Davontae Sanford and The Criminalization of Black Males

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

Detroit native Davontae Sanford is now free, after serving nearly nine years for murders he didn’t commit.

In this case, we witness things we’ve seen before in other awful cases—like in the Central Park Five fiasco—where police finagled “confessions” and prosecutors turned a blind eye to obvious inconsistencies.

Again, the question must be asked: where are the congressional panels to address the problems of racial policing and the corrupt criminal justice system that criminalizes Black youths?

Last week, Davontae Sanford, now 23, walked out of Detroit’s Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Iona, a free man. He served time for the 2007 quadruple murders in a Detroit drug-den on the city’s east side. In a horrendous example of the criminalization on Black men, Sanford was framed by a crooked cop and was eventually convicted and sentenced to serve 37-90 years for the killings.

He was only 15 years-old at the time. What was done to Sanford is similar to atrocities we’ve seen happen to innocent Black men before.

The primary reason this innocent young man is free today is because the perjury of a police official came to light. When Mr. Sanford was first charged, it was alleged, by then Deputy Chief James Tolbert, that Sanford had drawn a sketch of the drug-den where the murders occurred. That statement was a lie that was eventually—after nine years—admitted to by officials.

"It called into question the building blocks of our case," said Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. “That's why this case was charged in the first place. Because we thought we could prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt. Deputy Chief Tolbert as I indicated before, testified that Mr. Sanford drew the sketch from a blank piece of paper, and then signed it," Worthy said.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Officer has received a perjury warrant for Deputy Chief Tolbert—and they’ve supposedly said they are trying to decide if they should charge him with perjury.

What’s to decide here, when the actions of this officer led to framing Mr. Sanford for these murders? Shouldn’t law enforcement officers be held to the highest standards—since their credibility is central to the integrity of the criminal justice system?

Deputy Chief Tolbert must be tried—and hopefully convicted and sent to prison for at least nine years, like Sanford was—for his wretched criminal conduct.

How many cases of police misconduct and murder must be seen before Capitol Hill acts to stop the malicious mayhem that racist policing and a corrupt court system heaps on Black America? Do these pretentious politicians give a damn about real justice? If they do, what are we to make of their continued silence—given all the outrages we’ve witnessed over the last few years?

Their lack of action tells us this: Black lives don’t matter to most lawmakers in Congress.

Another horrible reality here is the ineffective and incompetent assistance of Sanford’s lawyer at the time, Robert Slameka—who did more to assist his client’s prosecutors. Mr. Slameka is the poster-child of what a bad lawyer looks like. This disgrace to the legal profession had his law license suspended in 2015—for the second time—and has had 17 reprimands since 1986 for assorted violations, including multiple instances of forgery.

Slameka also has a propensity from advising his clients to plead guilty. In this case, he advised Sanford to plead guilty—even though it should’ve been clear that Deputy Chief Tolbert lied. Moreover, according to Mr. Sanford’s current lawyers, he was coerced and tricked into a false confession. Wasn’t Slameka aware of this?

One crucial question here: how was this “confession” coerced by police? When he was being interrogated was anyone else there beside police? Was any violence—psychological, physical or both—used against this 15-year-old?

Did the fact that Mr. Sanford suffer from learning disabilities make it even easier to secure this “confession?”

We now know the “confessions” that led to the convictions of the Central Park Five—obtained by the NYPD—was done in the most despicable of manners. These vulnerable young men were deceived by officers who were only concerned with arresting somebody, anybody, for the brutal rape of the jogger.

Deputy Chief Tolbert must be prosecuted: so we can know all the details of how this travesty of justice occurred. Police who bear false witness against innocent citizens must be held accountable—and the proverbial book thrown at them.
Another important question here is: were prosecutors unaware Sanford was being framed?

Reportedly, at some point, the Michigan State Police became suspicious and started investigating, and accusing, Mr. Tolbert of perjury. We know the real killer, hitman Vincent Smothers, confessed to these murders—he said he committed with partner Earnest Davis, within a few weeks after Sanford was convicted.

So, why did it take nine years to set Sanford free?

Mr. Smothers is now serving a 50-100 year sentence after pleading guilty to eight contract killings—which are separate from the four murders Mr. Sanford was convicted of.
Smothers gave details of all his crimes—including the drug-den murders Sanford was convicted of—to police and prosecutors. He even told authorities where one of the guns was stashed that was used in these killings.

Not surprisingly, Smothers’ lawyer seemed incredulous regarding whether police didn’t know that Sanford was innocent of these murder charges.

Didn’t police test that gun and corroborate Smothers’ story?
Smothers "gave the police details about all his crimes, including the killings on Runyon Street,” said Smothers’ attorney, Gabi Silver. “The police interviewed him about all the other cases, but never about the Runyon case. So they believed him with all the other cases, but not that one?”

“He’s been willing to testify Davontae Sanford had nothing to do with the killings,” Silver said. “Come on, now: He’s a very savvy guy; there’s no way he’d bring a 14-year old disabled kid to help him with a hit.”

What were these prosecutors doing when they found out about the confessions of Mr. Smothers? Didn’t they believe him? Or, were they more concerned this bogus conviction would be overturned—and their wins and losses tally would be negatively reflected? Should these prosecutors now face legal action for not turning over the evidence provided to them by Mr. Smothers?

Unfortunately, statistics tell us African-Americans and Black people by far represent a vastly higher percentage of those who are wrongly convicted. And with the actions of officers like Deputy Chief Tolbert, and these prosecutors in this case, should we really be surprised?

For example, according to the Innocence Project, of the 342 people that have been exonerated through their efforts since 1989, 210 were African-American—compared to 105 White people. That stark variance is magnified because African-Americans represent a mere 12 percent of America’s population. Isn’t this an example of the consequences of a racist criminal justice system?

How many more innocent Blacks are there languishing in prisons?

Over the last two years, we’ve seen several recorded instances where officers engaged in unjustified arrests of Black people. In Inkster, Michigan motorist Floyd Dent was wrongfully arrested by Officer William Melendez—after being severely beating.

Officer Melendez then apparently tried to frame Dent by planting drugs near his car. Ironically, it was the police dash-cam that saved the day for Mr. Dent.

We all remember the awful manner in which Sandra Bland was pulled over, while driving Black, arrested on trumped on charges, by State Trooper Brian Encina, before mysteriously dying while in police custody.

Freddie Gray had his spine crushed after he was arrested on dubious charges, supposedly, because he “made eye contact and ran away.”

There is a deadly serious problem between Black America and the White criminal “justice” system. The case of Mr. Sanford is another awful example of the abuse and criminalization of Black people.

How long will we allow this injustice to continue before we say enough is enough?

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