Fair Michigan Justice Project partners with prosecutors, police to solve crimes against LGBTQ+ people

The Fair Michigan Justice Project is working to solve a murder after a transgender woman was found shot to death in Detroit.

Heyden Davis' body was found off Fenkell, near a vacant storefront with multiple gunshot wounds on July 26.

"It's hurtful. A life was lost. Another member of our community is gone, specifically another trans woman of color has lost their life," said Officer Dani Woods, the LGBT liaison with Detroit police.

Once the killer is caught, Prosecutor Kam Towns will likely handle the case. She works for the Fair Michigan Justice Project, which is a specialized crime unit in Wayne County.

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"I have handled some very gruesome cases over the years, and very complex cases, really sad cases," she said.

Alanna Maguire, the president of the Fair Michigan Foundation, said hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are rising.

"We see, unfortunately, homicides, we see armed robberies, and those sorts of serious offenses where the victims are targeted because of their LGBTQ status, and unfortunately we know that hate crimes are rising both in Michigan and the country at large, so we are seeing pretty grizzly cases honestly," Maguire said.

Maguire, her wife Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy started the Fair Michigan program in 2016 when six murders of transgender women were unsolved.

"I've been doing this a long time, and not much keeps me awake at night, but this did keep me awake at night because I didn't see any relief coming for these women," Worthy said.

Forming a specialized unit, with a special prosecutor and investigator and victim advocate dedicated to solving crimes against the LGBTQ community, would prove to be invaluable. It has a 100% conviction rate in more than 30 cases against this vulnerable population.

"I think it's so important to have that vertical prosecution and that nexus with the community where you have a select individual where it's their job all day every day to engage with the community," Nessel said.

In addition to the special prosecutor, victim advocate Julia Abad, herself a transgender woman of color, is a crucial part of Fair Michigan.

"Trans women of color experience the highest rates of mortality and violence," she said. "Part of that is changing the stigma."

Abad works with trans women of color to address housing and clothing needs. She also helps them legally change their names. Additionally, collaborates with companies to train in cultural competency.

She is also the one who found the victim in one of Fair Michigan's first cases involving a threat against a gay man that went viral on social media.

"Obviously this was a crime. This man pointed a gun at him, threatened him, caused fear, caused harm," Jaimie Powell Horowitz said.

Horowitz, who was the former Fair Michigan prosecutor and is now a judge, said the victim never reported the crime to police. Instead, Abad went out to find him.

"The victim says, ‘I didn’t think anyone would care,' which just broke my heart," Horowitz said. "Just the fact that there are so many victims out there who feel like they can't go to law enforcement highlights the need that there are these dedicated resources. They need to know that they matter and that violence against them is not going to be tolerated."

A partnership between law enforcement and prosecutors is helping build a better relationship with the LGBTQ community.

"People are really starting to trust law enforcement to take their crime seriously. Whether you are a witness to a crime or a victim yourself, we're seeing increased cooperation," Maguire said.

Fair Michigan has expanded to Oakland, Washtenaw, and Ingham counties, and they've asked the Wayne County Commission to nearly double their budget to help keep the unit funded.

"I just want people to know Fair Michigan is available. We're a phone call away; law enforcement will obviously be joining with us. We'll be in the community, we'll be in the precincts, and we are alive and well and back," Towns said. "Feel free to reach out to us because we are here to help you."

Reach the Fair Michigan Project at 877-432-4764.