In a surprise move, the Obama Justice Department filed suit today against the State of Michigan and Macomb County for prosecuting a Washington Township man for bank robbery, under its controversial and tough bank robbery statute.
Scott Edward Berry, 38, was arraigned in May in Macomb County District Court, after being arrested by the county Sheriff.
"Bank robbery is a federal crime," Holder said in his press conference. "We can't have states just making up their own laws about this serious federal matter."
The federal lawsuit further noted that if states are left up to their own devices to prosecute bank robbery, that it could "place an undue burden on the federal government."
"We are concentrating on robberies in which guys accompanied by women in red dresses shoot up the bank with Tommy guns," Holder pointed out. "If local cops take it upon themselves to arrest every bank robber who walks into a bank with just a threatening note, it will clog up the system and create chaos."
Possibly because Berry is white, the lawsuit contained no reference to racial profiling, though Holdersaid the Justice Department is watching Michigan—and particularly Macomb County—carefully, and a follow up lawsuit on that basis is possible.
"Michigan has a history of racist legislation," Holder alleged. "In 2006, the people of the state adopted a constitutional amendment outlawing affirmative action by any institution that receives state funding—including colleges and universities. That effort was organized by a Macomb County legislator named Leon Drolett. Therefore, we will monitor the situation to make sure that enough white bank robbers are arrested while we are working to overturn the law."
Michigan's Canadian-born Governor Jennifer Granholm was surprised by the move, but says she understands. "This federal/state jurisdiction thing can get very confusing," she admitted. "And it just goes to show how racist practice of outlawing the consideration of race in hiring and college admission can give a state a big black eye—oops, I mean damage its progressive reputation."
The Detroit News reports that Barry was, indeed, a non-violent offender:
Police say Berry entered a Best Bank branch inside a Kroger grocery store at 30 Mile and Van Dyke just before 1 p.m. Monday. He approached a bank teller and presented a note demanding money. A teller turned over an undisclosed amount of cash to the man, who then fled.
A dye pack was included with the money. A witness — one of Berry's friends — later told investigators that the suspect showed up at his residence covered in dye, Wickersham said.
The witness provided Berry with a change of clothes and convinced the suspect to turn himself in to police, he said. The friend accompanied Berry to the sheriff's office when he surrendered on Monday.
Investigators executed a search warrant and recovered a small amount of cash they think came from the bank, officials said.
But federal officials say that the fact that Berry turned himself in, does not absolve the Macomb County Sheriff or the State of Michigan. "Many times the fact of one's immigration status is revealed to authorities in an act of inadvertent self-reporting," Holder pointed out, "And we do not want local authorities to intervene in that area, either."