HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — The city of Highland Park will return a building it seized more than 16 months ago and later offered to return to its owners if they purchased the city two new police vehicles.
The reversal comes one day after a 7 Action News investigation revealing the deal that city leaders called “rotten” and was resisted even by the city’s own police officers.
“They offer to give us (the) building back for two police cars,” said Justyna Kozbial who, along with her husband Matt, owned the property.
After seizing the 13,000 square foot building, which was formerly a church until it closed, city attorney Terry Ford said Highland Park would return it if the Kozbials bought the city two new Ford vehicles totaling nearly $70,000 for its police department. The couple would also have to stop growing marijuana in the building.
The Kozbials didn’t purchase the vehicles, and later sued the city in an attempt to regain their building.
Today, their attorney Marc Deldin said he received a call from city attorney Terry Ford informing him that the building will now be released. No reason was given.
“The property on Hamilton is going be returned to my client,” Deldin said. “There’s clearly no respect of the constitution or people’s rights. But there appears to be a fear of the media, because it took a call from you and a story for them to do the right thing.”
“That should have been done 17 months ago.”
Ford could not be immediately reached for comment.
Forfeiture attorneys contacted by 7 Action News said Highland Park’s request was highly unusual, if not unheard-of.
“The problem with it is we’ve always alleged that...it’s policing for profit, that the police are going to make all this money off of that," said attorney William Maze, who has handled dozens of forfeiture cases in his career. “Well, this is saying that out loud.”
Despite seizing the property, some city leaders seemed unclear on basic facts surrounding the case.
Mayor Yopp, for instance, told 7 Investigator Ross Jones that the Kozbials had been criminally charged over their use of the building.
“My city attorney charged them, as far as I know,” he told Jones earlier this month.
Through a spokeswoman, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office confirms that the city’s warrant request has not been acted on.
Other elected leaders in Highland Park expressed outrage over the mayor and city attorney’s behavior.
VIEW EXTENDED VIDEO OF INTERVIEW WITH HIGHLAND PARK MAYOR YOPP
“That’s rotten,” said City Council President Carlton D. Clyburn. “I mean, that’s not the way to do it.”
Clyburn is also running to be the city’s next mayor. Yopp will not be seeking another term.
“There’s a word for that: extortion,” Clyburn said. “You can’t just negotiate like that because there’s a process.”
Even though they’re getting their building back, the Kozbials lawsuit against the city continues. It’s unclear what it might end up costing taxpayers, but for the cash-strapped city, any price would be too high.
“It’s sad,” Deldin said. “It’s sad that the people of Highland Park have to live with an administration that has no respect for constitutional rights, but a fear of the media.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.