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Posted on Mon, Aug 31, 2009 : 10 p.m.

Washtenaw County board asked to approve $1.375 million settlement in fatal 2006 struggle

By Ryan J. Stanton

Three years and millions of dollars later, litigation stemming from an altercation between Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies and two brothers in Ypsilanti Township may be settled.

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners will be asked Wednesday night to approve a $1.375 million settlement agreement to end two lawsuits connected to the incident - one filed by Bruce Lee, and another filed by Beatrice McKeown, his mother.

But that doesn't mean the case is over. The county still faces another lawsuit from three of the officers involved in the incident - and they remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. 

The lawsuits stem from the night of June 1, 2006, when Clifton "Pete" Lee Jr., 45, died of asphyxiation at the bottom of a pile of Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputies trying to restrain him. Bruce Lee said he was beaten by deputies that night in a separate but related incident.

The county previously settled another lawsuit with the estate of Clifton Lee for $4 million.

"We're still dealing with the aftermath of that night," Sheriff Jerry Clayton said today. "But moving forward, what we're trying to do right now in the sheriff's office is not allow ourselves to be defined by the incident on that night in 2006." 

The county's attorney and administrative staff said in a resolution up for board approval Wednesday that they believe it's in the county's best interest to settle the lawsuits. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the administration building at 220 N. Main St. in downtown Ann Arbor. 

Clayton, who took over as sheriff earlier this year, released videos showing the violent confrontations between sheriff's deputies and the two Ypsilanti Township brothers in 2006. 

A number of deputies were involved in physical altercations with the Lee brothers in the West Willow neighborhood after the brothers intervened in a traffic stop involving their nephew. 

Three of the officers involved in the incident were federally indicted on civil rights charges; two were acquitted in the case involving Clifton Lee, and the third pleaded guilty to civil rights violations in the incident involving Bruce Lee.

Three separate lawsuits were filed by the Lee family against the county, the county sheriff and individual county defendants as a result, with the family alleging police brutality.

The incident occurred under former Sheriff Dan Minzey. 

Clayton, who defeated Minzey in the 2008 election and took office in January, said the county's internal investigation of what happened that night is still pending.

Clayton said his department is already working to put in place some of the non-monetary demands being made by the Lee family as part of the settlement, including better training of sheriff’s deputies as it relates to community engagement and dealing with people of diverse backgrounds. The Lees are black, and all but one of the officers involved are white.

"We are putting in place what we believe are the most appropriate strategies to give our officers the best tools," Clayton said. "Our organization has already moved forward in our attempts to enhance relationships with communities in the county, understanding that our success is grounded in having strong relationships with the community." 

The county's insurance limit to cover civil claims arising from the Lee incident was $5 million, with a $250,000 self-insured retention amount that must be paid by the county before insurance proceeds kick in. 

The estate of Clifton Lee filed the first of the three lawsuits, alleging, in part, wrongful death and a federal violation of civil rights. The case settled for $4 million with the county contributing the first $250,000 and the remaining $3.75 million coming from insurance. 

After the settlement, the county had $1.25 million of insurance proceeds left to cover any other claims stemming from the incident. 

Bruce Lee then filed suit alleging, in part, physical and psychological damages, as well as violation of his federal civil rights. Beatrice McKeown, the mother of Clifton and Bruce Lee, filed a separate lawsuit alleging, in part, intentional interference with familial relations, as well as violation of her federal civil rights. 

The two remaining lawsuits have been consolidated before Judge Julian Abele Cook Jr. in federal district court in Detroit. County officials said the parties voluntarily entered mediation and agreed to settle both cases for $1.375 million. That means the county must pay $125,000 out of pocket, with the rest paid by insurance. 

The county's insurance coverage provides for reimbursement of about 94 percent of attorney fees spent in defending litigation once the self-insured retention amount has been met, county officials said. To date, the county has spent $201,382 defending itself, and will be reimbursed $189,299. The county plans to use that reimbursement to cover its $125,000 portion of the latest settlement. 

But even with the Lee family lawsuits settled, the county is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2006 incident.

Three officers involved - Shawn Hoy, Joseph Eberle, and Aaron Hendricks - are now suing the county, claiming they were racially discriminated against by the former sheriff and police investigators. 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. 

Jim Fett, a Pinckney attorney representing the three officers, could not be reached for comment today.

Bill Goodman, a Detroit attorney representing the Lee family, said 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 is currently in jail awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge stemming from an alleged shooting involving an acquaintance earlier this year. 

Ryan Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 10:48 p.m.

Ok, so if were putting names and allegations out there. Why is no one involved in this story talking about the most obviuos. How can the deputy who plead to a crime still be an employee. Mr. Kelly has not been given formal internal charges or been interviewed. You can still leave him a message or email him at his couty email address. He should have been removed 8 months ago. Does the department have something to hide. Lack of training, no training. How can Kelly the only Deputy who stood behing his actions be the only one that is not being fired. something is really wrong with this picture.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 5:44 p.m.

MONEY MATTERS : In this discussion, I am also concerned about the MONEY issue. Being a fiscal conservative, I do not like the manner in which Public Funds are getting eaten up. I do not support Lee Brothers. Bruce Lee is in trouble already. I have no intention to support or defend the financial settlements. I share some of the concerns expressed by "GIVEITUP". We need to show restraint in the use of power and use it very judiciously and the concept of Law Enforcement must include our courts and judiciary and we need not literally struggle and fight with unruly behavior as demonstrated in this case on a public street.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 5:20 p.m.

'Drug through the mud' Besides watching the videos, has anybody met or seen these 3 jokers? These officers drag themselves through the mud with their multiple displays of public drunkeness and their tempers. Their families were going through hardships long before this situation reared its ugly head. These boys were making their beds a long time's been a long time coming that they have to lay in them now! They should have considered themselves lucky to be acquitted and that they are on paid suspension. Why would just these 3 boys think that they were penalized for racial reasons when there are multiple other white officers involved? WCSD is trying to get rid of some bad apples. I'm not saying I support the Lee's stand on this issue but the pity party these 'officers' want to have for themselves is disgusting and old! It's time to be big boys now and admit your wrongs.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 4:55 p.m.

They were "drug through the mud". The Sheriffs office bowed at the mere suggestion that race was involved, totally scared out of their brown uniforms at a possible race explosion. While I understand that officers involved in such a confrontation would be investigated to determine if thier actions were justifiable the sheriffs office settled too quickly and bowing to "non-monetary demands" and as to the comment about the money being spent on more than blowing it, yeah right! they already got some money and look what they have done so far. They didn't even move out of that neighborhood. additionally, the Lee brothers did more than just interfere, when they did so they caused MORE of a distribance, MORE people became bystanders, more people agitated the situation. It could have easily made the cops feel like they needed to maintain control quickly or lose it to a heated mob shortly.

Michael Schils

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 4:05 p.m.

Wow, that's quite a scoop, Ryan. Thanks for calling the attorney. I'd sure love to be "drug through the mud" while on an extended paid vacation.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 2:37 p.m.

I just got off the phone with Jim Fett. He says all three officers lawsuits have been consolidated before Judge Avern Cohn in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Fett sounds pretty sure the county is going to fire all three of his clients any day now. That includes Hendricks, who has been on paid suspension since June 2006, and Hoy and Eberle, whose unpaid leaves were converted to paid leaves when they were acquitted of charges. Fett predicts the officers are going to be fired and then go through a union arbitration process to try to get their jobs back before going to trial, which could take a while. Even if they are reinstated with back pay, Fett says thats not going to be sufficient; the officers are seeking damages for being drug through the mud for three years.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 2:25 p.m.

It's disappointing that they settled this case so easily, driving up insurance costs as well as eating up the budget. I'd be amazed if a jury would have awarded more money. There have to be plenty of people out there who would never give a cent to anyone who interfered with police in that manner. Even if the police overreacted. So now, because of our pathetic county legal office, not only are we faced with budget issues, but our police have been compromised. Not only that, every two-bit thug out there realizes there's a potential seven-digit payday in messing with the police.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 1:31 p.m.

You forgot to mention that Bruce Lee couldn't even behave long enough to collect his money. He has felony charges pending for shooting at some dude in the Willow this summer. Nice guy!


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 9:58 a.m.

LAW ENFORCEMENT : WHERE ARE THE PRIORITIES? In the battlefield, we use the basic principles of 'TRIAGE' and assign 'PRIORITIES' to plan Casualty Evacuation. In Law Enforcement also there should be a careful consideration of the threats directed towards the maintenance of Public Safety. The Lee Brothers were confrontational and did not obey the verbal commands issued by the Police Officers. In my assessment, the actions of Lee Brothers do not constitute a threat to Public Safety. They did not go on a rampage either attacking or destroying Police Property, Personnel, or Public Property or General Public. Their actions do not impose any threat to the maintenance of Public Order and Safety. As a past member of Armed Forces, I had trained with military Units in providing military assistance to Civilian Police Authorities.While providing such assistance, the Army uses its right to shoot and kill persons it identifies as a threat to Public Order and Safety. As per the standards used by Army, the Lee Brothers would not be targeted and shot down.The Army would have left Clifton alone and would have allowed him to walk back to his home. If the Lee Brothers had violated any Law, there was no immediate threat to the Public. Their offense should get a very low PRIORITY in terms of Law Enforcement and does not merit any immediate response from the Law Enforcement Officials. A citation could be issued later after the individuals had cleared from the scene and had returned home. I appreciate the concerns expressed by 11GoBlue11.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 9:42 a.m.

county, not country...but that brings up an interesting idea for the plaintiffs...


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 8:49 a.m.

I believe the officers' lawsuit is against the country as well, due to their suspension, etc. So you have these brothers and the police, some combination of which acted inappropriately, and the tax payers of Washtenaw County get to pay big settlements, likely to both sides. So basically the bad factors (the brother and his family and the police) are likely to get rewarded and the most innocent factor, the taxpayers, get the punishment. Obviously this makes sense to some people or it wouldn't be how it works - I'll keep an open mind and continue and try and understand.

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

why? the officer's were found not guilty. clearly the lee family is looking for a golden goose here.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 7:44 a.m.

I really hope the officers win their lawsuit. Perhaps it will send a message to everyone you cannot act unlawfully and not expect consequenses. Maybe the Lee's family can take the money they won in their lawsuit and put it to good use in West Willow Community OR to fund additional training they claim these officers lacked, rather than pilfer it away. Let's not forget all the hardship the officers and their families have had to endure, just for doing their job.


Tue, Sep 1, 2009 : 3:15 a.m.

sounds like a whole lotta scumbags gettin a whole lotta money.....and we get?


Mon, Aug 31, 2009 : 10:50 p.m.

from article: Clayton said his department is already working to put in place some of the non-monetary demands being made by the Lee family as part of the settlement, including better training of sheriffs deputies as it relates to community engagement...." ok, what about the community getting it through their thick skulls that you don't interfere with the police? what about staying out of it when you are told to do so by repeatedly by an officer? what about not resisting arrest after you have been told repeatedly to stop resisting arrest? These brothers INTERFERED with the police and now JUST because one died their family has made demands on the Sheriffs office? and sued for money and gotten money already (and the other brother is in jail on an attempted murder charge). Did the community rise up and say to themselves, you know, don't interfere with the cops! Did the Preachers stand at the pulpits and talk about what these brothers should NOT have done? NOOOOOOO