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Posted November 17, 2016
Mateen Cleaves case offers lots of courtroom drama with best defense attorney in America in corner of Flint's former MSU great
FLINT — Frank J. Manley might be the best defense attorney in America.
We've seen some great ones work on TV, but none can measure up to the courtroom drama Manley has sparked while defending Flint's former MSU great, Mateen Cleaves. He's on trial for felony charges that could send him to prison for up to 10 years, but he has one of the very best I've ever seen in his corner to prevent that from happening.
Manley is so good that I think he could get Mateen off if he was guilty. The fact he's innocent makes Manley a very powerful advocate for him.
It's a big compliment to Manley's skills because it's no secret I'm not easily impressed.
Spending years specializing as a watchdog over your tax dollars has made me into a cynical type, too. We have too many crooked politicians. Too many bad cops. Too many unethical lawyers. Too many unqualified judges.
Maybe that's why I've never stopped writing about big games and enjoying every possible opportunity to churn out a fun sports column. Take last Saturday for example. I spent the day at Football University High School in Ithaca to watch Frankenmuth's big football upset. It's a venture that made me forget all about the turmoil around us with a water crisis in Flint, a jail inmate getting a $36.6 million payday that could bankrupt our entire county and ever dim prospects for realizing dreams of an economic revitalization around these parts any time soon.
Sports provide the perfect medicine for all the headaches of dealing with life - offering a distraction by giving us a few hours off every so often from dirty politics, all the world's problems and all the problems closer to home on your own home front.
Mateen Cleaves, unofficial king of the FlintStones tradition, made us forget about life's troubles often during a fabulous basketball career. He made this hard-core Michigan Wolverines fan wear green and white in 2000, and root for the Spartans despite proudly displaying my UM degree on the wall in my office since .... well, ever since I got an office.
Mateen's magic smile will forever be etched in our minds. How can we forget his national championship dance to the NCAA's March Madness celebration song, "One Shining Moment" when the all-stater from old Flint Northern and his Flint pals led the Michigan State Spartans to the ultimate glory of victory in 2000. They ushered in a new century with one of Flint's finest moments. A grand moment in a community so rich with great sports stories over the years.
Mateen went on to become a first round draft pick in the NBA by the Detroit Pistons. He also played with the Sacramento Kings, then in Europe after the NBA money dried up on the little man with so much passion, so much drive and so much talent.
Like so many others did not do after earning fortune and fame, Mateen decided to come home after all the money pro ball brought him. He lives in Grand Blanc with his family, and he has been generous with his time and money to support helping people less fortunate in our community.
His "One Passion, One Goal" basketball camps every summer help children learn basketball and life skills as part of his dedication to "try and save the world one kid at a time."
In 2013, Mateen began a December tradition of criss-crossing the state to spread some Christmas cheer. He took his charitable works to new heights, teaming up with the Boys & Girls Clubs, United Way and Habitat for Humanity to find hundreds of families in need. Mateen partnered with non-profits and businesses to fund holiday packages that included meals, toys and gifts. The United Way has worked with many of the adults to help them find jobs while financial counseling and health care assistance was delivered to hundreds.
All because of Mateen. A project he dreamed up and brought to fruition.
"Growing up in Flint, he watched people struggle," his father, Herbert Cleaves, once told me. "It's in his heart to give back and to help people in Flint. But not just Flint. He wants to save the world. I am so very proud of him."
Herbert Cleaves was a special kind of powerhouse in Flint's politics. He served on the Flint Board of Education and often added his voice at the microphone to criticize city decisions at Flint City Council meetings. I remember a conversation when he worried about potential bad publicity from a 2010 drunken driving incident possibly dooming his son's chances to some day run for political office.
I will never forget the early Saturday morning telephone tip on a big news story about Mateen getting arrested for drunken driving with a gun in the front seat. The "father" in me trumped delivering a breaking news story. I sat on it, and called Mateen's dad instead. In fact, most of me hoped the media would miss this story. That was his dad's wish for sure. Even judges told me they hoped the incident wouldn't become a media circus. Mateen had become an important role model for kids.
But the media circus caused by that unfortunate choice of Mateen in 2010 is nothing compared to the media attention for his current preliminary exam on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault.
I'm glad Herb Cleaves is up in Heaven today. It's not just that he would be so disappointed to learn Mateen drove drunk again on the way to the No Tell Motel with a woman he just met. I'm glad Mateen's mom is up in Heaven now, too, because she would be very disappointed to learn her son cheated on his wife.
But Mr. Cleaves would be outraged with the injustice thrust upon his son as a defendant in this latest court case. Herb would likely need bail money because the old dude (Patrick Muscat) and young beginner lawyer kid (Christopher Champaign) at the prosecutor's table would be in the hospital with broken jaws.
Mateen is doing his fighting via Frank J. Manley.
By the way, I'm sure Herb would approve of the choice. On that early morning in 2010 when I tipped him off that his son was sitting behind bars at Sheriff Bob's Hotel, Mateen's dad thanked me for the news. "I really appreciate it that you are not doing a story on this because it will hurt kids that look up to my son as a role model," he said in a typical kind of Herb Cleaves delivery. He called back about 15 minutes later and thanked me again. He then asked for Frank J. Manley's cell number.
Later that day, Herb Cleaves left me a voice message to thank me for the call. To thank me for providing Manley's cell number. To thank me for not doing a story on the arrest. "Hey, you are a friend for life," he said. "I will not forget this. If there is anything my family can ever do for you, just ask."
How could the "father" in me break a story on myAMadvantage.com after that kind of effort on behalf of the son he so dearly loved?
I joined Herb Cleaves in praying the lazy kids in the local media business around here wouldn't find the story. It took them a while. Maybe they would have missed if, if not for a Mt. Morris Township cop eventually hitting one of them over the head with the story by calling to tip them off about it.
Today's column is to tip them off on something all of them are missing on Mateen's current circus.
If I were king, a so-called forensic nurse at Genesys Regional Medical Center would be in handcuffs. An investigation would determine why some at the Mundy Township Police Department pushed for Mateen to be arrested after the victim didn't cry rape on the night of the incident and was, at best, apprehensive about making an accusation after the Genesys nurse called 911. Another investigation would determine who should go to jail at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office for pushing this miscarriage of justice, including possibly hiding important evidence Frank Manley's side didn't get.
But even if I were king, how would we ever give Mateen his reputation back? Where does he go for that?
Perhaps he can start with a lawsuit against Genesys, Mundy Township police and Wayne County's Prosecutor's Office after he's cleared on the felony charges. But Mateen already has money, so you've gotta wonder if that million dollar smile will forever disappear from his face because of this ordeal.
Only family and his closest friends are in court every day to hear the garbage being thrown at him. Short TV news clips have convicted him in the court of public opinion because everybody else doesn't get to see what's going on inside the court room.
It's so bad that Genesee County 67th District Judge Judge Cathy Dowd could end the case early. I think she heard enough yesterday that she should dismiss all charges before taking up any more of the court's time. it's definitely a fact that Judge Dowd should not determine enough evidence has been presented to form justification for Mateen to be bound over to circuit court for a trial.
The only bad thing about an early decision to do the right thing and dismiss all charges would be me missing out on watching more of the superior lawyering skills of Frank J. Manley.
Manley went after the Genesys nurse with vigor. It's obviously his opinion that Michelle Most ruined his client's life, and he set out to ruin her life on cross-examination after the prosecution called Most yesterday as an expert witness.
He punched holes in her testimony. Again. And again, and again ....
Maybe one of my biggest questions is why the victim came to Genesys with her mom at 5:30 pm on the day after the incident instead of going there right away or calling police to report the alleged attack.
The story goes that she and her boyfriend had been drinking with Mateen at Sweetwater Grill & Bar in Grand Blanc after he played as a celebrity in a golf fundraiser for charity at nearby Warwick Hills Country Club. Here's where the tale turns fishy for me. She decides to ride back to Warwick with Mateen instead of with her boyfriend, then winds up at the No Tell Motel.
The forensic nurse's rape kit report says the victim remembers kissing Mateen because he "donated a lot of money" to the non-profit organization she apparently worked for at the time. The report says she remembers being naked with him on top of her to have sex when she threw him off and rolled out of bed, running outside naked. Except a witness, Colleen Dowdall, said she had a bra and panties on. No mention of the victim saying "no" as Manley pointed out, asking, "So no yells of no means no?"
Twice Mateen ran naked outside after her as the so-called victim was screaming and yelling for help, according to Dowdall who finished up two days of testimony yesterday.
Dowdall apparently lives at Knights Inn. That address in life is not exactly the kind of credibility you can convict somebody on, if you ask me.
My questions for this star witness are simple. Why did it take three times of seeing the victim run out of the hotel room and hearing her yells for help before she called 911? Why did the first day's testimony skip yesterday's suddenly startling assertion that once safely inside her room, the victim spun a tale of "just laying there and taking it" after Mateen forced himself on her. She left that part out of her first day of testimony. In fact, Dowdall said on her first day of testifying how she never asked the victim if she was raped - only if she had sex.
And most of all, if I were king, Dowdall would need to pass a lie detector test on whether or not she has been promised a chance to share in the winnings if the victim and her mom can cash in on a subsequent civil case if Mateen is convicted?
Back to the forensic nurse when she met the victim at 5:30 p.m. Her state form for sexual assaults asks right away if the victim was intoxicated or uses drugs. Nurse Most says the victim admitted to having a half dozen beers and some shots before arriving to the motel room at between 1 o'clock and 2 o'clock in the morning after she left with Mateen while her boyfriend went to Warwick.
Right there, we can insert an important point about how she definitely needs a new boyfriend.
One can also argue that kissing Mateen means she must have been thinking about the same thing. Maybe right up until seeing dollar signs, throwing his naked body off her naked body and running outside where the witness saw her with a bra and panties on.
Maybe Mateen, known for his speed and quickness on the basketball court, was so slow in his pursuit of her that she had time to start getting dressed in her sudden exit strategy. Another thought is how the much smaller victim could suddenly come up with the kind of super strength required to throw off a 230-pound former pro athlete.
Dowdall says the victim was "trashed' and told the court she was crying hysterically until calming down once safely inside Dowdall's room on her third exit from the room with Mateen. Dowdall also said she had clothes on during the last exit, prompting Manley to ask: "Once she's more fully clothed, Mr. Cleaves, at that point, does not have to assist her back to the room cause she's not naked in public anymore, is she?"
I'm sorry, but it's my humble opinion that a woman does not go alone to a hotel room with a celebrity like Mateen Cleaves for anything except sex, especially only hours after she first met him!
Did you also hear the part about how they stopped at the gas station on the way there? No screaming or yelling for help then.
Champaign, the young assistant prosecutor called on yesterday by Prosecutor Kym Worthy's team to handle Most, wasted the court's time by giving the Genesys forensic nurse a lengthy session to brag about her credentials. Manley summarized it much quicker by saying Most read some books, spent a few days on the internet and took some tests. Mix all that with some classes and presto — she was certified as a forensic nurse.
Most matter-of-factly told the prosecutor's side how she had performed 60 exams to put together rape kit packages as part of her expert abilities.
Manley's cross-examination, however, produced lots of reasonable doubt - about her expert abilities and about the guilt of his client.
Most comical was how Manley pointed out that Most had been labeled as "an expert witness for today because I stipulated to allow it for the purposes of this preliminary exam."
Manley dug hard, and learned yesterday was her first day as an expert witness. That was also after Most admitted to testifying in court only twice. The first time, he revealed, wasn't before her work on the internet to get that expert forensic certification.
Manley also pointed out how the assistant prosecutor had sped right by her testimony about the victim's drug use, consisting of Hydrocodone and Motrin.
I'm not sure about the judge and everybody else in the audience, but I had no idea what Hydrocodone was until Manley pointed out that it was Vicadin — an opiate like heroin. He then asked, "That sounds a lot different when you say it that way, doesn't it?"
Manley pressed hard about why the forensic nurse didn't find out if the Vicadin was prescribed under a doctor's care or bought illegally on the street. It's an issue that certainly goes to credibility on the part of the victim, and maybe she's the only criminal here if Mateen Cleaves isn't guilty of anything.
If the case ever makes it to trial in circuit court, Manley will surely call an expert to testify that mixing Vicadin and alcohol is a wicked combination for substance abusers, and declare how the victim's highly intoxicated state likely blurred much of her memory about the night to cloud any clear accusations of a sexual assault.
Manley's goal during his cross-examination was to obviously prove a "bias' on the part of Nurse Most. She didn't like the police officer who came to Genesys to collect the rape kit and talk with the victim, admitting he "disrespected her professionally." She didn't recall questions by Manley about whether she called him an "ass" to the victim's mother in the lobby in front of witnesses, but said: "He was an ass."
Manley also inquired about why she didn't report his bahavior to his chief, extracting out of her mouth what became a bombshell.
Most then described calling Mundy Township's police chief to lodge a complaint — something Manley later told Judge Dowd was new news to him.
Assistant Prosecutor Champaign, obviously rattled by Manley's aggressive style, took exception and went so far as to shout to the judge how Manley was a liar, suggesting he knew all about brought it because he brought up the question to Most.
Manley flipped through notes on his yellow note pad, and rattled off his exact question to quickly refute Champaign's "liar" accusation.
"It was my moxy and experience in the courtroom that allowed me to extract that admission out of her," Manley said. "The prosecution never turned over that evidence and I have a huge problem with that."
It will be interesting after those day-ending revelations yesterday to see if Judge Dowd issues any sanctions when court resumes at 9 am today. The case ended Tuesday shortly after Judge Dowd nearly jailed Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey. A Genesee County Sheriff's deputy was preparing to slam handcuffs on her upon orders of the judge, until Lindsey's co-counsel, Muscat, convinced Judge Dowd to accept an apology from Lindsey.
"I am not gonna put up with her disrespecting me," Judge Dowd said. "I have warned her before. This is not the first time that she has indicated that I am partial to Mr. Manley when I have tried so hard as a member of this community to stay impartial, to stay away from the rumors and I am tired of the innuendo. I am tired of her trying to tell me how I am going to run my courtroom. Now, if she wants to apologize and go back to her case, instead of demeaning me, we can do that."
Muscat offered an apology, but Judge Dowd rejected it, saying, "I didn't ask you (to apologize), I said she has to."
Lindsey then apologized, but again tried to argue Manley was being allowed to get away with improper questioning, until Judge Dowd warned; "I'm telling you, don't go down that road."
I'm curious how the judge will react today after learning that Lindsey's team neglected to turn over evidence that would have showed a definite bias by the prosecution's expert forensic nurse.
I don't think it will be very long until Mateen Cleaves can start trying to get his reputation back because this case should not make it to circuit court for trial.
Mike Killbreath hosts The Morning Gazette Radio Show live weekdays from 8 am until 9 am on CCNRadio.net and hosts The Daily Gazette Sports Weekend Show every Saturday from 10 am until noon.
Meet our award-winning Executive Editor
Mike Killbreath is a veteran newspaper man who began hosting a radio show in 2009. He currently serves as Executive Editor at The Daily Gazette while hosting "The Morning Gazette Radio Show" on the local radio air waves live every weekday morning from 8 am until 9 am. He will be seen soon on more than 180,000 TV screens and via the digital signal at myCCN.TV with "The Morning Gazette TV Edition" that will air during the hour before taking your calls on the radio show. Mike's background includes winning awards at the state and national levels for investigative reporting, local columns, feature writing, sports writing and sports columns. He has also served as President at the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce since 2011 and has served on its Executive Board since mid-2010.
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