The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners met Wednesday night to support a request for the permanent addition of an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney to the Conviction Integrity & Expungement Unit in the county. The item was unanimously approved and will be considered at next month’s Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 3 for final approval.
The CIEU, which was first established in April 2021, works to locate falsely convicted people in an effort to free them from jail and expunge their records. Eli Savit, Washtenaw County prosecuting attorney, wrote a memo to the Board of Commissioners in July 2021 asking for the unit to become a permanent fixture of the office.
Earlier this year, the Michigan state legislature expanded expungements to allow more types of crimes, including marijuana-related misdemeanors and many non-violent felonies, to be expunged from a record.
Wayne County resident Kenneth Nixon was exonerated from jail earlier this year. Nixon spoke at the meeting in support of creating the unit to free other exonerees such as himself.
“(Falsely convicted people) could be dying in a prison cell — to no fault of his own — for something that he didn’t do,” Nixon said. “It’s important to make that person whole as quickly as possible because it stands in the way of … his whole life.”
Commissioner Jason Morgan said he looked forward to the creation of the unit.
“I would rather spend public dollars getting wrongfully convicted individuals out from behind bars rather than keeping them there,” Morgan said.
Marvin Cotton Jr., another Wayne County resident, was exonerated last year and also supports the creation of the new unit.
“(I had) 22 appeals, and it took a conviction integrity unit to actually find and establish the truth,” Cotton said. “They did what no lawyer I hired could do. They found truth only a prosecutor’s office can find.”
Several speakers, like Alyshia Dyer, were from the Washtenaw Regional Organizing Coalition, a political action group based in Michigan. WeROC members spoke in favor of the new unit and more resources in the future.
“I have no doubt that there are people wrongfully convicted from this county sitting in prison right now,” Dyer said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow but we can’t ignore this.”
Eric Anderson is another exoneree from Detroit. Anderson was exonerated by the Wayne County Conviction Integrity Unit and said he wants to create a similar office in Washtenaw County.
“There’s people in this world that need convincing,” Anderson said. “They think just because the individual is arrested, that they’re guilty, which in fact that’s not the case.”
Ypsilanti Township resident Alex Thomas supported the new unit while emphasizing the number of falsely convicted people still in prison.
“People that have a romanticized view about the justice system might say ‘better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent person (suffer),’” Thomas said. “We know we have at least 1000.”
Daily News Contributor Matthew Shanbom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.