HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Highland Park City Council voted unanimously this week to request an outside investigation into the mayor and city attorney’s decision to seize a building, then offer to return it if the owners purchased the city two new vehicles.
The owners were never charged with a crime.
In a unanimous vote at Monday’s meeting, the council called for the Michigan State Police and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office to investigative the seizure of 13,000 foot building, a former church, that was being used to grow medical marijuana.
As 7 Action News reported last month, the building’s owners had caregiver cards giving them permission to grow marijuana and were never charged with a crime.
“It’s just not right on a moral compass,” said council president Carlton Clyburn, Jr., who voted in favor of the measure. “Highland Park doesn’t need any more negative press.”
But after the building was seized, the owners were told by top city leaders that to get the building back, they’d have to buy the cash-strapped city two new police cruisers. They refused.
“You have to wonder, has this happened to someone else?” asked councilman Ken Bates. “Typically in a poor city where people don’t have resources, they’re not able to challenge the establishment.”
Bates pointed out that while the husband and wife in this case had the resources to sue the city to get their building back, most residents would not.
“If it’s a person of color, poor (or) with a criminal record and they found themselves in this situation, there’s no recourse for them,” he said.
One day after our report aired last month, the city reversed course, with city attorney Terry Ford agreed to return the building that Highland Park had been holding for nearly 18 months.
But questions about the deal persisted, and Mayor Hubert Yopp is now trying to distance himself from his own city’s actions.
“I don’t know anything about a deal to get scout cars,” Yopp said at Monday's city council meeting. “I have no knowledge of that.”
Yopp also released a YouTube video, recorded by a city employee on the day the building was searched and seized, meant to bolster the city's decision to seize the building. But it actually contradicts some of the claims.
For starters, Yopp said building owners didn’t have their caregiver cards clearly visible when he inspected the building, and that they only produced them later.
But the video seems to show otherwise. At multiple points throughout the video, caregiver cards appear to be posted on the wall.
They bare a stark resemblance to the cards found in the city’s police report, giving the owners permission to legally grow medical marijuana.
Even if the medical caregiver cards weren’t visible, police sources say it would not have justified seizing the building.
Mayor Yopp also tried to argue—wrongly—that the owners of the building, and their employees inside, were charged with a crime.
“Every occupant of that building was charged with…(a) violation of the state controlled substances act.”
But Yopp is wrong. No one that day or in the year and a half since has been charged with any crime stemming from what went on inside the building.
In fact, last month the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office formally denied the city’s request to bring criminal charges after taking no action to forfeit the property.
Reached by phone on the city council's vote, Mayor Yopp and city attorney Terry Ford each hung up the phone.
“In the end, the citizens, business owners, we’re all going to have to pay after the mayor’s gone,” councilman Bates said. “Whatever settlement comes up in litigation, we will have to pay because of this poor decision.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.