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Paul Williams

Summary of Benton Harbor Misconduct
On October 2, 2007, Officer Andrew Collins of the Benton Harbor Police Department in Michigan stopped Quinsel Mathis for what he said was a broken taillight on her car. Paul Williams, Mathis’s boyfriend, was a passenger in the car.

Mathis consented to a search of her car and her person. Williams, who was 25 years old, was also searched. Collins found no contraband, and asked Mathis if the police could search her home. He told her that the police had received information that drugs were being stored there. She agreed to a search.

Collins and several other officers searched the house, and Collins said he found several small bags of crack cocaine in the master bedroom. Collins said in a report on the search that the drugs belonged to Williams, who was arrested on October 25, 2007, and charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug house.

Williams’s case went to trial in Berrien County Circuit Court on January 17, 2008. Collins testified about the search and connected the drugs he claimed to have found at the house to Williams. He had testified similarly at a pre-trial hearing. The jury convicted Williams on both counts on January 18, 2008.

On February 25, 2008, a judge sentenced Williams to between three and 40 years in prison.

A week before the sentencing, on February 19, 2008, the police department fired Collins after a supervisor found a lockbox under a desk that contained cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The cocaine was already packaged in small baggies.

Collins was indicted on a single count of drug possession by a federal grand jury on November 26, 2008. Corporal Bernard Hall Jr. was indicted on July 16, 2009 on three counts: conspiracy to violate civil rights, giving false declaration to a grand jury and giving a false statement to the FBI.

After the indictments, Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter began reviewing cases where Collins and Hall were the arresting officers. Cotter filed a motion to vacate Williams’s convictions and dismiss his charges on December 23, 2008. A judge granted the motions on December 23, 2008, releasing Williams from prison. Approximately 65 defendants had their convictions vacated based on misconduct by Collins and Hall.

Collins pled guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on January 26, 2009 to his single possession count. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Hall pled guilty in U.S. District Court on August 25, 2009 to the conspiracy charge and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Collins testified at Hall’s sentencing hearing that he and Hall embezzled from the police department by receiving reimbursement for drug buys that never happened. They also began taking money from defendants, and then under-reporting the amount of cash recovered in the evidence reports.

“I think it got to the point where we would talk about it,” Collins said. “So I asked him, I said, ‘Do you think God cares if this is drug money that we are stealing?’ And he kind of, you know, shook his head and said, ‘I know, I know, it’s been hitting me too.’ We both said, ‘let’s stop, let’s stop, let’s start doing things right.’ Then, you know, just the addiction to the money, the next person we would arrest would have a couple thousand dollars on him, and we would take money from him. It just kept happening that way. We would try to stop, and then we wouldn’t.”

In the wake of the scandal, 85 plaintiffs – some whose charges were dismissed prior to trial – filed lawsuits against Collins, Hall, and the city of Benton Harbor. Williams said in his lawsuit that Collins perjured himself at his trial and in his pre-trial testimony.

Court records suggest about 90 percent of the plaintiffs settled their lawsuits. Most of the settlements, including the amount received by Williams, have not been publicly disclosed, although the handful that have been made public range between $28,800 and $176,160.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/9/2023
Last Updated: 1/9/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:3 to 40 years
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No