Two Black men die in trooper chase as Black President elected

On Election Day, Nov. 4, 2008, 41-year-old James Willingham, a father of 10, was riding to the polls on his motorcycle. State Troopers John Hetfield and James Wojton gave chase, claiming he was speeding. In violation of MSP pursuit rules, they had no lights or siren on, according to witnesses and a forensic analyst who reviewed their dashcam videotape.

The troopers pursued Willingham and his partner from Detroit’s Davison Freeway through a residential, densely populated neighborhood, another violation of MSP rules. As nearby schools let out at 3:30 p.m., Willingham collided with pedestrian Jeffery Frazier, 34. Willingham flew off his cycle into a tree and then a fence surrounding a church and grade school parking lot. Frazier flew into the path of oncoming traffic..

According to his autopsy report, Willingham’s right arm and shoulder were severed, his skull and brain shattered, and all his ribs broken, among other injuries. Frazier sustained multiple rib fractures and a severely lacerated liver and kidney, but was still alive at the scene. His distraught family, who lived nearby, tried to go to him.

“The troopers threatened to shoot me,” said his brother Emmanuel Frazier. “They also stopped my mother from going to her son.” Frazier died en route to the hospital without the loving presence of his family. Willingham’s sister Roshell Shoulders tried to go to her brother’s body. A trooper jerked her arm up behind her back and nearly arrested her before her husband intervened. Detroit police later harassed Willingham’s young cousins, claiming Willingham was riding a motorcycle stolen from a Detroit cop.

MSP Second District Commander Harold Love later said the troopers “were never under any investigation.” They have not been disciplined or charged for the chase.


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