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An old killing and new rumors roiling the city

Times Staff Writer

In a city that routinely sees more than 400 homicides a year, the 2003 slaying of Tamara “Strawberry” Greene was an easily overlooked crime.

Few people initially took notice when the 27-year-old stripper was found slumped over the steering wheel of her green Buick Skylark. But soon the city was buzzing with rumors that she had danced at a party at the mayor’s mansion -- a story that has never been proven.

The investigation into the rumored party and her slaying helped launch Democratic Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick’s avalanche of current woes, but nearly five years later, Greene’s death has been overshadowed by recent revelations of an affair between the mayor and his then-chief of staff, Christine Beatty.

The scandal, complete with text-messaged endearments, has been fueled by reports that Kilpatrick and Beatty lied about the affair while testifying last year.

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Now Greene’s shooting death in April 2003 is emerging as a key story line in the city’s civic soap opera.

Lawyers for Greene’s 14-year-old son are pushing forward with a $150-million federal civil lawsuit against the mayor and the city, charging that they quashed the investigation of her slaying.

They recently filed a statement from a former Detroit police officer alleging that his homicide unit was pressured to drop the case, even though it appeared to him that Greene’s slaying was a hit -- one possibly carried out by another police officer. They’ve also subpoenaed a slew of text messages between city employees, including those sent between 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the day Greene was killed.

The city is petitioning for the case to be dismissed. A federal judge ordered SkyTel and the city to save certain messages from 42 city pagers, including Kilpatrick’s, as well as all messages sent on the day Greene died.

The tale of Greene’s slaying revolves around the rumored party at Manoogian Mansion, the official residence of the mayor. Court documents lay out the following sequence of events:

An officer with the mayor’s Executive Protection Unit reported that a party for the mayor and his friends had taken place and " . . . the party featured nude female dancers,” according to a 2003 internal affairs memo commissioned by then-Police Deputy Chief Gary Brown.

When the mayor’s wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, unexpectedly arrived at the mansion, she saw her husband and the strippers, according to Harold Nelthrope, the officer who reported about the party.

Nelthrope, who was not at the alleged event but learned about it the following day, “further stated that a fight ensued between Ms. Kilpatrick and a dancer, and that the dancer received injuries requiring medical attention.” Nelthrope did not state who told him about the alleged events.

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The dancer -- believed to be Greene -- was taken to a hospital, " . . . and the Executive Protection Unit confiscated all activity log sheets” from the police precinct that responded, Nelthrope said.

The mayor, who declined to comment for this story, has repeatedly denied that the party or any assault ever took place. Carlita Kilpatrick also declined to comment. So, too, have Detroit police officials -- at least publicly. A state investigation resulted in Michigan Atty. Gen. Mike Cox dismissing such claims as urban legend.

“They have no eyewitnesses, no caterers, not one person that said they were there that has been named,” said attorney Mayer Morganroth, who is defending the city and the mayor in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Greene’s son, Jonathan Bond.

Jonathan’s attorney Norman Yatooma said, “The mayor is a proven liar and perjurer. Neither the party nor Tammy’s murder are urban legend. It’s another legendary cover-up.”

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Brown, a 25-year veteran of the force, was also looking into allegations that officers on the mayor’s security team falsified overtime payroll, drank on the job and hid accidents in city cars.

He was unexpectedly fired after the 2003 memo -- in part, Brown claimed, for investigating the rumored party and because the mayor and Beatty feared their relationship would be exposed.

The investigation into Greene’s slaying, meanwhile, was quietly being sabotaged, court documents allege.

In a 10-page affidavit filed earlier this month in connection with the son’s lawsuit, former Detroit Police Lt. Alvin Bowman -- a 31-year police veteran who led the homicide unit looking into the Greene slaying -- said that top police officials derailed his investigation in order to avoid any inquiry into the party.

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Bowman said files and case notes on the killing were deleted from homicide investigators’ computers and reports were removed from the file. At one point, the file was placed in a combination-lock safe that Bowman and others couldn’t get into. “The focus of our investigation was to solve Ms. Greene’s murder, not to investigate the Manoogian Mansion party,” Bowman stated in his affidavit. “However, because of the persistent and pervasive rumors concerning her appearance at that party and rumored assault by the Mayor’s wife, Carlita Kilpatrick, my investigation required my [s]quad to follow up and investigate those rumors.”

This week, Detroit Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings told reporters that Bowman’s accusations were “reprehensible,” and that “there is no cover-up in this police department into the death of Miss Greene.”

Called the nation’s “hip-hop mayor,” Kilpatrick at one time faced a bright political future. Many people -- particularly his mother, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) -- predicted that the charismatic attorney could win a seat in Congress, or be the first black president.

But his reputation was overshadowed by scandal, including a series of police whistle-blower lawsuits.

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Last year, after a jury sided against the city in one of the suits, Kilpatrick convinced the City Council to approve an $8.4-million settlement with three police whistle-blowers.

Part of the deal that the council did not know about but that was reportedly approved by the city attorney: that proof of the text messages showing the mayor and Beatty lied under oath about their romantic relationship was to be concealed.

The affair was first reported in the Detroit Free Press in January, after investigative reporters obtained almost 14,000 text messages sent from, and received by, Beatty’s city-owned pager in 2002 and 2003.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy opened an investigation into possible perjury and other charges against the mayor.

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The investigation, expected to be completed next week, and the mayor’s troubles have galvanized this blue-collar community.

At a City Council meeting this week, angry residents clutching handwritten speeches crammed inside the public chambers to voice their views about the mayor.

“He has disgraced my race, and he is no longer able to carry on as mayor of this city,” said one resident, retired city schoolteacher Hattie Massey, 73.

Jonathan Bond was 10 when his mother was killed. Jonathan’s father, Ernest Flagg, filed the lawsuit on behalf of his son. His family has told him to let the case go.

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Flagg recently moved his family out of Detroit, after their home was broken into and trashed.

“I had to move,” said Flagg, 35, a business consultant. “I also have to do this. What kind of a man am I teaching him to be, if I don’t fight?”

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p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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