Murder Victim’s Family Accepts $1.07 Million Settlement from Oakland County
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 11, 2017)
Madison Heights, MI – A lawsuit brought by the family of Shelley Hilliard against Oakland County has ended with a $1.07 million settlement. 19-year-old Hilliard was murdered after a Madison Heights police officer revealed that she was the informant in a drug bust in Oct. 2011.
The civil suit, filed in Feb 2013 and amended in Oct. 2013, described how Hilliard had agreed to contact Qasim “Red” Raqib about purchasing drugs after she herself had been busted for marijuana. Madison Heights Police Officer Chad Wolowiec, who now works for Warren Police, “made these disclosures to Red (the killer) through Red’s associate and companion, despite knowing that doing so would significantly increase the risk, and indeed the likelihood of serious bodily injury and/or death to Shelly Hilliard,” according to the court filing.
Raquib was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 to life in prison. Hilliard’s family brought suit against Madison Heights and Oakland County. In January 2016 a Federal Appeals Court refused to dismiss the case against Oakland County, stating that a jury could find that there was “blatant exposure” of Hilliard as the source and that there was “deliberate indifference” to her safety. Oakland County agreed to pay $1.07 million. Madison Heights settled their portion of the suit for $20,000.
Attorney Katherine Bruner James of Goodman Hurwitz & James, P.C. represented Hilliard’s family. “Cases like this matter because it’s the best tool we have to effectuate change that could prevent another tragedy like this in the future. I would imagine that Oakland County does not want to face future lawsuits, and so they will hopefully revamp their training for how they use confidential informants — to avoid hastily planned operations when there is no reason to rush, to get more supervisor input, to put more distance between the informant and the eventual bust, and certainly never to reveal facts that would disclose the role of a confidential informant,” she said. “It also matters because it’s a check on governmental power. The government and police work for us. They cannot put private citizens in unnecessary danger without consequences.”
Bruner James, who specializes in Civil Rights law, added that “The state-created danger doctrine has been whittled away by the courts so that plaintiffs almost never overcome summary judgment, but these facts were so outrageous that the legal system had to take notice. It’s gratifying to know that the constitution still protects private citizens who are hurt, or in this case killed, when a police officer puts them in danger that could have easily been avoided.”
“I think Shelly’s family feels at least some sense of relief. Nothing can replace or bring back their daughter/sister — their Treasure, as they call her. But I think they gain some comfort and relief from the outcome,” she said.
Details of the bust and the subsequent murder were shared in the 2013 filing.
“In October 2011, officers smelled marijuana at a Motel 6 in Madison Heights and found Hilliard, a male companion, Michael Slaughter, and a bag of marijuana in Room 236.
“Defendants Wolowiec and Koehler threatened to arrest Shelly Hilliard and subject her to jail and/or prison – a notoriously dangerous place for any transgender individual – unless she assisted defendants by identifying the person who sold her and/or Slaughter the marijuana,” the complaint states.
“Defendants then demanded that Ms. Hilliard call the marijuana dealer and order a delivery of marijuana to the motel room. To avoid arrest, Ms. Hilliard agreed to do this.
“Thus, working in conjunction with and under the direction of Wolowiec and Koehler, Shelly Hilliard called Qasim Raqib (‘Red’), whom she identified to defendants as the marijuana dealer, and summoned him to the Motel 6.
“As Red arrived at the Motel 6 to meet with Shelly Hilliard, defendant Koehler, who was lying in wait for him, moderntaxpulled Red’s car over into a parking lot across from the motel. Red’s associate and companion, Marquita Clark, was also in the car.
The police found marijuana in Red’s car and charged him and Clark with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, according to the complaint.
“At the police station, Defendants Wolowiec and/or Koehler spoke with Clark and at that time told her that she and Red had been arrested because defendants had ‘used a lady’ at the Motel 6 to ‘set up’ Red and ‘that he was basically set up,’” the complaint states.
“Defendants knew at the time that they were disclosing the identity of plaintiff’s decedent Shelly Hilliard – their ‘confidential’ informant – to a person or persons who were likely to cause her serious injury or death,” the complaint continues.
Red and Clark were released from the police station a few hours later, Nelson said in the complaint.
“In the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2011, three days after defendants Wolowiec and Koehler disclosed the information about Red’s informant, Shelly, Red – acting on that information and in concert with an individual JudyPalmer01named James Matthews – cruelly and brutally murdered Shelly Hilliard,” the complaint states.
“In an effort to cover up their crime, they then dismembered her body, scattered the parts around the city of Detroit, and burned her torso.
“Red and Matthews accomplished this horrific task by luring Ms. Hilliard to a house on the 900 block of Longfellow Street in Detroit, on the premise that one of the men wanted a date with her. A cab driver that Ms. Hilliard frequently used for transportation dropped her off at approximately 1:20 a.m. Ms. Hilliard was wearing a silver party dress for her date.
“Red and Matthews were waiting for Shelly Hilliard outside of the house on Longfellow Street. She immediately became concerned when she saw the men waiting and asked her cab driver to stay on a cellphone call with her. As he drove away, the cab driver heard Shelly Hilliard say, ‘What are you doing?’ and then scream ‘No!’ over the phone. Her phone fell out of her hand and went dead after a few muffled noises. By the time the cab driver sidebar01reader_supportturned around the corner to return to Shelly Hilliard’s drop-off location, no one was in sight.
“The cab driver was the last known person to see Shelly Hilliard alive, other than her murderers.
“Red and Matthews forced Shelly Hilliard into a car and drove off. Red held a gun to Ms. Hilliard and, according to information and belief, beat her with the gun. At some point while they were in the car, one of the men may have choked Ms. Hilliard.
“According to information and belief, the two men took Shelly Hilliard to an abandoned house on Longwood Street in Detroit and tied her up. They continued to assault her.
“At some point during this brutal assault and due to the assault itself, Shelly Hilliard died.
“Matthews’s hands were covered with scratch marks from Shelly Hilliard’s attempt to prevent her homicide, so Red and Matthews decided to cut off Ms. Hilliard’s hands in order to hide the DNA evidence under her fingernails. Red and Matthews cut off Ms. Hilliard’s arms and legs with an axe and placed her limbs in trash bags, rolled Ms. Hilliard’s torso into a sheet and placed it in the trunk of their car.
“Red and Matthews then dumped Shelly Hilliard’s torso in the area of Interstate 94 and Bewick Street in Detroit, Michigan. They doused her torso in gasoline, lit it on fire, and drove off.
“Later that day, on Oct. 23, 2011, Red and Matthews scattered Shelly Hilliard’s limbs in the area of 6 Mile Road and Dakota Ave. Based upon information and belief, they also burned down the abandoned house on Longwood Street to hide the blood that had soaked into the structure.
“Shelly Hilliard remained missing until approximately Nov. 9 or 10, 2011. Although police officers discovered Shelly Hilliard’s burned torso later in the day on Oct. 23, 2011, they were unable to identify her body for several weeks. They were ultimately able to do so only from a cherry tattoo on a portion of her upper right arm that remained connected to her torso. Her limbs were not discovered until early March 2012.
“Both Red and Matthews were arrested, convicted and sentenced for their involvement in Shelly Hilliard’s murder.
“Plaintiff’s descendent, Shelly Hilliard, suffered indescribable fear, fright and conscious pain and suffering, all proximately caused by the knowing disclosure of her identity by Defendant officers to her killers…”
In 2015 Hillaird’s life, and her death, were explored in a film called “Treasure: from Tragedy to Transjustice, Mapping a Detroit Story.”
The film, directed by Dream Hampton, was released in June 2015 with a showing at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Hampton showed how her story touched the lives of other transgender people in Detroit.
Much of the film involved the Ruth Ellis Center, a shelter and drop in space for LGBTQ youth. Like hundreds of other young people, Hilliard found support, friendship and basic needs met through programs at Ruth Ellis.
When she was missing, and when parts of her body began popping up through the city, emotions spread through the community. People grieved. But there was also increased fear.
“Shelley was an active youth at Ruth Ellis Center. Her death had an incredible impact on young people there,” Jerry Peterson, Executive Director of Ruth Ellis, said at the time. “It’s critical in the days with everyone talking about ‘Call me Caitlyn’, that we see the whole other side of transgender lives, without the benefits and the privilege to be just accepted or seen as beautiful. This is an important story to fill in what’s happening in our country.”
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