Family seeks justice after son shot, killed execution-style inside federal halfway house

The father of Demarlon Thomas is seeking justice, a year after his son was shot and killed execution-style inside a Saginaw halfway house. It's a case that made national news and is the focus of a lawsuit filed by his family. (Photo: WEYI/WSMH)

It was a crime partially caught on camera.

"It looks like two individuals that went in there and killed the victim they knew exactly where they were going and who they were targeting," said Michigan State Police Detective Bryant Greenert.

With the help of surveillance video, Michigan State Police detective Bryant Greener walked us through the last minutes of Demarlon Thomas life.

Thomas was gunned down inside a Saginaw Federal Halfway house one year ago this week.

"They are definitely dangerous people we need to get off the street and that's what our investigation is looking towards to do," said Greenert

Greenert says you can see in the video where two men walk through an unlocked door.

Once inside the building, one man is seen rounding up workers and inmates at gunpoint, while the other man finds Thomas shooting him numerous times.

"They weren't in there for a long period of time," said Greenert

Thomas was two months away from being free.

Ricardo Foster is Demarlon Thomas dad.

Ricardo read to us a letter sent to his son by former President Barack Obama.

Thomas was a standout football player at Saginaw High going onto play college football for a short time at a community college in Minnesota.

"He was a heart of gold and was a spoiled baby and was a big fun loving kid," said Ricardo Foster.

After leaving college and coming back to Saginaw, Thomas' life took a downward spiral.

Ricardo says his dad got involved with the wrong people and ended up in Saginaw's sunny side gang.

Thomas was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2008 for selling fewer than 15 grand of crack cocaine.

President Obama commuted that sentence and Thomas dad says his son was looking at starting a new life.

"He wanted to work and live a normal life," said Foster.

Thomas never got the chance to live a normal life. He was gunned down just six weeks before gaining his freedom.

"It stuck out in my mind of how they went into this building that's run by the federal government and that could do this pretty easily," said Foster.

A police report filed after the murder says Thomas told a case manager that he would rather be punished than take out trash because he was on the wrong side of town.

Police say there are investigating the possibility this shooting was gang related.

"There was no protection. You could just walk right in the building the days I went to see him. You could just walk right in," said Foster.

A state police report provided to NBC25 says safety measures and rules were not being followed at the halfway house the night of the shooting.

"The workers took it upon themselves to leave the door unlocked so the individual could have a smoke break which was just harder for them to lock and unlock it several times," said Greenert.

That unlocked door allowed the two suspects to walk right in an open fire.

In a lawsuit filed by Thomas' family, attorneys claim Bannum allowed inmates to use cell phones, which gave his enemies the ability to let people on the outside to know his whereabouts and actions leading to Thomas' execution.

"Not supposed to have any smartphones in the facility. And throughout the investigation, most of them had a smartphone and a flip phone as well," said Greenert.

The halfway house on Norman Street is owned by Bannum, INC, a company based out of Florida.

Bannum has a contract with the federal bureay of prisons to run the Saginaw facility.

Thomas' family filed a lawsuit October 27th claiming negligence alleging the halfway house employees disregarded safety measures and failed to protect their son.

"It was completely preventable. There were no steps taken to reasonably protect the residents of this facility," said attorney Julie Hurwitz.

"I told the staff member to take care of my son. I shook his hand and told him to take care of my son." said Foster.

We wanted answers. We knocked on the door of the Saginaw facility but no one would answer the door.

We made numerous phone calls to the companies headquarters in Florida and no one would answer our questions.

We also sent three registered letters to Bannum at two Florida locations and at their Saginaw facility.

No one from Bannum returned our request for an interview.

The director of Bannum's Saginaw facility did acknowledge security issues during an interview with police.

According to the report, the director was asked why the bed assignment and other security items were so relaxed.

The director stated, "These are the same questions that were raised during his recent audit done by the bureau of prisons, a couple of weeks before the murder.

The director told police he was in the process of fixing those issues when the murder occurred.

"I'm outraged that our prison system is allowed to function in a way that allows crimes like this to occur."

It's not the first time an inmate has been murdered in a Bannum-run facility.

In June of 2005, 33-year-old Cleveland Mckinney Junior was shot and killed inside a Bannum-owned halfway house in Washington D.C.

Mckinney's killer much like Thomas' killers have still not been caught, something Thomas' dad and attorney hope will spur change.

"One of the primary goals publicly needs to be a very hard look at the privatization of our prison system. This is when you get into holding human beings who you hold a constitutional duty to protect from foreseeable harm," said Hurtwitz.

"God sees everything. Justice sees everything. Justice will prevail," said Foster.

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