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Monday, January 2, 2023

The Michigan State Police Child Pornography Fiasco

     In March 2005, troopers with the Michigan State Police seized a computer they had reason to believe had been used to download child pornography. The suspect, 35-year-old Billy Joe Rowe from the town of Clio not far from Flint, Michigan admitted downloading the pornography. But for some reason the case fell between the cracks and was forgotten. As a result, Billy Joe Rowe went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     In March 2011, six weeks before the six-year child pornography statute of limitation barred prosecution in the Rowe case, Michigan State Police Sergeant Ronald Ainslie found the computer stored at the Computer Crime Unit in Lansing. When forensically examined officers found numerous images of child pornography on the computer seized almost six years earlier in Clio from Billy Joe Rowe.

     On March 2, 2011 a prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Billy Dean Rowe, a hard-working man without a criminal record who lived near Albion, Michigan 120 miles from where the child pornography computer had been seized in March 2005. While Billy Joe Rowe was six-foot tall and now 41, Billy Dean Rowe was five-foot-four and 45-years-old.

     On March 11, 2011, Michigan State Police officers showed up at Billy Dean Rowe's house near Albion. When the innocent man came to the door, one of the officers asked, "Are you Billy Rowe?"

     "Yes," the puzzled homeowner answered.

     "We have a warrant for your arrest."

     "What did I do?" asked the startled citizen.

     "We can't say. We are taking you to Flint, Michigan."

     "Why am I going to Flint? I've never been to Flint."

     "You'll find out when you get there."

     In Flint, when booked into the Calhoun County Jail, the officers informed Billy Dean that he had been charged with possession of child pornography, a felony that carried a prison sentence of up to six years.

     During his three-day incarceration in the county jail, Billy Dean tried to get someone to believe that they had arrested the wrong man. Eventually, Sergeant Ainslie, after he questioned Billy Dean and showed his photographs to Billy Joe's relatives in Clio, realized he had the wrong man behind bars.

     Sergeant Ainslie notified a judge of the case of mistaken identify. Billy Dean Rowe was released from custody and the charge against him were dropped. When he returned home he learned that he had been fired from his job as a meat cutter in Jackson, Michigan.

     Because the statute of limitation had run out on the 2005 child pornography case, Billy Joe Rowe once again went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     Billy Dean Rowe, in 2014, filed a false arrest lawsuit against the Michigan State Police. The agency immediately raised the defense of sovereign immunity. Per standard operating procedure in law enforcement, no one from the Michigan State Police apologized to Billy Dean Rowe for the stupid and traumatizing foul-up. The state police also owed the public an apology for blowing a potentially successful child pornography case.
     Billy Dean Rowe, on January 3, 2020, died of pneumonia and cancer. His false arrest suit had been dismissed.

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