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Ex-Flint police chief could face criminal charges in wrongful conviction case

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
James Tolbert

Flint’s fired police chief may face criminal charges for his involvement in the wrongful conviction of a Detroit teen nine years ago.

James Tolbert was Detroit’s Deputy Police Chief in 2007. That’s when 14-year-old Davontae Sanford supposedly confessed to murdering four people.

Sanford was convicted in 2008. But serious questions about the case arose soon after, when a confessed hit man named Vincent Smothers said he had committed the crimes -- and had never heard of Sanford.

The Michigan State Police recently re-investigated the case, and submitted a report to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy last month.

That report hasn’t been made public. But Worthy says it includes “a recorded interview in which former Deputy Chief James Tolbert contradicts his sworn testimony that Davontae Sanford drew the entire diagram of the crime scene, including the location of the victims’ bodies, while being questioned by the police.

“This called into question Tolbert’s credibility in the case,” Worthy concluded.

Based on those findings, Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan vacated Sanford’s convictions Tuesday, and ordered he be immediately released from prison.

And a spokeswoman for Worthy’s office says a warrant for Tolbert is “currently being reviewed.” Worthy has scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning.

Former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley hired Tolbert to the city’s police department in 2013.

Current Mayor Karen Weaver dismissed Tolbert, along with some other top city officials, in February.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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