The First 48 Makes Millions While the Innocent Have Their Lives Ruined

Once you're charged with murder on A&E's The First 48, you're guilty for life - even if you're innocent.

Officers didn't investigate the leads.

Though the consequences of this lapse would be severe, other mistakes filmed by The First 48 — which has also shot in Detroit, Dallas and Memphis — have been substantially more tragic.

In Detroit on May 16, 2010, after First 48 videographers expressed a desire to achieve a "good show" and capture "great video footage," police stormed a duplex in an impoverished neighborhood, according to a federal lawsuit. It was past midnight. All the streetlights had suddenly gone black. The cops were hunting for a murder suspect. As cameras rolled and dogs bayed madly, city police fired a flashbang grenade through a front window.

Cameron Coker, pictured here about eight months after his charge was dismissed, called his wrongful incarceration "torture."
Facebook screenshot
Cameron Coker, pictured here about eight months after his charge was dismissed, called his wrongful incarceration "torture."
"Straight Menace," the episode featuring Cameron Coker's interrogation, is still being aired, despite the fact that Coker was released and the victim's homicide is still unsolved.
Screenshots from A&E's The First 48
"Straight Menace," the episode featuring Cameron Coker's interrogation, is still being aired, despite the fact that Coker was released and the victim's homicide is still unsolved.

"Police!" one officer cried. The grenade exploded next to a living-room couch where a seven-year-old girl, Aiyana Jones, slept. From the patio, a cop lowered a submachine gun and fired into the house, striking the girl in the head. Upon entry, however, the cops realized they'd raided the wrong house. Their suspect lived next door. The officer who fired the gun, Joseph Weekley, was indicted for manslaughter and awaits trial. First 48 producer Allison Howard pleaded no contest last year to obstruction of justice after she lied about "copying, showing, or giving video footage she shot of the raid to third parties," Detroit prosecutors said. The episode was never aired.

Each of the 113 cases filmed in Miami also still airs periodically — even those featuring men who later walked free of murder charges.

"I talked to a lawyer about suing, but there wasn't nothing we could do," says Frank Sands, who spent three years in prison on murder charges and hasn't found steady work since. "Because [The First 48] shows 'All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty' at the beginning of the program, they're covered."

A&E shirks responsibility for episodes that broadcast incorrect information, and spokespeople confess the channel doesn't re-edit or correct flawed programs beyond stating at a show's end that murder charges were dropped. "We simply film the investigations as they unfold," a spokesperson said. "Every episode states clearly that all individuals are innocent until proven guilty."

The closing statement has A&E covered legally, perhaps, but ethically? Miami Detective Fernando Bosch admitted under oath in 2011 that he has "play-acted" parts of investigations for The First 48 and couldn't tell upon later viewing which parts were staged and which were real. "Most of [the detectives] do things like that," he said.

More troubling still, the show highlights almost exclusively some of the most impoverished neighborhoods around the country. Nearly every person charged with murder belongs to the same demographic: young, male, black, urban, poor and without the resources to challenge a television conglomerate like A&E.
_____________________

Defense attorney Marlene Montaner was appointed to Taiwan Smart's case. Reviewing the evidence in early 2010, she couldn't find any confessions, direct evidence or any person pointing the finger at her client.

"I remember just looking for someone anywhere saying he was the one who did it. You had one witness in which police misrepresented what she said, but that was it." She visited Smart the next day. His manner conveyed innocence, but who could be sure? She paid for his polygraph test, and he passed.

That's when she hired a private detective and scrutinized the police investigation. She says they found a "sloppy," "rushed" case that hinged on a contaminated crime scene and one witness who hadn't seen the murders. ­Police hadn't arrived at the NW 77th Street apartment until more than an hour after the murders, and by then, bloody footprints — none of which matched Smart's foot size — inked the cluttered space.

Detectives had also made a big deal of the bullet casings, claiming their presence inside the home refuted Smart's assertion that the shooter had been outside. But it's unclear from the investigation's log whether police ever thoroughly searched the apartment's grassy exterior for additional casings — a vital lapse. According to the logs, police discovered fewer casings than bullet holes, six of which had trajectories leading from the window where Smart claimed the stranger had shot.

But as weeks melted into months and months into years, nothing happened. Fabio Sanchez didn't release his lead investigator's report, which is necessary for trial, until after Smart had spent more than a year in prison. Smart, awaiting trial, was transferred to the Miami-Dade Stockade jail facility.

Then serendipity struck. Within the stockade are sprawling cells that house dozens of men at a time, and inside Smart's, a new inmate named Arsenio Carter arrived.

Day after day, Carter eyed Smart. "Aren't you the guy who's in jail for those two Little Haiti murders?" Carter asked Smart, according to court records filed in Smart's defense. Carter allegedly taunted Smart in front of other inmates.

On January 11, Carter pulled aside inmate Earnest Evans, 20, whom he knew from the outside. "I have a secret to tell you," Carter said, according to Evans's later testimony, and confessed to killing the two men and letting Smart get away. Eventually the secret got out, and Smart told his attorney, who quickly interviewed her client and Evans and shipped their statements to prosecutors. On June 6, 2011, Smart took two separate state-sponsored polygraph tests. An expert hammered him with questions for hours.

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22 comments
marquse1
marquse1

Good article but misleading title. Sadly, a lot of detectives are satisfied sending people 20 years in jail based on hunches and appearances.

JQ127
JQ127

I can't believe anyone is sticking up for these criminals. If most of them were white we wouldn't hear a word from any of you. Just because witnesses are too scared of 'snitching' and testifying doesn't mean the police didn't do their job. They work with what they have. I've seen this episode and it's obvious he did it.  All these young black thug murderers we see on this show have ruined their own lives. Don't blame it on a tv show. If they were law abiding tax paying hard working citizens they wouldn't have been looked at in the first place.  Trying to say the show ruined this mongoloid's life is insane. What you thug supporters aren't mentioning is most of these thugs would shoot you down for a dime. Yet you people talk like it's just a case of mistaken identity and the cops are racist. But since the kid is black he's innocent and the cops are racist.  I love this show and respect the hell out of the Harris County homicide cops. Thank God they're around to combat murderers-white or black. This is like the old Trayvon case. He beat the crap out of George Zimmerman but no one mentions that. Again it's not if he's innocent but if he's black . You people are the racists not the cops doing their job. 

liz_5
liz_5

I know cameron n that wasn't even the whole Interview its not about skin color I'm white. He is a very nice respectful guy. Yea may have messed up with a weed case but weed n murder... no totally different love my boy cameron. ♥if u disagree it really doesn't matter cause he is home

OBAMA Answer This
OBAMA Answer This

Maybe Harris County Sheriffs should be going after those whom they can prove have committed crimes, instead. Namely, there are federal judges and some locals who committed felony crimes it seems, but not one arrest or indictment yet. This is all in a case of a white man whose career was ruined after he refused to practive illegal discrimination against blacks and men apparently at a big local NPO. The judges allowed known perjury to stop the case without a jury trial, very illegally. See my FB page for more info, as the Obama admin. also seems unwilling to prosecute or do anything despite proof via court documents of various felony crimes that took plave in Harris County and elsewhere. This is at a time when lots of blacks are unemployed. The man involved had been hiring students of PV A&M, which is a traditionally black university. My page has a link to a few websites with some of the court documents showing evidence of felony criminal acts. Also on my FB page is info links showing the man has sent a letter and affidavit about the crimes to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ about having sent previous messages for help against the corruption but to no avail. This is bad. This is very bad. Holder and President Obama took oaths to uphold the Law and Constitution, and both are over the federal court system and judges. They should be impeaching them, not covering for them -- if that is what they are doing. Is someone blackmailing them or pulling strings behind the scene to prevent even them from acting?

jaybmichael
jaybmichael

This case is hardly typical of most. Incredibly biased article.

a.mackay90
a.mackay90

This article is as biased as they purport the TV show to be, go and watch the episode, and tell me if you'd like this kid roaming around in your neighbourhood. Does witnesses recanting their testimony mean that someone is innocent, or does it mean the witness has been go to by the defendant? We'll never know as this case won't be going to court. When 1 witness changes their mind, we can conclude that they just aren't sure, but when several change their minds it makes us think that there is a another power acting upon them. A&E don't commit the murders, they just film the aftermath, if you lived in these mostly poor deprived areas you'd want the police around trying to catch these mostly young men, and keep them off your streets. The job of the cops is made that much harder by the stupid no snitching policy enforced by ppl who don't have the best interest of the majority of the folk at heart. Don't get me wrong, I have lived, live, in very poor deprived neighbourhoods, and I know most of the time the cops ain't your friend, but surly when it's the murder of a young kid it's a different matter. The cops can only work with what they have, most of the homicide cops seem to be a breed apart from the rest, if the years of watching the 1st 48 are anything to go by. They don't have it all their own way, the defence council of the accused usually gives them a very hard time, and rightly so, it's about the only way justice can be served, if an innocent person gets convicted, it just means the defence haven't done their jobs, or the cops have lied on purpose, and if the cops have lied then they should be prosecuted too.

a.mackay90
a.mackay90

this article is as biased as they purport the TV show to be, go and watch the episode, and tell me if you'd like this kid roaming around in your neighbourhood. Does witnesses recanting their testimony mean that someone is innocent, or does it mean that they have been go to by the defendant? We'll never know as they case won't be going to court, when 1 witness changes his mind, we can conclude that they just aren't sure, but when several change their minds it make us think that there is a another power acting upon them. A&E don't commit the murders, they just film it, and if you lived in these poor deprived areas you'd want the police around trying to catch these mostly young men, and keep them off your streets. The job of the cops is made all the more hard from this stupid no snitching policy enforced by ppl who don't have the best interest of the majority of the folk at heart. Don't get me wrong, I have lived, live, in very poor deprived neighbourhoods, and I know most of the time the cops ain't your friend, but surly when it the murder of a young kid it's a different matter. The cops can only work with what they have, most of the homicide cops seem to be a breed apart from the rest, if the years of watching the 1st 48 are anything to go by. They don't have it all their own way, the defence council of the accused usually give them a very hard time, and rightly so, it's about the only way justice can be served, if an innocent person gets convicted, it's just means the defence hasn't done their jobs, or the cops of lied on purpose, and if the cops have lied then they should be prosecuted too.

YellowJournalism
YellowJournalism

Lol @ all 3 witnesses not testifying... Hmmm, I wonder why?? Now the taxpayers get to pay the settlement so this monster can walk free. I guarantee he will be in some form of the DOC in less than 3 years. Witness intimidation and a subsequent failure to raise charges does not mean innocent, it just means the streets got the witnesses. Have fun feeling sorry for the poor gangster drug dealer.

charlaurie
charlaurie

This is outrageous! In our day of DNA and forensics why is so much credence provided to eyewitness accounts alone?! More to the point, why why WHY is this not headline news instead of the inane fascination of something like "Justin Bieber" who is given not one, but four headlines for CNN and other primary news outlets like it? People's lives are being ruined!!! How can A&E get away with it and keep showing the episodes?! I wish I was a lawyer-i'd class action lawsuit their ass. As it is, I'll have to settle for "voting with my dollar"---I won't buy another A&E product as long as I live. And yes, I will tell ALL my friends. Bastards!!!!

Melanie Martin
Melanie Martin

I saw this episode when it first aired and googled his name a few times following the show to see when his court date was. They sure did make him seem like a horrible human being and guilty as hell.

marquse1
marquse1

@JQ127 Who is sticking up for the criminals??? This article is sticking up for people who are wrongly accused on sub par investigations - otherwise called the innocent.

marquse1
marquse1

@a.mackay90 The mere fact that your argument states: would you like those kids around your neighborhood shows that you are more interested in prejudice than justice.

charlaurie
charlaurie

The only people I feel "sorry" for is the sad, diluted people who watch A&Es "docu-drama" masquerading as "entertainment." Its rubbish at the expense of others suffering. I also feel empathy for our hard working detectives who are politically pressured to make a quick arrest with overwhelming caseload and under funding. And NO I don't think someone who is found "not guilty" is the same as innocent--but one of the gr8 things about our system is that we don't imprison people who cannot be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt....AND though you may be right in your prediction about the likelihood of this person's future with the DOC, it is by no means "guaranteed." For those kind of "guarantees" go to Russia or North Korea.

a.mackay90
a.mackay90

@marquse1 @a.mackay90 Yup guilty as charged I am prejudiced against violent, gun toting, disenfranchised thugs is that a problem? Unlike most white, middle class educated people, I couldn't give a damn if people think I am a racist, as long as me and my family are safe that's all I care about. The race card is played with such regularity these days that it has ceased to have any meaning, apartheid era South Africa or 1950s Deep South USA that's racism, wanting to live in a safe neighbourhood isn't. I think that now a days the race issue has become counter productive anyway, when you have an automatic bogey man to blame for everything it takes away the need to accept responsibility for your own actions, and I can't think of any circumstances were that is a good thing.

a.mackay90
a.mackay90

@marquse1 I am sure you are a nice person and your heart is in the right place, but you aren't too good at constructing an argument, you are jumping to conclusions instead of reaching them. You are letting your own prejudice shine thru, as I have never mentioned colour once, so it's yourself who obviously assumes that I am talking about black folk when I say violent thugs. You also I assume I have no sympathy for the ppl featured in the First 48. We can argue back and forth all day long and it won't change the tragedy that lies behind nearly every case featured on the show. Yes most of the offenders are of colour mostly black or Hispanic, most are young and nearly all are male, but there is 1 thing that every single one of them as in common and that is poverty. That is the real tragedy that in a rich country like the USA with all it's opportunities that there are 16 year old kids who are so disenfranchised, can see absolutely nothing in their lives are so jaded at that young age that they think it's OK to use AK-47 in residential areas without a thought to what it might do to other people, how can this happen in a country like the USA? IMO it's partly to do with racism, partly the fact that the USA doesn't have an effective social welfare system and partially to do with the gun laws, there are plenty who will disagree with me, but there has to be some reason why the USA has such a high murder rate compared to other G7 countries. Having said all that my original point stands, I don't want to bring my kids up in a neighbourhood like that, no one should have to live like that. Nice talking to you BTW, keep safe and peace.

marquse1
marquse1

@a.mackay90 @marquse1Now that you have admitted that you are predjudiced you can work on admitting that you are ignorant: not all black disenfranchised people are criminals. If you are not concerned about who goes to jail: the innocent or the guilty - all your arguments about protecting Americans are moot.

 
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