This stuff is stranger than fiction.
Detroit's newest text-message scandal, involving interim Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, takes things even further off the charts for Detroit's beleaguered police force. I say beleaguered not because I have any particular sympathy for a department whose leaders have proven themselves to be a bunch of immature, egoistic back-biting climbers, but because it's got to be tough for every honest, hardworking cop who has to go to work every day and watch this stuff go on. And they've been watching these sordid plots go down for a long time.
Here's a lesson for everybody — old text messages never die. They just crouch in the bushes waiting for a chance to jump out and scream "Boo!" And sometimes they're scary enough to send a fright through you like you've never had before. I'm pretty sure that's what Godbee experienced last week when Mayor Dave Bing's office revealed that a lawyer for former — and somewhat disgraced — Police Chief Warren Evans used romantic text messages from Godbee to Lt. Monique Patterson (who, last we knew, was dating Evans) in an attempt to shake down the city after he was forced out of office. Godbee's messages were sent last fall when he served as assistant chief of police to Evans, before Evans and Patterson began their relationship.
The backstory on this one is intriguing enough to be its own made-for-television movie plot even without the context of Detroit's recent history of scandals. Except we've seen it before: High-level executive has relationship with a woman who serves on his staff, they swap racy text messages, executive loses job. Of course, it didn't go down exactly the way we saw Kwame Kilpatrick flame out, but it's close enough to make the comparison.
Godbee, who retired in September 2008, when interim Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. appointed James Barren police chief, returned to the department as assistant chief to Evans in July 2009. Although Godbee is married, he was apparently enamored with Patterson. They exchanged text messages on their personal cell phones. Patterson transferred to Godbee's department and they dated. Whatever the relationship became, it was brief and ended last fall when she started dating Evans, who put her in charge of compliance with two federal consent decrees imposed on the police department in 2003. About the only thing missing in this love triangle is somebody getting shot — which is something of a surprise considering that all the principals involved carry guns.
Dig back a little further to find that Evans' ex-wife is former police chief Ella Bully-Cummings, who left office at the same time as Kilpatrick. As the explosive text messages between Kilpatrick and chief of staff Christine Beatty seemed to indicate, Bully-Cummings became police chief in 2003 after secretly teaming up with Beatty to help undermine then-police chief Jerry Oliver and orchestrate the firing of a possible rival for the top job, assistant chief Gary Brown. Sure, Oliver resigned after leaving a gun in his luggage at the airport, but these days that seems to be pretty low on the totem pole of transgressions. By the way, Godbee served as assistant chief under Bully-Cummings.
Evans was squeezed out of his position a few weeks ago in part because of his relationship with Patterson, a relationship they engaged in openly. There are no rules that disallow such couplings. However, for a number of reasons, some of them undisclosed, Bing said that Evans had opened the city up to possible liabilities.
That means lawsuits.
Apparently Evans thought he had something coming his way. Patterson gave Evans the romantic messages that Godbee sent her last year. Evans' lawyer showed them to Deputy Mayor Saul Green in an attempt to shake down the city. The Evans camp claims that they were using the texts as leverage to try to get Evans' job back or some other appointment in the Bing administration.
Bing did the right thing here. He refused to play ball with Evans and publicly revealed existence of the texts, even though it had to be embarrassing to Bing for having appointed Godbee as Evans' replacement. Should Godbee be fired? Not for this. When Bing forced Evans out he said there were a number of reasons why, not just the relationship with Patterson. If that's the case, then Godbee shouldn't be fired just because of a past relationship with Patterson.
Patterson's own story is pretty interesting. She is suspected of hitting 87-year-old Detroiter Willie Harper with an unmarked police car and then leaving the scene in 2008, according to news reports. In July, the Detroit City Council approved a $40,000 settlement in that case. I have a feeling the Benjamins are going to start piling up in issues surrounding Evans, Patterson and, possibly, Godbee.
In fact, the first suit against the city has already been filed. Officer Shanda Starks alleges long-term harassment from Patterson, including getting Starks transferred from the Executive Protection Unit where she was assigned to guard Bing's wife. Starks says the transfer from the elite unit eventually to patrol duty in the Northeast District was punishment for gossiping about Patterson's relationship with Evans.
The two women seem to have begun butting heads when Starks served under Patterson in the Sex Crimes Unit a few years ago. Patterson apparently had an assertive management style and Starks, who became a union representative, filed several grievances against Patterson. Detroiters, get ready to pay the lawyers.
When it's all said and done, I'm pretty much ready for the feds to take over the Police Department. It has not come close to full compliance with the consent decrees imposed by the feds in 2003, and, in the period since, these and other shenanigans have taken place. The feds have already started an investigation into the shooting death of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones that happened during a police raid in May while a camera crew from a television reality show accompanied them. And we still have not seen an investigative report on the killing of Officer Brian Huff, a tragedy that raises the question of whether officers followed proper procedure. All of this points to long-term dysfunction in our Police Department. We've had five different police chiefs in the past eight years, all of them predated by a federal investigation into police mistreatment of prisoners and use of excessive force that led to the consent decrees. There's backstabbing, jealousy and an obvious lack of loyalty between members of the top staff, and a morale problem in the ranks.
Evans' ham-fisted move with the text messages is just another instance of the shady way business has been done in this city. In the end, rather than rehabilitating his character in the public eye, the move just made Evans look sleazy. Any hopes he had of making a credible future run for mayor are dashed.
And Patterson, who seems to have withheld news of her affair with Godbee from Evans until recently — and held onto the old text messages from Godbee for who knows what reason — well, she's not looking too good either.
And Godbee, well, he seems to be another bigwig sexy Detroit man who can't keep his public life and personal foibles separate. As they say in the soap opera business, tune in tomorrow.Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org