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Posted on Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 6:37 p.m.

Two Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies fired after probe of West Willow incident

By Lee Higgins

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.

Deputy Joseph Eberle was fired last Friday after the internal investigation concluded he violated department policies and procedures, Clayton said. Clayton would not detail the violations.

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. 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 Reach him at or 734-623-2527.



Mon, Oct 12, 2009 : 9:52 a.m.

Tater, D and Dorothy: I certainly hope that I am not on the receiving end in this instance of your concept of the law enforcement community "protect and serve" motto. While his family may never have any further financial worries...neither will he.


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 7:25 p.m.

I grew up in West Willow and from the time I was in JR HIGH as we called it then, West Willow as a nice place. We have a mixture of people who live here, all neighbor hoods have their bad people. The majority of the people who live here take pride in their homes. I have never had any problems. I grew up, moved away, and came back. People need to quit making our "hood" out to be the ghetto of Ypsi. I see Washtenaw County patroling and I myself welcome them. WE ARE NOT ALL BAD


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 5:56 p.m.

I like how no one has mentioned the video that showed these two cops violently abusing the detained suspects. The fact that they were acquitted of charges that were BLATANTLY proven in the police videos shows that the system failed. Any sane and unbiased person who had watched those videos couldn't come to any other conclusion than that of excessive force being used. The one cop was CLEARLY seen stomping on the detained suspects head even. This whole situation is sham, on both sides. All involved are guilty of miscarriages of justice.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 12:34 p.m.

A trained and honorable police officer doesn't drag a handcuffed suspect from the back of a patrol control just because the guy spits (like that's never going to happen?). And a trained and honorable police officer doesn't kick a suspect in the face while the guy is on the ground with a bunch of cops on top suffociating the life out of him. It wasn't just the 'bad guys' being bad on this night. The 'good guys' weren't behaving much better and their dismissal was the appropriate action.


Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 1:39 p.m.

Well, all I have say is that {justice Has been served} America has changed a little, Im glad to see that criminals are being found Guilty, no matter who they are!


Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 12:28 p.m.

It's very interesting reading all these comments. First, it doesn't matter who your family is, whether your family has a long history of service in the community or if you're the family of a crimminal. You can and should be fired if you do not follow your employer's policie and/or procedures even if you are aquitted of crimminal charges. These are two different things. Ask the bank employee who chased a bank robber out of his bank and then was fired! Wrong is wrong and if you have a badge you should know that better than the rest of us. Shame of the cops that just stood around and let the bad apples run wild. If they get to keep their jobs I hope they have learned the policies of their department and step in if they are ever in the same situation. Cops are supposed to protect and serve everyone. You don't get to decide who! If you have a problem doing that and can't do it get another job.


Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 7:56 a.m.

This is wonderful, I am glad that I did vote for him. This type of thing happen to me in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and now I am called a felon because I was found guilty because I did not stand in my friends drive way and let the Police shoot me with a taser gun. The Police beat me up and now, I have to have Plastic surgery on my head, from being kicked. On the police report he said I was speeding and he was behind me, I sure did not see him on a cold winter day and in court the police man cried and said I was driving fine, I just had on a lether coat and looked like a bank robber or a drug dealer, that I was not speeding. Wish, I had the funds to do something like this in Bloomfield hills. The chief of Police that I did e-mail to wrote me back and called me a felon and I did nothing wrong. He also said, this is usual police procedure in Bloomfield Hills. If you ever drive on Woodward near Cranbrook, you will see the police looking for one person in a car with no witness and then two police cars come and they will lie and get away with it. I was taken to jail like a criminal. I am glad I live in Washtenaw County.

Ice Cream

Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 6:24 a.m.

How sad and unfortunate for EVERYONE involved. I send love to everyone and hope for healing in the community, sheriffs dept. and the families involved. We should analyze how to prevent this from ever happening again.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 11:59 p.m.

"Can you imagine what it feels like to live under a system that allowed your family to be torn apart and your children sold to the highest bidder. To see your father hung or your brother hung for the simple fact that their skin was of a diferent color. The whole structure of this country was centered on "Racial supremacy" Im glad to see that America is changing and that you can recieve a little justice from the Judicial system" -dawhood oh, PAHLEASE. A little justice? Eberle was found NOT GUILTY by the Judicial system. The Lee family lawyered up and received cash IN SETTLEMENT, no court precedings, no jury of peers. oh and by the way...the percentage of Americans who can actually say they saw their family members hanged because their skin was a different color is reletively small, that would be because it is 2009. Racism and discrimination has very little to do with how one REACTS to police officers or conducts themselves within their neighborhoods. Someone NOT looking for a confrontation to begin with would not approach a normal traffic stop. a community that sees the cops as the enemy is no less than a mob state.

Cendra Lynn

Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 11:31 p.m.

Oh, SHAME on you, Lee Higgins. Go back and watch the tapes. Bruce Lee was NOT attempting to intervene in the traffic stop. He came over to see what was happening, was told to leave, turned and began walking home. He had already turned the corner at the end of the block when several deputies chased after him, tackled him, and killed him. You need to also do the research showing that there had been talk among the white deputies earlier that evening about going to get blacks (not the word they used). I request that you retract your poor choice of words after, of course, doing the necessary research. Cendra Lynn


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 9:19 p.m.

Anyone that has worked for a company knows that "policy violation" is a term used to dismiss anyone. I believe that the police use the phrase "conduct unbecoming" to make it fit the policy violation. Would it have made more sense to have a third party to conduct the internal investigation; someone not affilliated with the sheriff department? Or, why didn't they do it themselves? Was Sheriff Clayton not going to get the results HE wanted? Who is going to do the second investigation on the family members that were involved in the incident to see if they violated policy? Be happy you're not the police otherwise you would be investigated AGAIN (double jeopardy?) and then be fired anyway. This was indeed a bad incident for everyone. There will be no "good" outcome. This will not be over for a long time. More money will be spent in addition to the money already paid to the family. Let's say that everyone involved gets fired and they even give more money to the family: What will it change? Unfortunately nothing. After the media hype goes away, West Willow will be no different. Hopefully the family will use the money to move out of there and leave this bad incident behind.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 7:12 p.m.

Can you imagine what it feels like to live under a system that allowed your family to be torn apart and your children sold to the highest bidder. To see your father hung or your brother hung for the simple fact that their skin was of a diferent color. The whole structure of this country was centered on "Racial supremacy" Im glad to see that America is changing and that you can recieve a little justice from the Judicial system


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 1:01 p.m.

Sorry Tater, it does give this person the right to use excessive force where someone died and they came from a long line of good officers. There is always a bad apple in a family. Well, excuse me for saying a bad apple in every family, there are bad apples in some families. I voted for the new Sheriff and I have met with Dieter Herron many times and I think they are doing a better job at cleaning up our Streets now than ever before. That man should not be dead. Justice was served and it is about time. I agree that some Townships should go with the Mich. State Police as I live in Scio Township and our Sub. Station is so corrupt to the point that neighbors are not going to call them anymore but we have a system on our Road to help protect each other. I used to have a friend who lives in West Willow and I would go with her to help her babysit her grandsons and I had no fear sitting on the front porch to smoke a cig.. To say all of West Willow is bad is just not true. I really am glad that these people were fired as it gives the good officers a really bad name. Justice was served. Still, I agree with the commenter that said Townships should go with the State Police as I know the tax dollars that we pay in the area of Scio that I live do not go to protect us.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 12:56 p.m.

I have lived in West Willow for 32 years and have seen it go through many changes during that time. It wasn't always the contemptous place it's now considered to be. With that said, in my opinion, the deputies did little in the past to curtail the problem when they could have and instead allowed it to get out of hand. Maybe it was Minzey's policy and/or the deputies having their own discretion to make the call on how they wanted to respond to a situation. We have laws but they were not being inforced. The deputies don't want to give tickets, make arrests, write reports and spend time in court. They just want to get through their shift with as little hassle as possible and go home. All that other stuff is time consuming and might even generate overtime or cut into their own personal time. Whatever, there is the whole criminal justice system in Washtenaw county that needs to be looked at. The deputies complain that they would write more tickets but the prosecuting attorney or judge will just throw the case out. The jail is over crowded and theres the budget to consider when it comes to overtime. Something needs to change. I've heard/read so many times that West Willow is a cesspool and should be left to destroy itself but there are still good law abiding citizens here. We aren't all welfare breeding scum, drug dealers and thiefs. I voted for Sheriff Clayton because we needed a change and hope to see him make the necessary changes in the department that will let these criminals know their criminal behavior will not be tolerated.

Michael Schils

Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 12:15 p.m.

It seems that one of the department policies Joseph Eberle violated was when he used pepper spray on Clifton Lee, Jr. despite the fact that he had never received training on its proper use. As captured on video, Eberle sprayed it into and cupped his hand over Clifton's mouth so as to achieve the asphyxiating result. It's hard to imagine how Eberle could have believed that things would have turned out any different than they did. Eberle should consider himself lucky that he only lost his job (after receiving several years of paid vacation). Anyone else, who was not protected by the badge, would be facing some serious time behind bars for killing another human in such a manner. I applaud sheriff Clayton for doing what his predecessor didn't have the guts to do. (Arbor Update has a discussion, from several months ago, regarding the West Willow incident and the released videos - )


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 12:02 p.m.

Whew, the comments here are really enlightening. First of all, I can't believe that Clayton had the guts to fire these guys. Secondly, without engaging in junk socio-psych speculation on the characters of the fired employees of the county, I have to say, that what went on in West Willow that night was a gross breach of the "serve and protect" function that police are paid to perform. For those reading and commenting here who refer to West Willow as a "cesspool", I have a question: How have you arrived at this blanket condemnation and how have you determined that your little corner of Washtenaw County is deserving of service and protection and another is worthy only of policing? Have you spent any time in West Willow? If you had, you might see that this community shares a lot with your own. This is a community where hundreds of people struggle to keep their families together and added to these burdens, that perhaps most of us share, there is a sense that the police are not working for them, but for an idealized white version of the deserving, innocent citizen. Do the citizens of West Willow pay taxes--directly or indirectly? Yes. Should they be paying taxes for the privilege of being policed? Would you? I'm also wondering about the mind-set that sees two uncles coming to the aid of their nephew as a sign of degeneracy. Where I come from this is normal. What pusillanimous form of life is so subservient to authority, that it refuses to act in defense of family? Weird, really weird. I know some of the family of Clifton Lee. I'm trying to figure out how they are unworthy of compensation for the brutality that resulted in the death of this human being. If your uncle, father, brother had taken steps to protect another member of your family, would you still insist that he got what he deserved?


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 11:29 a.m.

Isn't it amazing how the county rolls over and pays a criminal but when it comes to it's employees they give them less than nothing...Proud to say I am not a closet conservative in Washtenaw Co.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 9:13 a.m.

Fighting police officers is bad for your health but it might make your family and their lawyers a lot of money so long as you're a qualified minority and all of the officers are white. Do you feel lucky? Honestly, it's very difficult to restrain someone who's not cooperating. Saying "pretty please?" or quoting the sensitivity training manual is unlikely to have a positive effect.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 8:59 a.m.

So much for being tried by a jury and found NOT GUILTY!! Another fine example of our judicial system at work. Why bother with going through all the hassle if you are just gonna lose out in the long run. Ok, Joe Eberle... I'll be glad to pay for your lawsuit. Maybe we can get some of the money back from the individual who has been recently in the news for picking up yet another felony charge.... attempted murder or felonious assault I believe. Taxpayers, dig a little deeper into your pockets, it seems the new sheriff is not any better than the old one.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 7:55 a.m.

Re: The first comment by Tater We are fortunate to live in times when coming "from a family with a long-standing history of service in various police forces" is taken less into consideration in determining suitability of those who enforce the law. Actions of criminals and police officers should be judged without consideration of family ties. Law enforcement officers are paid to serve and protect all of us.

David Briegel

Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 7:03 a.m.

I truly respect the difficulties faced by police officers and the split second decision making required. However, you don't deserve to die in an "altercation" with several officers sworn to protect us. You don't deserve to be shot in the back for a petty drug deal. The conservatives on this board should look to those simple facts for the costliness of the damage awards and quit blaming the victims. Do we really have to accept judge and jury absent executions in our modern society? Our new Sheriff seems to be using reasoned judgement in the exercise of his duties!


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 4:35 a.m.

Didn't read all the post, but did you see the video? This is a step in the right direction of "you can't kill people and get away with it just because you wear a badge" dam it! Remeber "A time to kill" with S. Jackson ok the lawyer scene in the court room now (close your eyes and imagine if the the men killed were white) If your scared of W.W. don't go! On the other hand, thanks to the officers who value all life.


Sat, Oct 3, 2009 : 12:44 a.m.

west willow is not nearly is bad as it used to be in the 80's and 90's plus when it was out-of-control only a few streets were really bad. blaming the whole neighborhood for the actions of a few bad apples makes no sense.

Sandy Bahdums

Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 10:54 p.m.

I am confused as to why my original comments were deleted. I understand why posts which attack, call names, are racially insensitive, etc might be deleted. However, it seems my post was deleted simply because the idea that maybe the residents of West Willow are responsible for their own perils. I guess the new only lets you post anti-police and super P.C. ideas. That said, I think it would be great if MSP took over the patrols. You think people were getting beat up by the Deputies? Let the state run things for a while and see what happens. Most of their internal investigations go nowhere. Perhaps WCSD should give up on the willow and let the Troops handle it for a year. They would be begging for the Deputies to come back.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 10:40 p.m.

the sad thing is we all no west willow is a cess pool of trouble,and if these cops didnt show some restraint they might be dead also random gun fire and trouble breeds in west willow wake up everyone....the next time you need help there maybe the sheriffs wont be in a hurry

conservative liberal

Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 10:25 p.m.

I find it hard to understand how the department can rationalize firing Eberle or even contemplating firing Hoy when they were both found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers in federal court. I realize policies and procedures within the department are written to justify firing anyone at any time when the political forces, (i.e. commanding officers) want cops out of the job. However, the only reason these officers stand to lose their jobs is because this was a highly publicized case that involved racial overtones. I feel disgusted as a taxpayer in this county that one dollar went to the families of people who BROKE THE LAW. Yes it was unfortunate that someone lost their life, however the police officers were doing their job, and someone who meddled and instigated paid the ultimate price. That being said, Hoy and Eberle were both cleared of wrongdoing in the court and they should be put back to work.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 9:50 p.m.

Well I know Sheriff Clayton,Commander Herron are class acts and the law enforcement community is a brotherhood,But what is wrong is wrong,kicking in the head,3 deputies kneeling on your a 300 lbs former lineman?.Remember people,citizens of washtenaw County they are on your payroll "taxes".Vote No,on future millages,tax levies..Maybe.I said maybe they will stop this Nazi tactics...Nothing like having 2,3,4,5,6 Deputies beating the heck out of one man,I'm impressed,NOT..Most of these young Deps are "lil" jerks anyway,no command in the field.....Lets get the class of the State Police to take over Ypsilanti Township or start your own Department..God almighty $5.375 million dollars in lawsuit settlements sound like Detroit...I'm embarrassed "A former Deputy"


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 9:25 p.m.

I agree with writers, "tater" & Sandy Bahdums. Just let that whole area "stew in it's own juices" and it will destroy itself. It's a festering cancerous ugliness. To be shunned.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 9:19 p.m.

I would just like to point out the last of the article that the family as a whole received 5.375 million of your tax money and all you can do is say about time they were fired. please I am more concerned that a family of criminals received 5.375 million dollars for interfering in a police situation. So just remember this the next time you scream about the police of other emergency services taking an hour or more to get to you.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 8:51 p.m.

I'm glad Sheriff Clayton has decided to clean up the department and get rid of these officers that the public no longer trusts. His department will get some respect and credibility for these actions from the affected communities.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 8:10 p.m.

Either way, a decision needed to be made years ago.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 7:27 p.m.

thanks for doing the right thing. unfortunately those who are not from the community don't understand. officers have a lot of laws to protect them and we need this type of protection from bad officers. this is just one little step but its a step in the right direction.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 7:12 p.m.

Seriously? Serve and protect? This action, thankfully, is proof that elections matter.


Fri, Oct 2, 2009 : 7:03 p.m.

Isn't Eberle from a family with a long-standing history of service in the various police forces in the Ann Arbor area? Sounds like they got railroaded to me. No wonder so many just sit in the bushes and write tickets: if you serve and protect, you get fired.