Grief & Loss SPEAK OUT

An ongoing battle for justice in the death of a Muslim minister

An ongoing battle for justice in the death of a Muslim minister


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.— The fight to uncover what really happened that led to the tragic death of Nation of Islam Student Minister Robert Dion Muhammad is far from over.

Two days of intense oral arguments in continued hearings in the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of his widow, Yreva Muhammad, were presented recently in front of Judge J. Joseph Rossi who ruled on several motions filed by both sides.

Student Minister Robert Muhammad
Some rulings were in favor of the plaintiff, Yreva Muhammad, others were in favor of the defendants.
Courtroom D at the Kent County Circuit Court was packed Aug. 23 as family members of Robert Muhammad and a delegation of Muslims from the Nation of Islam, including the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and members of the Executive Council sat quietly and unflinching while observing proceedings.

“There is a universal hallmark to the truth. The truth doesn’t change. It won’t be inconsistent,” Attorney Berve Power Muhammad stated in his opening remarks during the first motion argued that day filed on behalf of his client. He represents Yreva Muhammad and the estate of Robert Muhammad. Attorney Sadiyah Evangelista Karriem also serves on Mrs. Muhammad’s legal team.

Robert Muhammad, 39-year-old husband, father of eight and student minister of the Nation of Islam’s Grand Rapids Study Group went missing in the waters of Muskegon State Park’s campground beach September 5, 2014 during an outing with co-workers. His body was found the next day in Muskegon Lake on what would have been his 40th birthday.

Without conducting a criminal investigation, authorities stated Robert Muhammad struggled while swimming back to a boat situated offshore that belonged to one of his co-workers and ruled his death an accidental drowning. Others are not so sure pointing to photos of his body after it was pulled from the water that revealed multiple bruises and contusions on the young student minister’s face, along with other questionable findings.

His widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bertrand Thibault, Daniel Moore, Michael Champrenault, Nicholas Pelfrene, William Gresley, Matthew Kamps and Sebastien Lebon. They were with her husband that fateful day at the lake. The suit alleges they are responsible for his death and wants the case to go to trial and decided in front of a jury. A team of nearly a dozen attorneys for the various defendants’ claim the lawsuit is frivolous, want the suit dropped and argue that what happened to Robert Muhammad was no more than just a tragic accident.

New facts, new clues?

The latest round of proceedings included a Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint filed by Mrs. Muhammad’s counsel who stated additional facts and information about the case have recently come to light and that those issues must be explored.

(L) Atty. Berve Power Muhammad presents before judge in Kent County Circuit Court on Aug. 24 as Abdul Arif Muhammad, Nation of Islam’s General Counsel looks on. Photos: Starla Muhammad (R) Atty. Sadiyah Evangelista Karriem presents in court in wrongful death lawsuit as Yreva Muhammad, wife of Robert Muhammad looks on.

There are conflicting and inconsistent accounts involving several issues including how far from the boat Robert Muhammad was when he went under, with witness accounts varying from three to 90 feet. A U.S. Coast Guard report noted that one defendant said Robert Muhammad fell overboard. The unredacted report was just received by his office in March, said Atty. Power Muhammad.
“We are not here to prove or disprove, we are here identifying where statements are inconsistent,” said Atty. Power Muhammad. “This year we began to learn more than we learned before,” he told the judge.

It was also revealed in proceedings there are conflicting accounts as to whether the body of Robert Muhammad was discovered using side scan sonar as noted by the U.S. Coast Guard rather than by authorities with Muskegon County as previous accounts noted. Additionally, one plaintiff expert noted that due to the number of bite marks from aquatic life found on Robert Muhammad’s body that he was in the water no more than four hours, not the 23 hours it was reported.

All of these unexplained occurrences cannot be simply dismissed, noted Atty. Power Muhammad. Several parties have yet to respond to subpoenas as well, he continued. The lead investigator did not board the boat to investigate or take photos of the interior or exterior, did not speak to bystanders and interviewed the defendants by telephone instead of having them come to the police station. “A litany of things a trained expert would do, he did not do,” said Atty. Power Muhammad.

The defendants are represented by multiple attorneys, several who argued that inconsistencies during investigations occur but are not sufficient enough to grant the motion and accused Yreva Muhammad’s counsel of conducting a “fishing expedition that has led to nothing.” A charge that was vehemently denied.

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