Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners agrees to $1.375 million lawsuit settlement with Lee family
Washtenaw County leaders are taking steps today to move beyond two lawsuits stemming from a June 2006 altercation with Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies that resulted in the death of a Ypsilanti Township man.
The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted 8-0 Wednesday, with three members absent, to offer Bruce Lee and Beatrice McKeown a $1.375 million joint settlement to end their cases against the county. They are the brother and mother of Clifton "Pete" Lee Jr., 45, who died of asphyxiation at the bottom of a pile of deputies trying to restrain him the night of June 1, 2006.
The county previously settled a lawsuit with the estate of Clifton Lee for $4 million and paid $250,000 out-of-pocket in that settlement. In the latest lawsuits, the county will pay another $125,000 out-of-pocket.
Commissioners discussed the settlement in executive session before voting; they made no remarks during the public meeting. Commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr, D-5th District, Ronnie Peterson, D-6th District, and Barbara Levin Bergman, D-8th District, were absent during the vote on the lawsuit settlement.
Bill Goodman, a Detroit attorney representing the Lee family, told AnnArbor.com earlier this week that the Lees have suffered enough and want to put the case behind them.
"The mother, she watched her own son basically die in front of her eyes after a really inexcusable attack by a variety of Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies," he said. "We're willing to spare the family the ordeal of going through this litigation, reliving all these things yet again, and we feel it's in everybody's best interest to settle the case at this time. We feel that it's a modest settlement, but a fair one."
Bruce Lee was also involved in the altercation that night and said he was beaten by deputies. One deputy, Eric Kelly, pleaded guilty in federal court last year to violating Bruce Lee's civil rights.
The county is now preparing to defend itself against three officers involved in the incident who filed suit against the county, claiming they were racially discriminated against by former sheriff Dan Minzey and police investigators. Shawn Hoy, Joseph Eberle, and Aaron Hendricks claim the previous sheriff's administration wrongfully suspended them because they're white officers involved in a fight with black men, one of whom died.
In other action Wednesday night, the county board voted unanimously to designate the entire county as an Economic Recovery Zone. Curtis Hedger, the county's attorney, said it will help make the county eligible to use Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds and Recovery Zone Facility Bonds - two new bond programs made available through the federal stimulus package.
Washtenaw County has been allocated $22 million for the Economic Development Bond Program and $33 million for the Facility Bond Program.
Economic Development Bonds are taxable public bonds for public projects to be built within a "recovery zone," which is an area designated by state and local government as having significant poverty, unemployment, home foreclosure rates or general distress. Facility Bonds, which also are to be used in recovery zones, can be used by private developers for commercial property development.
Interested private developers must go through the county to pursue the Facility Bonds. Hedger said he's already fielded a couple calls from interested parties.
Commissioners pulled one item off Wednesday's agenda: Appointments to the new Washtenaw County Land Bank Authority Board. The county board is being asked to appoint one county commissioner and one township supervisor representing the townships in the western side of the county, but discussions of who should serve on the board are ongoing.
Commissioners heard little comment from the public during a hearing on whether to levy a countywide veterans relief millage for the second year in a row. The millage renewal will go to the Ways and Means Committee for consideration on Sept. 16. Adoption by the full board is possible Oct. 7.
The tax - one-fortieth of a mill, or 0.025 mills - does not need voter approval and would be levied by the county in December. It would raise about $394,000 next year to provide relief services to indigent veterans, such as financial assistance with rent, utility bills and car payments for veterans struggling to make ends meet.
"There's clearly a need for it," said Mark Lindke, director of the county's Department of Veterans Affairs. "We've been helping individuals with some pretty substantial mortgage bills, utility bills, rent, food. I think once the program is more and more used, and word gets out that it's available, we'll see a considerable increase over time."
Lindke said Wednesday that he didn't immediately have statistics available to show how many veterans have been assisted with the millage this year and how much of the nearly $400,000 raised has been spent to date. But he said it's likely there will be some money left over at the end of the year, which will stay in a veterans relief fund.
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.