DETROIT (AP) — A convicted felon charged in two Michigan homicides and suspected in at least four others once was paid $150 as a police informant, Detroit’s police chief said Wednesday.
Kenyel Brown gave information related to narcotics and gang activity to members of a federal-city drug task force, but the tip didn’t pan out, Chief James Craig told reporters Wednesday. He said the task force, which combines local police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration resources, did not know that Brown had numerous probation violations in recent years while under federal supervised release from prison.
Craig held the news conference after The Detroit News reported that an unidentified federal agency had asked that Brown be released from custody despite numerous arrests and probation violations over the past few years. The revelation raises questions about whether Brown should have been in custody when slayings occurred in January and February that he is now a suspect in.
“Informants are informants because they are engaged in criminal activity,” Craig said. “When we vetted Mr. Brown, we didn’t know about his violations. We would not have wanted to work with this individual.”
Brown, 40, shot himself in the head Monday while being chased by police just north of Detroit in Oak Park. He remained hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition.
He was charged Feb. 4 in the fatal shootings of two people and wounding of a third two days earlier in River Rouge, southwest of Detroit. He also is suspected in a Jan. 8 slaying in River Rouge, a Feb. 18 slaying in Highland Park, and separate slayings on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 in Detroit, as well as two carjackings in Detroit on Feb. 21.
Money and drugs appear to be connected to the recent slayings and carjackings, according to Craig.
“He had a significant drug problem,” Craig said of Brown. “He spiraled out of control and began to use violence.”
It is unclear which federal agency had asked that Brown remain free before the slayings.
The U.S. District Court in Detroit released Brown “at the behest of a federal law enforcement agency,” court spokesman David Ashenfelter told The Detroit News in an email, without elaborating.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said Wednesday that Brown “was a law enforcement informant for a period of time,” and that his office is working with other agencies and departments “to determine exactly what happened.”
“This is a horrible tragedy,” Schneider wrote in a statement. “We are going to do everything in our power to get to the bottom of this matter. It’s also our obligation to act as transparently as we can, in a responsible manner, by obtaining the facts. The families of the victims deserve nothing less.”
Craig said Brown had been an informant for the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives until Oct. 29. He was signed up that same day by the Detroit police-DEA task force, according to Craig. He was deactivated as an informant on Feb. 3, when Detroit police learned he was a suspect in the River Rouge slayings.
Brown has a lengthy criminal record. He was sentenced to state prison in 2001 for fleeing police and being a habitual offender, according to Department of Corrections officials. He was paroled in 2010. He also entered plea deals in about a half-dozen cases from 1997 to 2000, according to The Detroit News, which cited court records.
In 2015, Brown was sentenced on a federal gun charge. In a sentencing memo, then-defense attorney Mike Rataj wrote that Brown was cooperating with the government by “providing information concerning his knowledge of others who Mr. Brown believed to be involved with criminal behavior in the neighborhood where Mr. Brown resided.”
Brown served some time in prison, but was out by 2017 and under supervised release. Court records show that during his supervised released, he violated his probation multiple times. He was arrested at least twice last year.