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April 22, 2014

Utash beating defendants bound over to circuit court

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

DETROIT— A 36th District Court judge has found sufficient cause to send the four men charged in the April 2 mob assault of Steven Utash to circuit court, following a preliminary hearing April 21.

Detroit residents Bruce Wimbush, 17, James Davis, 24, Wonzey Saffold, 30, and Latrez Cummings, 19, were each bound over to the circuit court on the felony charges of assault with intent to murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm. Their arraignment there is scheduled for April 28.

On April 2 at about 4:05 p.m., Utash, 54, who has connections to Roseville and Clinton Township, reportedly hit a 10-year-old boy who darted in front of his truck while driving on Detroit’s east side, on Morang. When he got out to check on the boy, he was confronted and eventually attacked by a mob of people. He remains hospitalized.

Wimbush’s attorney, Randall Upshaw, said his client decided to waive the right to the hearing and agreed to be bound over to the circuit court immediately, preferring to have the facts of the case heard on the circuit court level. Judge Thomas Jackson agreed to the request.

Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey brought forth witnesses and read several police statements made by the witnesses and the defendants regarding the incident. The first witness, Ashley Daniels, said she was driving by with her friend and 6-year-old son when they saw the injured boy lying in the street.

“We pulled over at the Lucky 7, and we got out to check on him,” Daniels said. “I heard a lot of yelling.”

She said there was a crowd of people gathered, mostly teens and young men, surrounding Utash yelling at him about how he hit a child with his truck. She said she recognized Wimbush there, and attempted to calm him down.

Daniels alleged Wimbush asked her, “What if that was my little brother?” But he did start to calm down until someone in a tan hoodie punched Utash, knocking him to the ground. As Utash got up, Daniels said she told Utash he should wait in his truck, but he insisted he needed to wait until the police came. She said the person in the hoodie hit Utash again, allegedly sparking Wimbush and another person to hit Utash, too.

As Utash started to get up a second time, Daniels said the man she identified as Saffold walked up yelling and waving a gun around, and she and her friend fled back to her car and left the scene, seeing Utash getting beaten by the mob as they left.

The second witness, retired nurse Deborah Hughes, said she saw the injured child get hit near the curb and ran over to help him and calm him down. She said Utash was upset after getting out of the car, asking if the child was injured.

Hughes said she stayed with the boy for around 10-15 minutes with a crowd of people focusing their attention on Utash. When she finally saw what was happening, he was on the ground being kicked. Hughes did not initially recognize the defendants in the courtroom, but she did pick Cummings out of a police lineup originally. When pressed by his attorney, Robert Slameka, she said she didn’t recognize him immediately with his hair down.

Slameka asked how she could have identified Cummings if she had only seen the crowd attacking Utash for a few seconds, but she said they did not go anywhere afterward.

“It was about 10-15 minutes,” Hughes said. “He didn’t leave the crowd.”

Hughes added that she did not see anyone with a gun while she was there. While she was armed herself, Hughes said she did not take out her firearm.

Lindsey read the statements that Cummings and Saffold made to police after they were taken into custody. Cummings allegedly told police that he had been at the location with a friend of his when they saw the child get hit and had stomped Utash twice in the back and once in the buttocks when the assault started. Cummings said he was upset about the boy getting hit by the truck and was praying for his and Utash’s recovery.

In Saffold’s statement, Lindsey read aloud that he was at a local gas station with his friends when they saw Utash in the middle of the crowd and saw around 20 people jump him. Saffold allegedly had punched and kicked Utash, as well, until a woman stopped him and he calmed down. The police pulled up as Saffold and his friends were leaving, his statement said.

Detroit Police Sgt. John Boyle said that he and a partner had been in the process of interviewing Davis when Davis’ attorney, Jason Malkiewicz, arrived and ended it. Boyle said he was not aware at the time that Davis had an attorney, but Boyle said that under the statement portion Davis had signed, he said he was with a friend and they thought the injured boy was his friend’s stepson.

Boyle said they started kicking Utash, but stopped after a lady grabbed them, and then they left the scene.

Ray Paige, Saffold’s attorney, argued that his client was being overcharged, as he did not believe that the “assault with intent to murder” charge fit.

“If my client did have the intent to kill, and if he had a gun in his possession, he would be in a position to do it,” Paige said. “He admitted that he punched and kicked about three times at best. Hughes told him to stop, and he stopped.”

Lindsey argued that due to the number of attackers, it contributed to the mob mentality and psychological makeup, making it into a beating with intent to kill. Jackson agreed with her assessment, though Malkiewicz agreed with Paige regarding his own client.

Anton Sykes, the final witness, was resistant to answering questions and attempted to plead the Fifth Amendment, having claimed answering questions would incriminate him, an argument that his police statement did not bear out, Jackson said. Sykes said he identified Davis but insisted that he did not know who he was other than someone in the neighborhood. Due to Sykes not responding to the initial subpoena and his argumentative behavior in the court, Jackson ordered Sykes to stay in jail as a material witness to ensure his future appearance.

Malkiewicz said that while he did not know what to make of Sykes, Malkiewicz believed the argument that the charges were too severe would be borne out as the case continues.

“It’s still early in the ballgame,” he said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

Utash’s family attended the hearing, but declined to make any statements.

A fifth defendant, a 16-year-old, has a jury trial scheduled June 23 at the Lincoln Hall of Justice.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.