Police: Detroit rep who called house teardown a 'mystery' solicited demolition bids

October 09, 2019, 1:19 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo's house, when it was still standing. (Photo: Google Street View)

Michigan State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) solicited bids for the demolition of a house she owned before it was torn down in an incident she's framed as a "mystery," then withheld the information from investigators, Detroit police said Wednesday.

The investigation into the demolition at 14567 Minock determined the house was torn down by Gipson Brothers Trucking. Police say owner Sherman Gipson admitted to tearing it down after he was contacted by a tree service company working with a contractor who was in talks with Gay-Dagnogo's nonprofit. The tree company reached Gipson for an estimate, police said, but no one ever authorized or paid for the work be completed. 

Police said, however, that at one point, Gipson was indirectly asked, "how soon can you start the demolition?" by the contrator working with Gay-Dagnogo's non-profit.

A warrant sent to the prosecutor's office recommends Gipson face felony malicious destruction of property charges.

"Unfortunately, as we continued this time-consuming investigation, we determined days later that Gay-Dagnogo solicited bids .... and this was withheld during several meetings with investigators," said Craig. "Had we gotten that information, we probably would have identified a suspect within 24-48 hours."

Media reports on the incident never said Gay-Dagnogo explored demolishing the house.

The property was purchased from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for $1,000 by Gay-Dagnogo's non-profit under a program that requires its renovation. Gay-Dagnogo has said the plan was to rehab the house and give it to a family in need, but a June fire put things on hold. The deadline to have the renovation complete or underway was Sept. 14.

Despite failing to mention the specific bid that may have prompted Gipson's demolition, police said Gay-Dagnogo early on told them she'd contacted Motor City Blight Busters to get cost estimates for repairing or demolishing the house.

Gay-Dagnogo told Deadline Detroit later Wednesday that she was exploring all options to avoid making headlines for letting a Land Bank house deteriorate, as Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist did last year.

She pushed back on Craig's framing of what happened.

"The story has more to it than what’s been shared," she said. "I highlighted that the house burned, we had it boarded, we got noticed for compliance and I was seeking options of what the best path forward would be."

Police say emails showed Gay-Dagnogo was sent a price estimate for the demolition on Sept. 23, and responded that she'd received it. There was no evidence that she knew which company demolished the house, police said.

When asked why she never showed police the email, Craig said Gay-Dagnogo told police she "felt it was irrelevant."

She explained that decision in greater detail to Deadline Detroit. 

Sept. 23 "was [after] the date the neighbors found out the house was demolished," she said. "To say that they could have solved it sooner had I shared the email of the quote, but I shared with them the direct source of the email, I shared with them everyone I talked to ... just doesn't add up."

She says her response said, “Thank you, I’m exploring other options.”

Gay-Dagnogo initially only informed media of the demolition, Craig said. Police got involved after the headlines.

The representative says she did not misrepresent the facts to media, and that reports that failed to mention she was exploring demolition were "sensationalized."

The revelation that the representative solicited demolition bids came hours after she told reporters she'd reached out to the FBI in hopes that it would launch an investigation.

Gay-Dagnogo — who has been a vocal critic of Detroit's demolition program — says she stiIl has questions about what happened.

"I would like to know what his exact confession is," she said. "From my perspective, you don’t go out after you have a conversation with a third party to do a demolition without permission, without a permit, and without payment."

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