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As time runs out to press charges, AG's office is "watching" Davontae Sanford case

Michigan AG Bill Schuette
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

With just 14 days left to charge former Detroit Police Commander James Tolbert for perjury, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says his office is “watching the case, and we’ll see what decision [Wayne County Prosecutor] Kym [Worthy] makes.”

Schuette declined to say whether he’d step in to press charges against Tolbert if Worthy doesn’t.

“I’m not going to speculate on what I might do,” Schuette said Tuesday. “The point is, we’re watching the case.”

Meanwhile, time is quickly running out on a warrant the Michigan State Police requested for Tolbert, who allegedly lied on the witness stand about evidence that helped incriminate Davontae Sanford.

Sanford was released this month after being wrongfully imprisoned for 8 years.

Back in 2007, police took the then 14-year-old in for questioning about a quadruple homicide in Detroit. Sanford was interrogated multiple times without a parent or lawyer, and eventually confessed to the murders – though he says he was coerced into giving a false confession.

A year-long Michigan State Police investigation found that former Detroit Police Commander James Tolbert, who helped interrogate Sanford back in 2007, may have lied about crucial evidence in the case.

Tolbert (who went on to become the police chief in Flint, until he was fired earlier this year) originally told a judge that Sanford had been able to draw a picture of the homicide crime scene for police during interrogation – based on information Tolbert claimed only the true killers could know.

At a July 13, 2010 appeals hearing, Judge Brian Sullivan asked Tolbert about the crime scene drawing: “Look at the exhibit. Is there anything on the exhibit that’s of your writing? Did you draw anything on that exhibit?”

“No,” Tolbert said.

But when questioned by state police during their investigation into the case this past year, Tolbert apparently admitted doing the drawing himself.

“We asked Tolbert if he was the one who had actually drawn the ‘original sketch,’” the state police report states. “Tolbert then acknowledge [sic] to have drawn this ‘original sketch’ and Sanford had only marked the location of the bodies within this sketch.”

“This differs from what he testified to under oath on July 13, 2010 in front of Judge Brian R. Sullivan,” the report concludes.

The state police officially requested perjury charges for Tolbert in May, knowing the statute of limitations for perjury is six years – so if nobody charges Tolbert before July 13th of this year, then that window is closed.

Meanwhile, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office says they’re aware of the statute of limitations, and they’re currently reviewing the warrant request.

There have also been calls for the Attorney General’s office to investigate the Wayne County Prosecutor’s handling of Davontae Sanford’s case, which Schuette also declined to comment on Tuesday. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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