Malice Green

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Malice Green was a resident of Detroit, Michigan who died while in police custody after being arrested by Detroit police officers Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers on November 5, 1992 during a traffic stop. Both officers were later convicted for Green's death. The official cause of death was ruled due to blunt force trauma to his head. Green allegedly failed to relinquish a vial of crack cocaine. Nevers struck Green in the head with his flashlight approximately 14 times[1] during the struggle which, according to the official autopsy, resulted in his death.

After the struggle Green was transported to a local hospital for treatment for the head injuries sustained in the struggle where he died.

A subsequent report presented by experts testifying for the defense at the trial stated that Green died of heart failure, caused in part by an enlarged heart due to years of substance abuse, and aggravated by the struggle with police.

Initial reaction[edit]

Green was black and the two officers were white and decorated. The incident occurred only months after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, which protested the acquittal of police officers in the video-taped beating of Rodney King.

Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young stated that Green was "literally murdered by police"[2] on national television.

Legal proceeding[edit]

Coroner's reports[edit]

Autopsy photo of Malice Green, showing head injuries

The report was done by Dr. Kahlil Jiraki, the most junior coroner in the department. It was alleged by the defense that his report was rushed due to workload and his impending vacation.[citation needed]

The autopsy showed cuts to the scalp as well as subarachnoid hemorrhage and brain contusions. However, there were no skull fractures, no other bone fractures. Green's heart was enlarged and the arteries hardened. Toxicology results ultimately showed that Green had a cocaine level of .50 micrograms.

Jiraki concluded that the death was caused by blunt force trauma, which caused swelling of the brain. Jiraki testified in Budzyn and Nevers' trial that the damage was done by "fourteen blunt force trauma blows to the head." He stated that his boss, Dr. Bader Cassin, agreed that Green’s drug consumption was as "insignificant as the color of his eyes" as the cause of death.

However, under cross-examination, Jiraki testified that there was no swelling noted in the report, nor any fractures to the skull. In the trial of Sgt. Douglas, Jiraki reduced the number of blows to seven (which fit with Nevers’ testimony). And, at Nevers' second trial, Dr. Cassin testified that he examined the body the day after Dr. Jiraki made his examination (this second exam was never disclosed to the defense prior to, or during, the first trial) and that drugs played a major part in Green's death.

After the second trial, Jiraki sued the coroner's office, claiming that he was pressured by his superiors to change his findings to state that cocaine contributed to Green's death (which he refused to do) which would have supported the police officer's defense. He was awarded $2.5 million. The coroner's officer later alleged during the civil trial that Jiraki was fired for supposed mental instability and absenteeism.[citation needed]

Dr. Jiraki's testimony was supported by the prosecution's paid medical expert Dr. Michael Baden. After the trial, Baden allegedly told a pathologist’s conference that he came to his conclusion based on information surrounding the circumstances of Green’s death and the facts in the exam.

Budzyn and Nevers' defense presented three experts, one of whom stipulated that they identified eleven blunt-force injuries to Green's head. However, they testified that Green’s head injuries were entirely "superficial" and "could not have caused his death." They noted that Green had no fractures, no significant bleeding or bruising of the brain, and no swelling of the brain. It was their opinion that Green died as a result of cocaine and alcohol abuse, combined with his physical struggle with police as he resisted arrest, and the minor head injuries. They stated that these things, in combination, caused a surge of adrenaline which overloaded the electrical circuits in Green’s brain resulting in brain seizure, respiratory failure, cardiac arrest and death.

Trial[edit]

Budzyn and Nevers were tried together in Detroit after the judge denied a change of venue. The coroner did not disclose the second exculpatory report to the defense. The Appeals ruling noted: "...the civilian witnesses [for the prosecution] all had either consumed alcohol or cocaine sometime before witnessing the exchange, three of them were friends with Green (Fletcher, Hollins, and Pace), and there was some suggestion from their testimony that they had reason to dislike these officers." Budzyn and Nevers were not given separate trials, but were allowed separate juries. A high-ranking local NAACP member sat on one jury during the trial, adding suspicion to the circumstances surrounding the officers' convictions. Both juries were composed of a majority of black citizens (two whites on Nevers' jury, one on Budzyn's), but both juries reached unanimous verdicts. During this time, movies were provided for the juries' entertainment, including the movie Malcolm X, during sequester. Malcolm X depicts police brutality by white policemen including the beating of Rodney King, plus a voiceover that claims white cops are the descendants of the Ku Klux Klan and makes a direct reference to "the streets of Detroit." The juries watched the video on at least two occasions towards the end of the trial.

The testimony of the responding EMTs was very damaging to Budzyn and Nevers. They all testified that Green was covered with blood and was hanging from the driver's side door when they arrived. These witnesses said that Nevers struck Green in the head with his heavy police flashlight repeatedly even though Green was not offering any significant resistance. Two of them stated that Nevers told Green to open his hands and hold still, and that, when he did not, Nevers hit him with the flashlight. They described Green as "dazed" and "stuporous" during the incident, saying that Green was uttering only a few words like "wait" while Nevers was striking him.

Aftermath[edit]

The City of Detroit paid a civil agreement of $5.25 million to Malice Green's family.[citation needed]

Officers Nevers, Budzyn, Robert Lessnau, and Freddie Douglas were charged in the death. Ultimately, charges against Sgt. Douglas were dropped, and Lessnau was acquitted of assault. Nevers and Budzyn were convicted of second-degree murder.

In 2007, Larry Nevers wrote a self-published book titled Good Cops, Bad Verdict. He died in February 2013.

Appeals[edit]

On July 31, 1997, the Michigan Supreme Court granted a new trial for Walter Budzyn, mostly on the grounds of the showing of Malcolm X. Budzyn was immediately released from prison. He was retried, and on March 19, 1998, he was again found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and in January 1999 the Michigan Court of Appeals reinstated his four-year prison sentence.[3] He had already served the minimum under the first conviction, and was released.

Larry Nevers' 1997 appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court was denied. However, he was successful on his appeal to a federal court, which overturned the verdict in 1999. It cited the showing of Malcolm X as well as jury members' hearing of preparations in case of riots should the officers be acquitted. This decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which let it stand. Nevers was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in May 2000. He was sentenced to 7–15 years in prison. In March 2003 this conviction was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals, but in September 2003, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld that conviction. During this process Nevers was treated for lung cancer, and was released in 2001 to serve the rest of his sentence at home.

Popular culture[edit]

Outsider musician Wesley Willis' song "Larry Nevers/Walter Budzyn" is about the trial and aftermath of the beating.

Although not written about the death of Green, US rock band Pearl Jam included a picture of Green in the booklet for their 1993 album, Vs, beside lyrics to the song W.M.A. which alludes to racial profiling among US police.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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