DETROIT – A retired Detroit police officer came forward Tuesday to set the record straight on the imprisoned cocaine dealer known as "White Boy" Rick Wershe.
Sgt. John Simon was a supervisor in Detroit's 9th Precinct in the last 1980s -- a violent time in which crack cocaine was running rampant and the city's murder rate was double what it is today.
This week, the parole board will vote to decide if Wershe will get a formal parole hearing. Simon wants to clear the air once and for all prior to that vote.
Simon was the officer in charge the day Wershe was arrested. He said he was chasing Wershe in his east side neighborhood when Wershe was only 12 years old. He knew the boy was on a path to trouble.
Simon, who now lives in a retirement home, is speaking about Wershe's case for the first time because he wants to set the story straight.
"I knew Wershe from when he was a kid," Simon said.
Simon said Wershe was known in the neighborhood as a troublemaker before he was a teenager.
"Everyone pointed, 'Oh yeah, you've got to watch this kid. This white kid here, he's always involved in stuff,'" Simon said. "Everybody knew him."
Young Wershe became a regular at the police station.
"Every time he'd get arrested or brought in, his mother would show up and there'd be hell to pay at the station, listening to her, 'Why are you picking on my son?'" Simon said.
But when it came to drugs, Simon said Wershe was no kingpin. He said Wershe was little more than an errand boy for the real drug dealers and killers on Detroit's east side.
"He was an easy target," Simon said. "They made him a drug pin because he's a white boy and doing errands."
As for violence, Simon said Wershe was fearful, not frightening.
"The only violent thing I saw Wershe do was he spit on one of the guys, the guys from narcotics in the cell, and tried to spit on me," Simon said.
But on May 22, 1987, Simon said Wershe had 8 kilos of cocaine and a bag of cash. Simon was the officer in charge when Wershe was pulled over by police and ran into his grandmother's house.
"They searched the house and stuff, and apparently he had gotten out of the back of the house," Simon said.
Police said Wershe was carrying two bags, one filled with money, one filled with drugs.
"(We) found a paper bag with money, and I said, 'OK, give me that. That goes with me,'" Simon said.
Simon said the 8 kilos "filled up the front seat of my car."
For that drug bust, Simon said Wershe deserved a lengthy prison term, but nothing near the 29 years he's spent behind bars.
"He's part of that devastation, but there were people that did more, that provided the stupid kid with the dope and the money, and they're out," Simon said.
Parole board to vote Friday
The 10-member parole board will vote Friday on whether to give Wershe a formal parole hearing. If he gets six yes votes, he will have the public hearing this summer. If not, Wershe will not be reconsidered for release for another five years.