Free Efren Orange Banner

Free Efren Orange Banner

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Berrien County Prosecutor Lacks Accountability

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

In the Fall of 2009 Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter dismissed 40 convictions because Benton  Harbor police manufactured evidence, conducted illegal searches, and wrongfully arrested people. 

At the time of the case dismissals, Cotter claimed to be reviewing many other cases involving possible police misconduct as well. Cotter defended the police by saying they “didn’t engage in misconduct in every case they did.”

In an August 28, 2009, Michigan Messenger article, Cotter was quoted as saying, “The problem is that everybody who had a case now wants review.”

Cotter has it all wrong however. The real problem is that he would have the audacity to make the latter statement knowing there are likely many other wrongful convictions that occurred under his watch. His inept office reviewed the 40 cases he dismissed before the suspects were arrested and subsequently convicted. Not only did errors abound with the arrests themselves, but the review process by Cotter’s office was riddled with errors as well. Cotter has offered no explanation as to how his office got the review process and prosecutions wrong 40 times.

Rather than be embarrassed by all the errors he is personally responsible for in the cases he dismissed, Cotter has attempted to eschew responsibility altogether.

The reality is that there are only two logical explanations of how so many cases were wrongly prosecuted by Cotter’s office: either he is totally incompetent, or he knowingly allowed it to occur, was complicit, and should be investigated for corruption.

Since Cotter admitted to dismissing the 40 wrongful convictions, he has not publicly shared the findings of the dozens of other cases involving possible police misconduct that he was allegedly reviewing. The print, television and radio media in the area have also not held Cotter accountable for his errors and have not reported about Cotter’s review of the cases he claimed to be conducting. As far as anyone knows, Cotter could be covering up his mistakes as part of his damage control.

The citizens of Berrien County deserve answers. They also deserve to be represented by a prosecutor’s office that cares as much about not committing errors that wrongly rob people of their freedom as it does about protecting the public from crime.

One thing is certain. A large number of Berrien Country voters have lost confidence and respect for Cotter and his office, and rightfully so. He has made many obvious mistakes with impunity, and his hubris prevents him from admitting it.

Voters will be able to express their discontent and restore integrity in the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office next election. The obvious answer for starters will be ensuring Cotter vacates his office.

Citizens shouldn’t keep paying the price for Cotter’s mistakes or malfeasance with their hard earned money or the loss of their liberty. I know firsthand what a heavy price citizens can pay for the mistakes of the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office. I’ve spent 22 years in prison so far to prove it!