Accused felons walk free from court

Cases dismissed when police officers fail to appear in court

DETROIT – Local 4 Defenders uncovered a problem going on in our court system that could affect the safety of your family: criminals able to walk free simply because police officers are not showing up in court to testify.

Local 4 Defender Karen Drew discovered this problem happening with Detroit police officers not showing up at the 36th District Court. Many times when they don't show up the case is dismissed, leaving the accused criminal to walk free.

Rudolpho Valentino James is a 32-year-old from Detroit. Why should you care about him? He is a perfect example of what is going wrong with the system. James is an habitual offender with a long criminal record, facing conviction on everything from forgery on his license and plates, to a three-time drunk driving offense, and probation violations.

Recently, James was charged with possession of a firearm along with carrying a concealed weapon. He's considered a habitual offender. So you would assume the court and the police officers involved in his case would take the charges seriously.

But this October when James showed up at the 36th District Court to face those charges, he got quite a surprise. His case was dismissed. The reason - the complaining officer failed to appear.

Local 4 contacted the Wayne County Prosecutors Office to get its feedback about officers not showing up in court. The office told us the James case is not unique. In September, two felony cases were dismissed because officers never showed up in court. In October, a total of three felony cases were dismissed again because cops simply didn't take the time to come to court.

The office issued this statement, reading in part: "Sometimes cases are dismissed when officers are testifying in another court house. That was not the situation causing the dismissal in the James case. Many resources are used to charge a case and bring it to court. The failure of witnesses to appear resulting in dismissals taxes an already strained criminal justice system and has the potential to endanger the public."

"If you or I don't show up we are listed as capious, but in this particular case police officers get paid to go to court as witnesses and they should follow through on that," said Ron Scott with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.

Scott said someone needs to take responsibility so these accused felons don't simply walk free.

"I know in many cases they are overworked and underpaid, none-the-less they should come. I think the other part of the responsibility falls on the prosecutors office. Maybe they should issue a subpoena and make it absolutely essential that they come - right now it's kind of done informally," Scott said.

So why are Detroit police officers missing their assigned court dates? No one on behalf of the department would talk to Local 4 on camera about the problem. But they did issue the following statement.

"The warrant for Rudolpho Valentino James has been re-issued, and officers are actively searching for the defendant. Due to an administrative error, officers were not notified to appear in court. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention, which is being addressed so that future cases are not dismissed due to an officer not being present."

"Every time an officer doesn't show it diminishes the respect for the need we have in this city to deal with issues of public safety," said Luella Gilroy of Westland.

"If you really care about crime on the street, you've got to follow through as well," said Ann Veshka of Detroit.

The Wayne County Prosecutors Office told Local 4 that members of their office have met with top officials at the police department to address the issue of officers not showing up in court. Since that meeting there has been a marked decrease in the problem.

Meantime if you know the whereabouts of Rudolpho James contact the Detroit Police Department.