PUGH UPDATE: Civil Suit Coming, Seeks $1 Million In Damages

Are 'Opportunism' And Homophobia Playing Role?

By Jason A. Michael

DETROIT - Farmington Hills attorney Bill Seikaly, representing former Frederick Douglass Academy student and Charles Pugh mentee Khody Sanford, made it clear Feb. 20 that he intends to bring a civil suit on behalf of his client. The suit, which alleges "personal injury" and "violation of civil rights," lists Pugh, the City of Detroit and former mayor Dave Bing as defendants and seeks at least $1 million in damages. The filing was made in U.S. Bankruptcy Court where all lawsuits against the city must be filed and litigated so long as the city remains in bankruptcy proceedings.

Speaking to WJBK Fox 2 and referring to the text messages Pugh sent to Sanford, Seikaly said the messages were "Predatory. One word - they were predatory. There's no question. There's nothing about these text messages that were proper, of proper conduct, between a mentor and a mentee, especially at this stage in any child's life."

Seikaly's comments overlook two important facts. Sanford had completed the mentoring program - the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum - as well as his last day of school just hours before the message exchange started. In addition, his client was 18, and not by any reasonable definition a "child."

Sanford's role in the situation - he made the X-rated video Pugh requested and then pressured Pugh for gifts of a gaming system and video games in addition to the cash payment he received - will likely be a critical issue during a trial.

"If the boy wasn't with it, he never would have sent the video to begin with," said community activist and Pugh supporter John Trimble. "Not only that, they continued to have this back and forth. And the only reason it stopped was because the mother found out."

Trimble said he believes Sanford's mother, Tamu Gaines, who bills herself on Facebook as an evangelist, is behind the suit. He also points out that she went to both the media and an attorney before the police, which brings into question her motives.

"This reeks of opportunism," Trimble said. "If I was a parent and I thought my child was being taken advantage of, I'm not going to go to the media first. That's just not going to be my first move. My mother and I had this conversation. She said, 'if somebody was molesting you or doing something improper, let me be clear: I would be going to the police first. I'd never be going to some attorney.'"

The case is not only an attempt to make a money grab Trimble said, but also reeks of homophobia.

"What's really going on here?" Trimble asked. "Is it that you have an issue with gay people? Because that's really what I think personally. At the end of the day, this is the only boy who came out and said that Charles was after him. This boy was old enough to make a conscious decision on his own. And when this goes in front of a court of law, that's what's going to come out."

Even Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, in deciding not to bring any criminal charges against Pugh, questioned Gaines' rationale for coming forward.

"When we talk about credibility, there appears to be some type of motive in the reporting of this incident," Cooper told the Detroit Free Press in December.

A Free Press investigation turned up troubling details about Gaines. Shortly after the incident occurred, the Free Press reported that the rental home the family lived in had been foreclosed upon, and that Gaines and her husband had made no payment arrangements with the new owner. The Free Press also reported that Gaines and her husband had both received personal protection orders against each other at separate times. A win in court, or a swift settlement, could drastically change the family's financial status.

Many are wondering why the lawsuit names Bing and the city of Detroit as defendants, but Seikaly revealed his reasoning in his Fox 2 interview: it's because Pugh doesn't have the type of money he's after.

Seikaly said the city "has an obligation to indemnify [Pugh] under the charter."

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