’s.

"They saw a mature Detroit that not only stepped up to the challenge but handled it with dignity, grace, and a lot of commitment and focus on getting the job done," Kilpatrick announced.

"So we do have one individual that we have several witness identifications that puts him as being the shooter," Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings has said.

But as we first reported here earlier, police have never released any evidence that supports such a claim. The truth is only one eyewitness under oath has identified Caldwell as being the shooter, and immediately after the shooting, what did this star witness tell police that night?

"I said, you know, I mean it was dark I didn’t get, you know, I was looking straight at him, but when I make the police report that night I couldn’t really remember too much about him or anything that night,"
witness Christopher Thakaberry said he told police.

And when he did pick Caldwell out of array of photos of six black men saying if any of them was there at the scene, was he recalling the face of the shooter, or just a face he’d seen in the crowd when pandemonium broke out?

"They asked me to identify, you know, who was the shooter and I said this person is definitely somebody who I had seen that night when it happened," were Thackaberry’s words.

But when Caldwell’s defense lawyer asked the simple and obvious question, the prosecutor’s star witness faded considerably.

Defense: You can’t sit here today and say that’s the person that you saw shooting, can you?

Thackaberry: I tell you, I cannot be 100% sure, no.

Is that why the police bolstered their case against Caldwell with the false claim in their official report that another witness could testify to being there and "observing the defendant shooting a handgun at the scene?" because witness Doria Jackson says now, under oath:

Defense: You didn’t see this guy shoot a gun, did you?

Jackson: I didn’t see the guy shoot a gun.

Defense: You never saw this guy point a gun into the crowd, did you?

Jackson No.

Defense: And you never told the police that you saw anybody point a gun at a crowd of people, did you?

Jackson: No.

Defense: Because you didn’t see that. Is that correct?

Jackson: I didn’t see that.

When Action News asked Detroit Police Department Criminal Investigations Cmdr. Craig Schwartz if Jackson never said that she could put the gun in the hand of the individual, he answered:

"No. That’s correct."

And just how seriously does the top command take such apparent misconduct? More than a week later when we asked the Detroit Chief of Police:

Wilson: Anybody ever tell you those officers didn’t report truthfully on the report?

Cummings: No. This is the first I’m hearing of it and you telling me what a commander told you is hearsay to me and so I need to talk to my commander.

The mayor says he knew nothing about any bogus claims by police.

"I brought them into my office asked them to over the information with me," Kilpatrick said. "I have a lot of confidence in the investigation that they put together and we’ll see how this process works itself out."

Commander Schwartz: What you’re attempting to do is try this case in the media and that is unethical.

Wilson: Okay, well let’s talk about ethics for a minute. You tell me why it’s ethical for one of your police officers to put into an investigative report something that is so far and away apart from the truth that it bears no resemblance to the truth.

Schwartz: People make mistakes all the time Mr. Wilson, and I suspect that on occasion, even you have.

Wilson: Even I have, yes sir. But I don’t claim somebody did something that they never did. I don’t go on the air and report something that isn’t true. Mr. Caldwell is facing charges because the evidence is there to support him being charged.

And then in the midst of our Action News investigation at police headquarters, a double blockbuster. Commander Craig Schwartz says they have four more witnesses who say they saw the shooter that night in Hart Plaza.

Cmdr Schwartz: These four can place the gun in the hand of the shooter. The shooter has been identified as Mr. Caldwell.

Not by any of the four he just said could place the gun in the hand of the shooter, because astonishingly, he says police have never even asked them if Caldwell was the man they saw shooting.

Wilson to Schwartz: Wouldn’t it make sense out of basic fairness to go to these four and say, "Here’s the guy we think was doing the shooting. Was he the guy?" Wouldn’t that then be a big benefit, certainly to Mr. Caldwell, and to everyone else out of fairness?

Schwartz: We’ve conducted a thorough investigation. Mr. Caldwell has been identified as the perpetrator of this crime. He’s facing the charges.

Are police afraid they’ll hear what shooting victim Brandon Patterson has said about the man collared for the crime?

Defense attorney to witness Brandon Patterson: As you sit here today, this is not the man you saw, is it?

Patterson: Nope.

Eyewitness Dominic Kennedy, who doesn’t know Caldwell either, is even more certain police caught the wrong man.

Defense Attorney to witness Dominic Kennedy: This is not the shooter?

Kennedy: No, I swear to God, I swear on my kids that’s not the guy.

Amber Adamik may be one of the four new witnesses police are relying on. Action News showed her video of Caldwell and asked the question the police have avoided: Is he the one?

Amber Adamik: I really don’t - that’s not what I remember seeing right there.

And as for the physical evidence in this troublesome case?

Cmdr Schwartz: We have another witness that saw him leave the gun at the crime scene.

Wilson: You can’t connect the gun to him.

Again, police are stretching. Doria Jackson says only she saw a gun on the ground near a man she thinks is Caldwell, but she has no idea whose gun it was.

Police recovered the weapon but no fingerprints, not on the gun and not on any of the seven shells they found at the scene. Testing Caldwell for gunpowder residue was not possible by the time he was arrested, and even raising the filed-off serial number only told the Chief and her officers who bought it 10 years ago in Ohio.

Wilson to Chief Cummings: Have you connected the weapon in any other way to Mr. Caldwell?

Chief: I, I, that’s some information that I don’t have Steve.

Apparently, there is no physical evidence that connects Daron Caldwell to the shooting

Wilson to Marlon Blake Evans, Defense Attorney: You know what I keep hearing from them? You don’t know everything we have? Evans: Well then, to me that’s a travesty of justice if I don’t know everything that they have. I think it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money. It’s a travesty that we have a community where we’re not safe and we have the prosecution investigating the crime in which they’re convinced that they have the right person but yet and still it appears that the real culprit might be at large.

Action News talked to Mayor Kilpatrick.

Mayor: I think that there was a natural thing that was going on in the community that said ‘let’s get the perpetrator of this crime,’ I don’t believe that it led to anything bad.

Wilson: Could it have led to ‘let’s get somebody, quickly?’.

Mayor: I don’t think it did.

Larry Dubin, a professor at the Detroit School of Law, has been watching the case with interest. His bottom line?

Dubin: It certainly seems that there is going to be reasonable doubt presented to the jury. The prosecution had sufficient evidence to meet the burden of the preliminary exam. They may offer sufficient evidence to be able to get the case to the jury and then it’s the function of the jury, the voice of the community in being fair an impartial and analyzing this, and if they don’t feel that the prosecution’s case meets that beyond a reasonable doubt threshold, it’s their obligation to find the defendant not guilty.

Detroit Free Press Report WXYZ-TV Part 1 WXYZ-TV Part 3

How the System Works
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice