Family Sues A&E, "The First 48," in Girl's Death by Police

Family Sues A&E, "The First 48," in Girl's Death by Police

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DETROIT—"There were two people out there, a man and a lady, and they had videocameras and were filming while the police raided our home and killed my 7-year-old niece Aiyana,” LaKrystal Sanders said. “It was wrong. I begged them to stop filming, but they wouldn't stop. They knew there were children in the house, there were toys all over the front yard. I asked them and the police for a warrant and they couldn't come up with any.”

Aiyana Jones' father Charles Jones, mother Dominika Stanley, and grandmother Mertilla Jones filed suit in federal court Dec. 14 against the A&E Television Network,"the First 48" television show, and a contractor, who were filming a police raid on Aiyana's home May 16. The suit asks for 10 types of monetary compensation, including “hedonic damages” related to the intangible value of life.

Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley, at the time a regular “star” on the program, shot Aiyana in the head after he and a partner threw an incendiary “flash-bang” grenade through the front window of the family's home without warning, according to the family's attorney, Geoffrey Fieger. Fieger filed suit against Off. Weekley and an unnamed partner in May in state court. That suit is currently ongoing.

The Jones home was located in a poor east-side Detroit neighborhood that is over 90 percent Black, with a 33 percent poverty rate, according to 2000 Census records. Off. Weekley, who is White, lives in one of Detroit's wealthiest suburbs, Grosse Pointe Park, according to court records. He has not been disciplined or charged, and is still active on the police force.

A&E Television Network (AETN) raked in $1.05 billion in revenue in 2005, according to Advertising Age, an industry publication. AETN is jointly owned by NBC Enterprises, which made $12.44 billion, Disney, which made $17.14 billion, and Hearst Enterprises.
The AETN suit, filed by Atty. Fieger's firm, cites a written agreement between A&E's contractor, Kirkstall Road Enterprises of New York City, with Detroit's police chief at the time, Warren Evans.

“The Agreement gave Defendants unprecedented access to work with the Detroit Police Department and video tape and record, in the words of the Agreement, ‘an innovative and documentary experience.' This ‘innovative' experience ended up being the tragic and senseless death of Aiyana,” the suit alleges.

The written agreement, attached to the lawsuit, provided no payment to the City of Detroit or its police department and reserved all ownership rights for the program to the producers.

The suit adds, “Prior to the decision to illegal assault Aiyana's home, there were discussions about the fact that television cameras would be present and the desire to create a ‘good show' and/or to create ‘great video footage.' ”

Ms. Sanders said she and her fiancée, Chauncey Owens, and many of her mother's 18 grandchildren were outside the house all day. They saw what attorney Fieger later described as an undercover police vehicle watching their two-family flat.

Aiyana, her father Charles and grandmother Mertilla Jones, along with three younger children including an infant, lived downstairs from Ms. Stanley and Mr. Owens.

Police claimed they were looking for Mr. Owens on a murder warrant when they assaulted the building. But Ms. Sanders said police came to their door looking for “Chinaman,” Mr. Owens' brother, who used to live there but had moved.

“When they knocked on my door, I let them in,” she said. “They had no reason to assault my mother and brother's home and kill my little niece. And A&E had no reason to try to make my family look bad for something we didn't do. If the police hadn't been showing off for the cameras, my niece would still be alive.”

None of the defendants in the suit returned calls for comment.

For further information, contact the offices of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney, Johnson & Giroux at 1-248-355-555