Ex-cop never stopped trying to clear his name
February 25, 2013
MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Aaron Tuckfield first met former Detroit police officer Larry Nevers in 2001 when he and his father installed a sprinkler system at Nevers’ home.
That was right after Nevers got out of prison the second time for his role in the 1992 death of Malice Green.
After that initial visit, Tuckfield aided Nevers in his daily activities. Nevers, who was suffering from lung cancer, was quiet about the infamous 1992 incident that had sent him to jail. Mostly, they just played chess together.
“I probably played him for four or five years and only beat him once,” Tuckfield, 24, said recently. “He was really good at it. I’m no more than a casual player.”
The two men, decades apart in age, would talk often about a wide range of topics.
“He liked to recount a lot of things,” Tuckfield said. “He talked about being a cop often.”
Tuckfield said that “don’t smoke” was the advice he got from Larry Nevers most often.
“(The cancer) changed a lot of things for him and it was something that changed his life almost as much as Malice Green,” Tuckfield said.
But it wasn’t until 2006, when Nevers decided to write a book about Green’s death and the trial that sent Nevers and his former partner, Walter Budzyn, to jail, that he opened up to Tuckfield about the events of that fateful evening.
Nevers died Feb. 3 at the age of 72. Those closest to him said he spent the last years of his life in quiet Macomb Township, attempting to set the record straight.
“When he came home (in 2001), his whole life was an endeavor to clear his name,” his wife, Nancy Nevers, said. “If I write the book,” she recalled him saying, “everyone will know the real story.”
His self-published account of what happened, “Good Cops, Bad Verdict,” was released in 2007 and denounced the conviction that sent him to prison on second-degree murder charges. In his own words at the time, Nevers said he wanted to tell the world his story, a tale about “how racial politics convicted us of murder.”
A cop on the street
Nancy Nevers said joining the Detroit Police Department wasn’t her husband’s dream job. Instead, police work was a great fit for Larry Nevers because it helped him to find himself.
“He always wanted to wear the white hat,” Nancy Nevers said. “He found himself with that job. He didn’t really know what he wanted to do. It was a perfect fit for him.”
For much of his career in Detroit, Nevers worked out of the 3rd Precinct in Corktown. He became one of the most highly decorated officers in the department and made more than 5,000 felony arrests.
Corktown was still home to the Detroit Tigers in the early 1990s, and the parking lots surrounding the stadium attracted thieves looking to prey on fans. That also attracted Nevers, who hid in a tree on nearby Porter Street and waited for crooks.
His success on the beat helped him ascend through the ranks. He began working undercover, patrolling neighborhoods in an unmarked car and wearing civilian clothing.
Nevers was approaching retirement when the incident at the corner of 23rd Street and Warren Avenue changed his life.
Green’s death and the trial
In his book, Nevers reflects about how life as he knew it ended on Nov. 5, 1992, when he and Budzyn struggled with Green.
“Knowing what happened to us and what happened to someone who lost his life, I would have called in sick that night,” Nevers said later. “I would have driven on by, knowing what had happened. I would have said, ‘Making a drug arrest for possession of cocaine is not worth a person dying, and for our lives to go down the toilet.’ It’s not even close.”
Nevers said that he was never brought before a formal police Board of Review after Green’s death, something he said would have been standard to determine whether officers followed the department’s general orders.
He later alleged that rumors about riots after the incident brought out bombastic statements from city officials attempting to separate Detroit from Southern California, where rioting raged in 1992 after a group of white Los Angeles cops were acquitted of the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.
“They finally got two white guys for beating up a black guy, and we paid,” Nevers said later. “And we were the two least guilty ever.”
Nevers was brought to trial in June 1993 and, along with Budzyn, was convicted of second-degree murder. They were sentenced in October and Nevers served four and a half years in prison.
“Talk about a jury of your peers — it was a joke,” Nancy Nevers said recently. “They didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.”
Nevers was released from custody on Dec. 31, 1997, after the case went to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Both men were later tried separately by juries pooled from throughout Wayne County, and both were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2000. After that, Nevers went back to serve another year in a maximum-security prison.
Life after prison
While Larry was serving his second round in prison in 2001, Nancy moved from Detroit’s Rosedale Park neighborhood to Macomb Township.
“I was a west-sider,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about the east side.”
She was looking to move her sick father into her home but needed a larger place. Larry Nevers insisted she leave Detroit and a friend recommended Macomb Township.
Nancy still lives in Macomb and serves on the township’s Board of Trustees.
Larry Nevers joined her there after he was diagnosed with lung cancer and released from prison. He eventually began telling his side of the story. In 2006, he began to write his book.
Nancy said the incident changed her husband in several ways.
“It changed him in a positive way because his personality came out,” Nancy Nevers said. “Several people that knew Larry said they could not believe he wasn’t bitter.”
Tuckfield said the Larry Nevers he knew wasn’t the man portrayed during the trial as a racist cop.
“It’s a shame that he was known for what he was known for because he was gentle and a good man,” Tuckfield said.
Nancy said her husband’s book brought him new life.
“It kind of kept him going. That’s what drove him for two years,” Nancy said. “All he cared about was getting his thoughts down.”
She estimated that the book has sold about 15,000 copies.
“Even now, I am getting stuff from Amazon saying there’s requests for his books,” Nancy Nevers said.
Despite his battle with lung cancer, Nancy said it was likely a heart attack that killed her husband Feb. 3.
She said they attended a Super Bowl party every year but decided to stay home this year because Larry was ill.
Nancy Nevers said her husband was watching the game when he collapsed. He was pronounced dead later that evening.
“Had I gone to the Super Bowl party without him, he would have died alone,” Nancy Nevers said.
Wayne County Prosecuting Attorney Kym Worthy, the lead prosecutor in the 1993 trial of Nevers and Budzyn, declined an opportunity to comment for this story.
Douglas Baker, a former assistant prosecutor who worked on both trials and was the lead prosecutor in the second case, refuted the notion that “racial politics” factored into the trial and conviction after Nevers released his book in 2007.
“I don’t think there was any of that in the trial of the case,” Baker said previously. “I‘m not speaking to all the different attitudes that may have been out there in the community, but in the trial of the case, there was none.”
Baker said the fact that both trials ended with convictions proved his point that “what happened the first time around was appropriate.”
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