Thursday, January 24, 2002

Chief Douglas Wright - Charges dismissed - Benton Harbor PD

Also See:

Chief Douglas Wright - Charged with obstruction of justice [Nov 19, 2001]

Chief Douglas Wright - Domestic violence [August 02, 2001]

January 24, 2002: Berrien Trial Court Judge John Hammond dismissed  charges against Chief Douglas Wright for obstruction of justice [in the investigation of the DV complaint against him].

Cherry recharges former Benton Harbor police chief
Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2002 12:00 am
Updated: 5:41 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011.
By LYNN STEVENS / H-P Staff Writer
The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH -- Former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright has been charged again with domestic violence in an alleged attack on his wife last year.

But Wright won't face a felony charge of obstructing police in the alleged Aug. 2 incident at his city home.

Berrien Trial Court Judge John Hammond had dismissed charges of domestic violence and attempting to obstruct a police investigation against Wright because of procedural errors. Hammond said Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry had improperly called in a special prosecutor from Allegan County.

Cherry issued a statement Monday saying he will recharge Wright with domestic violence in the alleged attack on his wife, Lucy.

In Michigan, domestic violence is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of 93 days in the county jail and a fine of $500.

"Unlike the decision by the Allegan County prosecutor," Cherry announced, "I have chosen not to charge Wright with attempting to obstruct justice under the common law. The likelihood of gaining a conviction on this particular charge does not justify the additional time and delay that would be required to bring that charge to trial."

Cherry estimated that the domestic violence charge will be brought to trial within four weeks.

In his statement, Cherry explained he initially disqualified his office from reviewing police reports on the incident because at the time Wright was still Benton Harbor's chief of police.

"The very act of reviewing such reports calls into question claims of favoritism and patronage on one hand, and jeopardizes working relationships on the other," Cherry wrote.

Since that time, Benton Harbor removed Wright from the job. Cherry wrote that the change in job status made action by his office feasible.

"We're happy the felony charge has been dropped," said Wright's lawyer, Tat Parish of Watervliet. "We're disappointed they've chosen to pursue a misdemeanor charge we think is not well founded,"

Parish said Monday afternoon he understands a warrant has been issued for Wright's arrest, and he was making arrangements with Wright to turn himself in for arraignment, as he did the first time charges were brought in the case.

Hammond wrong to dismiss charges
Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2002 12:00 am
Updated: 5:28 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011
The Herald Palladium

I am appalled at the decision Berrien County Judge Hammond made in dismissing domestic violence charges against former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright.

Recently, so many domestic disputes have led to harm and murder. It would seem that the judge would take this opportunity to set an example with someone who is supposed to uphold the law. It is obvious that Wright needs some counseling or anger management.

Prosecutor Jim Cherry did the right thing by immediately distancing himself and Berrien County from the case, to prevent favoritism or other issues from occurring. Apparently this didn't work and someone else called in a favor, or so it seems. It's one more discouraging instance in our legal system.

A person who works for the system isn't tried by the system when he does something wrong. The average person would have to go to court, be labeled for domestic violence, go to counseling and anger management sessions, be evaluated for drug/alcohol abuse and be put on probation. Prosecutor Cherry absolutely did the right thing, but Judge Hammond made a very disappointing and questionable move.

Marlena L. Ballard

Charges against former chief thrown out
Posted: Friday, January 25, 2002 12:00 am
Updated: 5:38 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011.
By LYNN STEVENS / H-P Staff Writer The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH -- Former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright may never have to face criminal charges for allegedly beating his wife, then attempting to obstruct a police investigation of the assault.

Berrien Trial Court Judge John Hammond dismissed the charges Thursday after finding a special prosecutor was improperly appointed.

Hammond ruled Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry acted too soon when he asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed to review the police report and decide if charges should be filed. He also said Cherry had no conflict of interest that would require a special prosecutor.

"Either the prosecutor must be incapable of performing the duties of his office or disqualified by reason of a conflict of interest," Hammond said. "For example, he has had a stroke, or other physical limit. No one's saying that here.

"Or, an example was the prosecutor, until a few days before, had been the defendant's defense attorney on the same case. That was a clear case of conflict of interest.

"The statute, as interpreted by our state Supreme Court, said this applies only to a case in progress. It has nothing to do with instigating a case."

Cherry had asked for a special prosecutor to review the Aug. 2, 2001, incident because he said he had worked closely with Wright since his hiring as police chief in June 2000. Cherry said he did not want his personal relation to color the investigation.

Chief Trial Court Judge Paul Maloney on Aug. 24 asked the Allegan County prosecutor's office to act in Cherry's place.

In December, Wright's attorney, Tat Parish, asked Hammond to dismiss the case because of Maloney's timing. He said appointing a special prosecutor three months before any charges were brought against Wright was legally incorrect.

At that hearing, Parish said, "There is a requirement, set by statute, how and when you appoint a special prosecutor. It appears that wasn't followed."

Cherry declined to comment today beyond a written statement. In it he said, "Prosecutors have long been in a "Catch-22" with regard to complaints made against high ranking county, township and municipal police officials. This remains an unsettled area of the law…"

He noted that a state Senate bill clarifying the procedure is still pending in the Legislature nearly a year after it was introduced.

"Had I decided to review the police reported prepared in this incident and determined them to be insufficient to support a criminal complaint, the integrity of the criminal justice system would have been called into question by claims of favoritism and patronage. Had I reviewed the police reports and authorized charges, I would have jeopardized essential working relationships between my office and, potentially, the entire Benton Harbor Police Department."

He called asking for an outside prosecutor a "long-established, although informal, practice used by myself and my predecessors."

At the December hearing, Hammond had told both Parish and Allegan County Assistant Prosecutor James Champion he realized dismissing the case could cause enormous change to the way the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office has operated for many years. But Hammond said that did not matter.

"If you're wrong, you're wrong," he said.

Wright's wife, Lucy, said last August she thought that because her husband was a police chief, he would never have to face trial for domestic violence. However, Wright's contract with the city of Benton Harbor specifically allowed the city to fire him without severance if he were ever charged with any crime. He was fired after being charged in November.

Was Wright wronged by prosecutor decision?
Posted: Friday, December 7, 2001 12:00 am
Updated: 5:09 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011.
By LYNN STEVENS / H-P Staff Writer
The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH -- Questions over how Berrien County appointed a special prosecutor has put a crimp in the criminal case against former Benton Harbor Police Chief Douglas Wright.

Wright is accused of attempted obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to keep city police from investigating whether he assaulted his wife, Lucy, Aug. 2 at his city home. Wright additionally faces a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. Wright maintains he is innocent on both counts.

But neither allegation came up at Thursday's preliminary hearing before Berrien Trial Court Judge John Hammond. Instead, the judge, assistant prosecutor James Champion, and Wright's attorney, Tat Parish, disputed whether the Berrien County prosecutor misinterpreted state laws in appointing Champion - who is an assistant prosecutor in Allegan County.

Parish asked Hammond to dismiss the case because Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry requested that a prosecutor from another county handle the case because he had worked closely with Wright and he wanted to avoid even the appearance of bias.

Parish's argument surprised the judge and Champion.

Hammond briefly recessed the hearing to look for legal precedents. Minutes later, he returned to the courtroom to summarize several previous rulings that seemed to support Parish's claims.

Parish argued those examples proved that the change of prosecutors was made incorrectly. He said Cherry asked for a replacement, and Chief Berrien Trial Court Judge Paul Maloney signed the order for a replacement Aug. 24, nearly three months before any charges were brought against Wright.

"The court did not have the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to aid the investigation," Parish argued. "I don't know of anything that gives the chief judge this power. The preliminary issue is: could Judge Maloney or could any judge have signed the order?

"Second, does the Allegan County Prosecutor have the authority without an order of this court to proceed in this matter?"

Hammond asked him, "You're saying the mere fact the case is a political hot potato does not justify dumping it off onto somebody else?"

"He might be justified, but he hasn't done it the right way," Parish responded. "There is a requirement, set by statute, how and when you appoint a special prosecutor. It appears that wasn't followed.

"The other thing is whether a felony charge of obstructing justice could not be brought under (the law cited by prosecutors) or should be brought as a misdemeanor charge."

Parish said Wright is charged under a law that does not apply. Instead of charging him under the modern misdemeanor charge of attempted obstruction of justice, they charged under common law that he used his office as chief of police to obstruct a police investigation.

Parish said common law is a catch-all relying on judges' rulings before 1787 that cover offenses that would be indictable, felony crimes. In an era without police departments, attempting to obstruct police investigations would have been impossible, Parish said.

He said common law applies only if there is no modern law covering the same thing, but there are at least two laws dealing with obstructing justice under modern law and both are misdemeanors.

"We're saying they cannot use that old, archaic law when there are at least two laws passed by the Legislature that would cover this. It sounds esoteric, but this common law carries a very stiff penalty - five years," Parish said.

Champion said he could not prepare an adequate response to Parish's questions on the spot, but he offered to file a written response later.

Hammond would not agree to the delay. He gave Champion one hour to find a case that supported his being appointed in Cherry's place.

"I appreciate Mr. Champion's being hit with this unawares - as I was - but tough cookies," Hammond said. "There are lots of (law) books here.

"I realize this would mean enormous change to the way things have been done in the Prosecutor's Office in this county for a number of years, but hey, if you're wrong, you're wrong."

After the recess, Hammond agreed to postpone further discussion to January 18. He warned the lawyers to file all objections in writing in advance of that date.

"Let's conclude these problems," Hammond said. "I want this case concluded before I'm out of office."

His term expires at the end of 2004.

Tuesday, January 1, 2002