Ronald Ebens

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Ronald Madis Ebens,[1] with his stepson, Michael Nitz, as an accomplice, fatally beat Vincent Chin,[2] a Chinese American, on June 19, 1982. This led to a federal indictment for violating Vincent Chin's civil rights, but only after public outrage at the probationary sentence and small fine imposed by Michigan Third Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman. This sentence could not be reversed due to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits double jeopardy.

Early life[edit]

Ronald Ebens was born on October 30, 1939, in Dixon, Illinois. He served 2 & 1/2 years in Army Air Defense School.[3] On August 25, 1965, Ebens started work at Chrysler Corporation's plant in Belvidere, Illinois,[4] and promoted to salaried trim foreman on November 8, 1965.[4] He married Juanita Ebens in 1971, his second marriage after a brief marriage at the age of 18.[3]

His work with Chrysler brought him to Detroit, Michigan, where he owned a bar, Ron's Place, located on Van Dyke Avenue during the 1970s. In 1982, he was a superintendent at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant.[4]

Vincent Chin[edit]

Main article: Vincent Chin

The fight which would lead to the death of Vincent Chin started at The Fancy Pants Club, when Chin took umbrage at a remark that Ebens made to a stripper who had just finished dancing at Chin's table (Chin was having a bachelor party, as he was to be married in two days). According to an interview by Michael Moore for the Detroit Free Press, Ebens told the stripper, "Don't pay any attention to those little fuckers, they wouldn't know a good dancer if they'd seen one."[3]

Ebens claimed that Chin walked over to Ebens and Michael Nitz and threw a punch at Ebens' jaw without provocation, although witnesses from the ensuing trial testified that Ebens also got up and said, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work,"[5] referring to the Japanese auto industry and Nitz's layoff from Chrysler in 1979, despite the fact that Chin was Chinese, not Japanese. It is disputed whether Ebens uttered other racial slurs.[1]

The fight escalated as Nitz shoved Chin in defense of his stepfather, and Chin countered. At the end of the scuffle, both Ebens and Nitz were sprawled on the floor, with Nitz suffering a cut on his head from a thrown chair. Chin and his friends left the room, while a bouncer led Ebens and Nitz to the restroom to clean up the wound.

While they were there, Robert Siroskey, one of Chin's friends, came back inside to use the restroom. He apologized for the group, stating that Chin had a few drinks because of his bachelor's party. Ebens and Nitz had also been drinking that night, although not at the club, which did not serve alcohol. Jimmy Choi also reentered the club to look for Siroskey.

When Ebens and Nitz left the club, Chin and his friends were still waiting outside for Siroskey. Chin challenged Ebens and Nitz to continue the fight in the parking lot,[3] at which point Ebens retrieved a Jackie Robinson model Louisville Slugger baseball bat from Nitz' car and chased Chin and Choi out of the parking lot.

Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man 20 dollars to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald's restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat. Chin was struck at least four times with the bat, including blows to the head. He fell into a coma and died four days later. Ebens was arrested for the initial assault, and spent the rest of Father's Day weekend in jail.[3] After Vincent Chin's death, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were charged with second-degree murder, a felony which could not be sentenced with probation.

Consequences[edit]

  • On July 1, 1982, the Detroit Free Press published a front page article about Vincent Chin's murder. The United Auto Workers told Chrysler of a plan to strike if Ebens remained employed with Chrysler. As management, he was not a member of the union, and the company placed him on vacation, asking Ronald Ebens to leave Warren Truck Assembly later that same day. On July 16, he was placed on unpaid status pending resolution of the case.[4]
  • On March 16, 1983, after a plea bargain was reached the previous month to reduce the charge to third-degree manslaughter (which had no minimum sentence and could be dealt with probation), Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ebens and Nitz to three years probation, a $3000 fine, and $780 in court costs; because Chin initiated the physical altercation, neither defendant had prior convictions, that Chin survived for four days on life support lent reasonable doubt to the case of intent to murder, and there was no Wayne County Prosecutor present to argue for a more severe punishment. Kaufman later wrote, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal." [6]
  • On Monday, March 28, 1983, Chrysler formally discharged Ebens from his position at Chrysler, citing that his plea entered a felony conviction on his criminal record.[4]
  • Meanwhile, protests from the Asian American community and Detroit media led to a federal investigation, a November 1983 indictment by a grand jury for the violation of Vincent Chin's and Jimmy Choi's civil rights, and a June 1984 trial in which Michael Nitz was acquitted of all charges, and Ebens was acquitted of one charge, and found guilty of the other. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ebens' lawyers appealed, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found the trial judge to have erred in not allowing the defense to present key pieces of evidence, chiefly an audiotape of Liza Cheuk May Chan of the American Citizens for Justice interviewing Chin's friends together, creating the grounds for an argument that the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony by getting them to "agree on what happened."[7] A retrial was ordered and Ronald Ebens was acquitted of the final charge, with a Cincinnati jury finding no racial motivation in the killing of Vincent Chin.
  • A civil suit for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin was settled out of court on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 in $30 weekly installments over the following 10 years. Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million, at $200/month for the first two years and 25% income or $200/month thereafter, whichever was greater. This represented the projected loss of income from Vincent Chin's engineering position, as well as Lily Chin's loss of Vincent's services as laborer and driver. However, the estate of Vincent Chin would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.[1]
  • In April 1988, Ebens sued Chrysler for $10,000 and reinstatement on the grounds of wrongful termination. Chrysler claimed that such action at that date exceeded the statute of limitations.[4] This suit was still pending when Ebens was forced to return to court to explain his reasons for failing to keep up with the payments in the Chin settlement.[8]
  • At the November 1989 hearing, the Chin estate, represented by attorney James Brescoll, questioned how Ebens could obtain loans for a Dodge van and Plymouth Sundance requiring payments of $682/month, yet could not meet his $200/month minimum obligation.[8] Ronald Ebens explained about the motorcycle accident in Wisconsin that killed his youngest stepson, Matt Nitz (Juanita Ebens lost her job after quitting work to care for her son), and of Ebens' general inability to find work due to his infamy from the Chin case. Ebens testified that he had stopped looking for work, other than the occasional odd job,[8] and was awaiting the outcome of the litigation against Chrysler.[1]
  • On September 6, 1990, a decision of No cause of action against the plaintiff, Ebens, and in favor for the defendant, Chrysler, at which point Chrysler attempted to sue for the $10,921.84 ($9919 labor and $1,002.84 expenses) in legal fees it spent on the case.[4]
  • On August 28, 1997,[9] the Chin estate renewed the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years.[1] The complaint listed Ebens as having only paid $3,000 on the judgement,[9] and adjusted the damages with $3,205,604.37 in accrued interest, $15.00 for the judgement, $90.00 in clerk fees, and $65.00 for service fees and mileage for a new total of $4,683,653.89.[9] The proof of service listed an address in Henderson, Nevada.[9]
  • Michael Nitz reportedly did make payments pursuant to the original settlement, in spite of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1986.[1][10] Ebens' homeowners' policy paid about $20,000.[11] Ronald Ebens has been attributed with conflicting statements as to whether he ever intends to fulfill his debt, but in a 1987 newspaper interview, Ebens told future filmmaker Michael Moore that he would not give his detractors satisfaction by committing suicide.[3]

Apology[edit]

In June of 2012 – just before the 30th anniversary of the killing – and in the wake of a prominent retrospective article in the New York Times,[12] Ebens expressed his contrition in a phone interview from his home in Nevada with writer Emil Guillermo.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Henry Yee and the Estate of Vincent Chin (deceased) vs. Ronald Ebens, Michael Nitz, and Fancy Pants lounge, 83-309788 CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1983).
  2. ^ Article "20 years ago: The Vincent Chin murder – A product of anti-Japanese demagogy" on Spark
  3. ^ a b c d e f Moore, Michael (August 30, 1987). "The Man Who Killed Vincent Chin". Detroit Free Press. Sunday magazine 12–17, 20. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Ronald Ebens vs. Chrysler Corporation, 88-810078 CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1988).
  5. ^ Article "Remembering Vincent Chin" on AsianWeek
  6. ^ Helen Zia (2000). Asian American Dreams. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-14774-4. 
  7. ^ US. v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (U.S. App. 6th Cir. 1986).
  8. ^ a b c Finkelstein, Jim (November 30, 1989). "The Man Convicted In Chin Case Pledges To Make Good On Debt". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1B. 
  9. ^ a b c d Paul Dufault, Temporary Person Representative of the Estate of Vincent Jen Chin, Deceased, vs. Ronald M. Ebens, 97-727321-CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1997).
  10. ^ 86-05789-G
  11. ^ Judge Charles Kaufman
  12. ^ Wu, Frank H. "Why Vincent Chin Matters." The New York Times. June 22, 2012. Retrieved on November 28, 2012.
  13. ^ "Ronald Ebens, the man who killed Vincent Chin, apologizes 30 years later." Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Retrieved on November 28, 2012.

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