ACLU calls for an investigation into jury tampering incident involving GRPD

Jul 17, 2020

Credit Grand Rapids Police Department

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to the Grand Rapids Office of Oversight and Public Accountability and the Michigan Department of Civil rights asking for an investigation of the jury tampering incident that took place last December in the 17th Circuit court. 

According to the transcript of the criminal case, Grand Rapids Police Department Detective Robert James Zabriskie and sitting juror, Chastity Powers, texted back and forth about another juror during deliberations. 

“This incident involves a Veteran GRPD detective with 24 years of experience who engaged in jury tampering what that means specifically in this instance is that the detective texted a sitting juror about the content of the deliberations, provide legal advice, attempted to sway her opinions and pushed for the expulsion of the lone Black juror on the jury.” 

That’s Elaine Lewis. She’s an attorney with the ACLU. She says that when Powers commented about the dissenting juror being “obnoxious” and emotional, Det. Zabriskie asked “is this a Black lady?” And when he learned the dissenting juror was Black, he went further to advocate that the dissenting juror be expelled.

After texting back and forth with Powers, the detective reached out to Michael Sheehan, the Assistant Kent County Prosecutor about his involvement. Sheehan brought the incident to the court and the case is up for a retrial. 

“Apologizing after the fact doesn’t excuse what happened here. What happened was jury tampering, evidence of racial bias against Black people and what happened threatens the constitutional right for criminal defendants.” 

According to Lewis, Detective Zabriskie was not disciplined for his actions in any way. Chris Becker, Kent County Prosecutor, has said the matter is being referred to the Ottaway County Prosecutor’s office for investigation.