Attorney General Dana Nessel announced charges in two cold cases at a news conference Thursday in Detroit.
Charges have been filed in the 2014 death of McKenzie Cochran, a 25-year-old Ferndale man who was pepper sprayed and held down by four security guards at the now-shuttered Northland Mall in Southfield. He was trapped on the ground and handcuffed before dying of compression asphyxiation.
Cochran “repeatedly told security guards that he could not breathe,” Nessel said, citing witnesses.
Moments earlier, a jewelry store had reported that Cochran was making threats.
“I feel as though the case should have move forward through the judicial system to let all the facts come out and then form a decision of whether guilt or innocence.” —Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren
Lucius Hamilton, John Seiberling, Gaven King and Aaron Maree are facing an involuntary manslaughter charge in Cochran’s death. A fifth security guard was not charged.
Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren re-examined the case soon after he took the job in 2019 and later forwarded it to the state attorney general’s office. He says he disagreed with Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, who declined to press charges at the time, saying the guards had no intent to harm Cochran.
“I feel as though the case should have move forward through the judicial system to let all the facts come out and then form a decision of whether guilt or innocence. So again, thank you attorney general, for looking into this and what I’ve heard from the family. They are very appreciative of your efforts,” Barren says.
Cochran’s case got renewed attention last year during a local race for prosecutor and amid outrage over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer pinned his neck to the ground.
Nessel reopened the case last year.
“We do have additional evidence that [Cooper] did not have in 2014,” Nessel said. “Whether or not that information, had it been available, would have made a difference in her assessment, I can’t tell you.”
She says that decision was about justice and not due to the growing movement against police brutality.
“That may have influenced the public. I don’t think it influenced our prosecutors or investigators. I think it’s very important that as prosecutors that we’re not influenced by public opinion one way or the other,” Nessel says.
Father Facing Open Murder Charge in Infant’s Disappearance
Nessel also announced charges in the 1982 disappearance of Ann Arbor infant Olisa Williams. Isiah Williams of Chicago is set to be charged with open murder following his extradition from Illinois. For years, Isiah Williams was the only suspect.
Isiah Williams is accused of taking the child from her mother during a physical altercation when they lived together in Ohio. Olisa Williams has never been found and is presumed dead.
Addressing the girl’s mother, Denise Frazier-Daniel, Nessel says she hopes to provide some measure of justice.
“A mother should never suffer the loss of her child, especially at the hands of her abuser. Denise has endured the torture of decades of uncertainty that I hope will now come to an end,” Nessel said.
Investigators believe Williams killed the girl as an “act of control over her mother,” Nessel said.
Isiah Williams and Denise Frazier-Daniel were married, although he wasn’t Olisa’s biological father, Nessel said.
Williams, 75, has family ties in Michigan, the attorney general said, and investigators believe he took the child to that state from Ohio.
“Williams has told many different stories about Olisa’s whereabouts over the years and has even been held in contempt of court for his failure to provide information,” Nessel said.
It wasn’t immediately known if Williams has an attorney who could comment on the charge, which was filed in Washtenaw County.
Williams is resisting extradition to Michigan while in jail in Chicago, the attorney general’s office said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.