Two Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies fired after probe of West Willow incident
Two Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies - one acquitted and one convicted on federal civil rights violations - have been fired for their involvement in a violent struggle with two brothers in Ypsilanti Township more than three years ago.
Sheriff Jerry Clayton said today the deputies were dismissed after an internal investigation. He also said an unspecified number of other officers remain under investigation for their actions the night of June 1, 2006.
Eberle was acquitted in November on a charge accusing him of using unreasonable force against Clifton Lee Jr. Prosecutors alleged Eberle was responsible for killing Lee by hitting him and kneeling on his neck in the West Willow neighborhood on June 1, 2006.
Lee and his brother, Bruce, who was injured, were attempting to intervene in a traffic stop involving their nephew in Ypsilanti Township.
Deputy Eric Kelly also was fired last week as a result of the internal investigation, Clayton said.Â He pleaded guilty to using unreasonable force against Bruce Lee by kicking him, leaving him with head injuries.
Kelly was sentenced in March to a year of probation, and his conviction alone is “grounds for dismissal,” Clayton said.
Department employees were notified by e-mail today of the dismissals, said Derrick Jackson, the department’s director of community engagement.
Eberle and Kelly were among three deputies charged criminally. The other, Sgt. Shawn Hoy, was acquitted in December on a charge that he used unreasonable force against Bruce Lee by pepper-spraying him and failing to stop Kelly.
Hoy and an unspecified number of other employees remain under investigation, Clayton said.
A former detective lieutenant at the sheriff’s department was hired to conduct the probe, Clayton said.
“We are investigating the actions of all the employees that night,” Clayton said.
Eberle’s attorney, Rick Convertino, said Clayton gave in to pressure from the public to fire Eberle.
Eberle was acquitted by a jury of his peers, received back pay, and instead of reinstating him, the sheriff’s department let him “hang out to dry,” said Convertino.
Convertino said it was established at trial that Eberle didn’t violate internal policies or procedures.
“Joe will not roll over and accept it,” Convertino said. “He’s gonna fight it. I’m pretty confident in the long run he’ll get his job back.”
Eberle, Hoy and Deputy Aaron Hendricks are suing the department, claiming they were racially discriminated against by former Sheriff Dan Minzey and police investigators. In the lawsuit, they 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 legal action stemming from the incident, Washtenaw County recently agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Bruce Lee for $1.375 million. The county previously settled with the estate of Clifton Lee for $4 million.
Lee Higgins covers crime and courts for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2527.