Oakland County Prosecutor (OCP), L. Brooks Patterson, had already made a name for himself as an outspoken, ambitious politician since he took office in 1973. He designated his loyal friend and ideological equal, Richard Thompson, his second in command, deputy and chief assistant. The pair dedicated themselves to targeting issues that would resonate with their supporters like criminalizing pornography, engaging in a crusade against welfare and ending the practice of plea bargaining, especially for drug‐related offenses. The effort to publicize their progress on these issues often exceeded the substantive work they did on behalf of their constituents. They were intent on building the perception of being uncompromisingly tough on crime. Under Patterson and Thompson, the OCP office functioned under tightly controlled secrecy and anyone who they felt breached it, regardless of whether or not there was actually a breach, faced harsh consequences.
Immediately upon taking office in 1973, the pair mounted an aggressive war on pornography that continued through the early 1990s after Thompson took over as OCP. In 1973 they brought criminal charges against theater owners in Southfield for screening the X‐rated film, “Deep Throat.”7 That same year, Patterson arrested a man for possession of pornographic material—adult heterosexual pornographic films and photographs.8 Before issuing the arrest warrant, Patterson showed the movies to an audience of assistant prosecutors, reporters, and police.
Patterson sent a clear message that criminal charges would be brought against those in possession of hardcore pornography that he defined as “the graphic description or depiction of erotic behavior designed or intended to stimulate sexual excitement.”9 He went on to say, “We are mainly concerned with the depiction of acts such as intercourse, fellatio, cunnilingus, sodomy and masturbation.” Again, this was his policy for prosecuting individuals for simply possessing films and photographs depicting adults engaged in these acts.
As part of his so‐called “anti‐smut” campaign, Patterson and three members of his staff, including Richard Thompson, attended a screening of “Last Tango in Paris.”10 Patterson deemed the Marlon Brando film as “rough in spots, but is not pornographic.” It was, nevertheless, a necessary exercise on the taxpayer’s dime to ensure that a film featuring adult actors engaged in scenes of intercourse was safe for public consumption.
Patterson did not demonstrate the same flexibility for the adult film, “Naked Came the Stranger,” when it was screened at a theater in Ferndale. He ordered four raids on the theater during which copies of the film and projectors were seized.11 A federal judge issued a restraining order against Patterson prohibiting further raids.12 Patterson took umbrage to the judge characterizing the raids as a “charade.” The order was actually served during the fourth raid. Dick Thompson was on site at the theater leading that raid and refused to comply with the order or to speak on the phone with the judge who issued it. Patterson supported Thompson’s decision.
Dick Thompson is the son of Armenian immigrants whose father, Albert, was an assembly line worker at Ford in Dearborn.13 Thompson met Patterson in the late 1960s and the two immediately hit it off.14 They were inseparable for the next two decades. Among the things they had in common was projecting the appearance of dedication to morality and faith. Dick Thompson became the standard bearer for the war on pornography after Patterson passed the OCP torch to his loyal friend in 1988. Thompson led a 40‐person task force to crack down on pornography and aggressively prosecuted owners of a chain of adult video stores seeking prison time and fines of up to $5 million.15 Pursuant to those raids, Thompson stated, “There is no question that there is a correlation between hard‐core pornography and sexual violence.” Thompson further stated that pornography “degrades women, encourages sexual violence and incites and aids child molesters in the commission of their crimes.”
By the time southeast Michigan and the nation were shaken by the child rape and murders in the OCCK case, Patterson and Thompson established that their office had a zero‐tolerance policy for pornography. Moreover, they developed a reputation for being uncompromising when it came to law and order and severely cut back on the practice of plea bargaining.16 For drug‐related crimes, the no plea bargaining policy was absolute. In one instance, when an assistant OCP allowed a defendant to plead to a lesser charge, Patterson immediately and publicly fired him. Patterson’s position regarding plea bargaining at the time of the events described in this book is summarized in the article below.17
During Patterson’s first year in office, Harvey Towlen, a pharmacist in Oak Park made the mistake of crossing the line on two of Patterson’s favorite issues. First, Towlen was arrested for allowing minors to purchase adult magazines from his drug store.18 A few months later, separate charges were brought against Towlen for selling drugs out the back door of his pharmacy. His bail was set at $135,000 and Patterson sought a sentence of 83 years in prison. The 83‐year sentence was twice as long as what Towlen normally would have faced, but the law allowed Patterson to have it doubled because some of the people to whom Towlen illegally sold pharmaceutical drugs were minors.19
Another common theme that pervaded the way Patterson and Thompson ran the OCP office was secrecy. Unprecedented secrecy in how Patterson and his staff planned their cases giving defense counsel as little information as possible.20 Absolute secrecy with an expectation of unconditional loyalty from those working under him. Any betrayal of loyalty, real or imagined, was handled by Patterson harshly with decisive certainty. Unfortunately, his judgement was not as finely honed as his outrage and wrath. He was often wrong about who he blamed and prioritized loyalty over ethics—dangerous characteristics for a prosecutor.
A demonstration of Patterson’s demand for absolute loyalty and secrecy played out in the papers in 1975. Sheri Perelli, an assistant prosecutor who was the head of Patterson’s Consumer Protection Unit, set up a public relations consulting company to serve the same clients that she was supposed to police in her OCP position.21 Her application for setting up the business was notarized by an investigator in the OCP office. When the story was reported, Brooks Patterson was outraged. Not over the breach in ethics demonstrated by Perelli, but because he believed someone from inside his office leaked the story. Of course, corporate filings of this type were publicly available and would be easy to find, especially since “Perelli” was in the company name. Nevertheless, Patterson and Thompson, without any evidence, aggressively retaliated against the staff member within the OCP office whom they believed was responsible for the leak. Patterson obstinately denied that Perelli’s private conflicted with her public duties represented a breach in ethics. For Patterson, the only unforgivable crime, imagined or real, was the breach in secrecy and loyalty. This incident will be revisited again in the chapter titled, “The Campaign.”
Patterson’s expectation of absolute secrecy and penchant for punishing the wrong people was not limited to his full‐time, adult OCP staff. He also directed his misguided wrath at unpaid high school interns. A few months after opening her PR firm with Patterson’s blessing, Sheri Perelli claimed that money was being stolen from her purse by someone at the OCP office.22
Patterson and Thompson believed the culprits were six students from two local high schools who were volunteering at his office for school credit. Brooks and Dick set up a sting operation where a $20 bill was dusted with zinc sulfide powder and left in an open purse near where the students sat. When the marked bill was taken, OCP investigators rushed in without explanation, herded the students into a dark room and demanded that they show their hands. The students’ hands were inspected under a UV light that would show glowing stains by anyone who handled the dusted bill. None of their hands showed the telltale glowing stains. Two of the students were additionally frisked by the investigators, again without being told why. The OCP Chief Investigator, Gary Hawkins, only told the students they were suspects after they were searched and had their hands examined in the dark room.23 When the shell‐shocked students talked to reporters about what was done to them, Dick Thompson called them liars. Thompson asserted that the students were told why they were being investigated before Hawkins rushed them into the dark room, examined their hands under a UV light and frisked them. The students all told the same story that no explanation was provided while they were being treated like criminals. Instead of apologizing to the students and assuring them that this was not how the OCP handles its investigations, Patterson fired them for talking to reporters about the incident, thus ending the internship program. The thief was never caught.
These examples lay the foundation for the OCCK case, the biggest criminal investigation in Michigan’s history. Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in Oakland County six months before the first OCCK victim, Mark Stebbins, was murdered. Hoffa’s disappearance and the OCCK murders all took place during Patterson’s tenure as OCP. It is important to keep in mind that before the OCCK case, Patterson established himself as having zero tolerance policies toward pornography and plea bargaining. The OCCK case would put his reputation of being the toughest prosecutor in the state to the test. Everyone expected a man like Brooks Patterson to show those responsible for the OCCK murders swift and certain Oakland County justice—unless his being tough on crime was, in fact, simply theater. Unless his wrath was reserved only for movie theaters showing adult films and he had nothing left for child‐raping murderers. Unless it was, as the federal judge put it, all a charade.
7 Detroit News, April 24, 1973, 8‐A.
8 Detroit News, Mach 24, 1973, 1‐B.
9 Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1973, 11‐A.
10 Detroit News, April 24, 1973, 8‐A.
11 Detroit Free Press, September 19, 1975, 5‐A. 12 Detroit Free Press, September 15, 1975, 1‐A. 13 Detroit News, November 4, 1990, 5‐B.
14 Detroit Free Press, February 16, 1975, 18.
15 Detroit News, October 3, 1991, 6‐F.
16 Detroit Free Press, February 16, 1975, 18.
17 Detroit Free Press, December 3, 1976, 2‐A.
18 Detroit News, January 19, 1973, 2‐B.
19 Detroit Free Press, February 16, 1975, 18.
20 Id. at 18‐19.
21 Detroit News, January 8, 1975, 1‐B.
22 Detroit Free Press, May 16, 1975, 3‐A.
23 Detroit News, May 16, 1975, 3‐B.