By Jon King /

A Fowlerville woman whose daughter’s body was found two-and-a-half months after informing authorities she was missing is considering legal action in the case, while Livingston County’s top cop says his office went above and beyond in investigating the disappearance and whatever blame there may be lies directly with the Detroit Police Department.

Belinda Pierce says she last saw her daughter, 29-year-old Kayla Pierce, on Monday, November 23rd when she stopped by Belinda’s house to drop off some holiday gifts and said she would be right back. When she didn’t return, Belinda became worried and went to the Crest Motel where her daughter was renting a studio apartment and says it appeared as if Kayla had just gone to the store. But after five days of frantically trying to get a hold of her, and two days after Kayla missed Thanksgiving, Belinda reported her daughter as a missing person to the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday, November 28th.

Belinda says she feels that authorities bungled the investigation of her daughter’s disappearance from the outset, beginning with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office classifying it as a voluntary missing case, then waiting more than two weeks to issue a press release. Adding to her pain were statements by Detroit Police that the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office waited more than two months to inform them that a cadaver dog had indicated a body had been inside Kayla’s vehicle, which was pulled over by Detroit Police on the same day her daughter was reported missing.

The man behind the wheel, 47-year-old Dowan Knighten, was arrested on an outstanding felony warrant. Knighten is now charged with concealing Kayla’s body, which was found behind his Detroit house on February 11th when an anonymous tip to the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office led police to finally search the residence. An autopsy has since determined that Kayla died of an accidental drug overdose. However, Belinda Pierce says the lack of communication between agencies prolonged her pain and likely spared Knighten from facing even tougher charges.

“They should have looked at all the obvious…and looked for my daughter. Not that she would have been perhaps alive, but they did not look for her to begin with until February 11th when they had all the other evidence pointing to Dowan Knighten and his residence.”

But Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy says his office has been “thrown under the bus” by Detroit Police, who he says showed no interest in investigating the case from the outset. Murphy provided a timeline of events to WHMI (posted below) which he says show that his office was investigating Kayla’s disappearance almost immediately after it was reported and remained involved until Knighten’s arrest. The sheriff says they had information almost immediately that Kayla had willingly gone to Detroit, so they had no choice but to classify her as a voluntary missing person and that the delay to issue a press release was largely due to Detroit Police not actively investigating a case that was by all rights in their jurisdiction. Murphy said the real misfortune here is that he feels the pain of a grieving mother is being manipulated by Detroit Police officials unwilling to face up to their mistakes.

“My condolences again to the family. I mean we made it known right from the get-go that this is a very difficult situation, and we understand that, so my heart does go out to the family. It’s never easy to lose someone especially when there’s a bunch of unanswered questions. That said, I’m a little bit upset with the Detroit Police Department and the portrayal that we did anything wrong or that we neglected our duties or anything like that, because we went above and beyond in this case.”

Belinda says she was especially upset after being told that the sheriff’s office had waited two months to inform Detroit Police a cadaver dog had indicated a dead body had been inside Kayla’s vehicle, which was pulled over by DPD on November 28th with Knighten at the wheel. After posting bond, Knighten returned and picked up Kayla’s vehicle where it had been left by Detroit Police and returned to his home with it. It remained there until the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office requested that DPD pick it up on December 8th and take it to their impound yard. An article earlier this month from The Detroit News quoted Detroit Police Commander Darrell Patterson as saying that the cadaver dog hit was not reported to them for two months.

However, Sheriff Murphy says when his detectives responded to check out the vehicle, they spotted what appeared to be blood inside the car, something Murphy says Detroit Police missed. He added that when his detectives pointed that out, DPD showed no interest in opening a criminal investigation and were prepared to release the vehicle.

“So my guys are like ‘You gotta be kidding me. What do you mean you’re not going to do anything with it?’ So it was at that time that we made arrangements to bring the car back to Livingston County because we knew they were going to fumble this thing. They weren’t going to do anything with it. So we took possession of the car until we could get a cadaver dog to go through it. When the cadaver dog went through it and hit on the blood, we again contacted DPD and said ‘Hey listen, pretty sure this is blood. We’re going to send it off to the lab for further investigation but the cadaver dog hit on it as well. Maybe you got a crime here you might want to investigate?’ And that was the day that the cadaver dog hit, so Commander Patterson, and I don’t know where he got his facts or how he made commander, but for him to say that we waited two months, or that we sat on that information for two months is just a bunch of crap.”

And in fact, an email that was shown to WHMI confirms that on December 10th, Livingston County Sheriff’s Detective Matt Young did inform Detroit Police Detective Jessica Johns that the cadaver dog “gave a positive identification in the trunk and women’s sunglasses in the back seat.” This is a direct contradiction as to what Commander Patterson told The Detroit News. Murphy was careful to point out that the Detroit Police detectives they coordinated with on the case were “great to work with,” saving his ire for their commanders who he believes are trying to cover up their mishandling of the case. Detroit Police were asked to comment on Sheriff Murphy’s assertions, but after initially acknowledging that they would look into it, have they yet to respond.

As to the tip that finally led to the search of Knighten’s home and the discovery of Kayla’s body, Sheriff Murphy tells WHMI that it contained specific information and was not just someone leaving a message that said, “There’s a body in Knighten’s back yard” and then hanging up. Belinda also says that she had initially been informed by Detroit Police that a rape kit would be used to determine if Kayla had been sexually assaulted, noting that Kayla had several large contusions on her legs and her daughter’s body was found in underwear and wearing a shirt that did not belong to her. Belinda further says that she believes the missteps in this case gave Knighten two months to get rid of evidence that would have resulted in steeper criminal charges than hose he is currently facing.

Knighten was charged with mutilation of a dead body, concealing the death of an individual and tampering with evidence. But because police have said Knighten was a known heroin dealer, if it could have been proven that he supplied the drugs that killed Kayla, he might have faced the much stronger charge of distributing drugs causing death, which is punishable by life in prison. As it stands now, the maximum sentence Knighten could receive if convicted is ten years behind bars.

Either way, Belinda Pierce says her daughter was failed by the system and she wishes there was better communication between jurisdictions, especially when it comes to missing persons. While an autopsy later concluded Kayla died of an accidental drug overdose, Belinda thinks much more could have been done. She says the fact that her daughter’s purse and clothing she was last wearing were never accounted for is an indication Knighten did use the two months between his being pulled over in Kayla’s vehicle and her body being found behind his house to hide and/or destroy evidence of what really happened. She has since filed a complaint with the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners’ Office of the Chief Investigator, but has yet to hear back. However, she wishes that the Michigan State Police would have become involved in the case as they have jurisdiction statewide and might have been able to put the pieces together faster.

“I would like whoever neglected to do their job to actually answer the questions in regards to why they did the job they did so poorly, because I do know that if it was any of their family members or friends that this would never have happened.”

Knighten is set to be arraigned on May 5th in Wayne County Circuit Court on the charges. He remains free on bond.