DETROIT – For the past two months, as scandal swirled on and on, residents here knew that their mayor, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, was under criminal investigation. Still, when a county prosecutor announced charges against him on Monday, Detroit was left reeling at the scope and seriousness of them.
Kilpatrick, 37, was charged with eight felony counts, including perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and misconduct in office. He turned himself in to the authorities just after 5 p.m., and was released on his own recognizance. He has vowed not to resign.
“I’m just sick to my stomach,” said Karen Monroe, who watched the announcement broadcast live on television from the Checker Bar and Grill, which she owns along with her sister.
The prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, painted a portrait of a mayor who lied under oath, fired a police official and agreed to pay $8.4 million in taxpayer funds to settle a lawsuit — all to prevent the public from learning of his personal entanglements, including a romantic relationship he had with his former chief of staff, Christine Beatty.
Stressing that her investigation of Kilpatrick, who is married and has three sons, was not a private question of “lying about sex,” Worthy said: “Public dollars were used, peoples’ lives were ruined, the justice system was severely mocked, and the public trust trampled on. This case is about as far from being a private matter as one can get.”
If convicted on all eight counts, Kilpatrick would face a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison, though a far shorter sentence would be possible. Worthy declared it a “very sad day” for the city, but said that central tenets of life had been breached. “Even children understand that lying is wrong,” she said.
From his 11th floor office at city hall, Kilpatrick, a dynamic speaker who once was regarded by Democratic Party leaders as a young politician to watch, was quieter and more reserved than usual. He told reporters he intended to “remain focused on moving this city forward” and looked “forward to complete exoneration.”
He left questions to his lawyer, Dan K. Webb, a prominent former federal prosecutor from Chicago, who raised pointed criticism about the charges, the notion that a perjury charge would stem from a civil case, and what he described as “selective prosecution” by Worthy, the prosecuting attorney for Wayne County.
Kilpatrick, in his second term as mayor, has vowed in recent weeks that he will not quit. On Monday, Webb said he has urged Kilpatrick not to resign his office. Still, some residents here were already speculating that resignation might come soon; to many, the prospect of a sitting mayor on trial was unseemly.
If convicted of a felony, the city’s charter would bar Kilpatrick from staying on as mayor.
In 2001, Kilpatrick, who comes from deeply political roots (his mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, is a congresswoman and his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, was a county commissioner), beat an opponent twice his age for mayor.
Historians here said Kilpatrick, once among the youngest mayors ever elected to run a major American city, is the first sitting mayor of Detroit to be charged with a crime. (Several others were charged after leaving office, they said.)
Beatty, who resigned as chief of staff days after the scandal began unfolding here in January, was also charged on Monday with seven felony counts. Mayer Morganroth, her lawyer, called the charges “overkill” and said that she is innocent of them.
Around Detroit, residents — even those who said they had been expecting charges against the mayor — seemed shaken.
“I voted for Kilpatrick because I though it would be less cronyism,” Rachel Lutz, another resident, said. “He was charismatic and enthusiastic. I feel betrayed that he squandered that.”
The scandal was particularly troubling to some here who recently had new hopes for their city: For years, Detroit has struggled with a reputation for vacant lots and an emptying downtown and some said they believed Kilpatrick had begun to turn that around. They pointed to his ability as a young black mayor (who had been dubbed by some the “Hip Hop Mayor” for his diamond stud and stylish suits) to persuade older, white businessmen to invest again in this city.
“This is a Detroit political tragedy,” Charles K. Hyde, a historian at Wayne State University, said. “He had the potential of being a very effective mayor over many, many years and he has wrecked any future political career over a sexual dalliance.”
The charges stem from a scandal that has roiled Kilpatrick’s administration since January, when The Detroit Free Press published text messages between Kilpatrick and Beatty, a friend since high school.
The messages from Beatty’s city-issued pager were laced, at times, with sexual banter, contradicting the testimony Kilpatrick and Beatty had provided under oath last year that they had never had a romantic relationship.
The two were questioned about their relationship during a civil trial in which several former police officers accused Kilpatrick of forcing them out of jobs, in part because their investigations might have uncovered his romances.
The text messages also contradicted testimony the two had provided about the departure of Gary Brown, one of the officers who filed the lawsuit.
Kilpatrick testified that Brown, the former deputy chief, had not been fired. But a text message from Beatty to Kilpatrick referred to their decision “to fire Gary Brown.” Kilpatrick’s text response, according to the Free Press, seemed to acknowledge the firing. “It had to happen though. I’m all the way with that!”
Kilpatrick, who had long pledged to fight the officers’ lawsuit, agreed to settle the cases for $8.4 million in taxpayers’ funds hours after learning that the officers’ lawyer had copies of the text messages and could make them public.
Even with Monday’s charges, the scandal here was widening. Worthy said her investigation was continuing and noted that other “potential defendants” have emerged during her study of 40,000 pages of documents and interviews with scores of witnesses. “At every bend and turn there have been attempts by the city through one lawyer or another to block aspects of our investigation,” she said.
The prospect of more turmoil ahead left many weary. “This is a city that desperately needs strong visionary leadership and instead it gets tangled up in this type of a fight,” said Kevin Boyle, a history professor at Ohio State University who has written extensively about his native Detroit.