http://www.VincentWhoFilm.com : VINCENT WHO? explores the Vincent Chin case, which ignited the first Asian American civil rights movement.
In 1982, Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by two white autoworkers at the height of anti-Japanese sentiments. His killers, however, got off with a $3,000 fine and no jail time. Outraged by this injustice, Asian Americans around the country united for the first time to form a pan-Asian identity and civil rights movement.
This documentary features interviews with the key players at the time as well as a whole new generation of activists. VINCENT WHO? asks how far Asian Americans have come since the case and how far they have yet to go.
ON June 23, 1982, in Detroit, a young man named Vincent Chin died. Four nights earlier, he had been enjoying his bachelor party with friends at a local bar when they were accosted by two white men, who blamed them for the success of Japan’s auto industry. “It’s because of you we’re out of work,” they were said to have shouted, adding a word that can’t be printed here. The men bludgeoned Mr. Chin, 27, with a baseball bat until his head cracked open.
The men — a Chrysler plant supervisor named Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz — never denied the acts, but they insisted that the matter was simply a bar brawl that had ended badly for one of the parties. In an agreement with prosecutors, they pleaded to manslaughter (down from second-degree murder) and were sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3,000.
The Murderer Ronald Ebens - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
- On July 1, 1982, the Detroit Free Press published a front page article about Vincent Chin's murder. The United Auto Workers told Chrysler of a plan to strike if Ebens remained employed with Chrysler. As management, he was not a member of the union, and the company placed him on vacation, asking Ronald Ebens to leave Warren Truck Assembly later that same day. On July 16, he was placed on unpaid status pending resolution of the case.
- On March 16, 1983, after a plea bargain was reached the previous month to reduce the charge to third-degree manslaughter (which had no minimum sentence and could be dealt with probation), Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ebens and Nitz to three years probation, a $3000 fine, and $780 in court costs; because Chin initiated the physical altercation, neither defendant had prior convictions, that Chin survived for four days on life support lent reasonable doubt to the case of intent to murder, and there was no Wayne County Prosecutor present to argue for a more severe punishment. Kaufman later wrote, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal." 
- On March 28, 1983, Chrysler formally discharged Ebens from his position at Chrysler, citing that his plea entered a felony conviction on his criminal record.
- Meanwhile, protests from the Asian American community and Detroit media led to a federal investigation, a November 1983 indictment by a grand jury for the violation of Vincent Chin's and Jimmy Choi's civil rights, and a June 1984 trial in which Michael Nitz was acquitted of all charges, and Ebens was acquitted of one charge, and found guilty of the other. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ebens' lawyers appealed, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found the trial judge to have erred in not allowing the defense to present key pieces of evidence, chiefly an audiotape of Liza Cheuk May Chan of the American Citizens for Justice interviewing Chin's friends together, creating the grounds for an argument that the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony by getting them to "agree on what happened." A retrial was ordered and Ronald Ebens was acquitted of the final charge, with a Cincinnati jury finding no racial motivation in the killing of Vincent Chin.
- A civil suit for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin was settled out of court on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 in $30 weekly installments over the following 10 years. Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million, at $200/month for the first two years and 25% income or $200/month thereafter, whichever was greater. This represented the projected loss of income from Vincent Chin's engineering position, as well as Lily Chin's loss of Vincent's services as laborer and driver. However, the estate of Vincent Chin would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.
- In April 1988, Ebens sued Chrysler for $10,000 and reinstatement on the grounds of wrongful termination. Chrysler claimed that such action at that date exceeded the statute of limitations. This suit was still pending when Ebens was forced to return to court to explain his reasons for failing to keep up with the payments in the Chin settlement.
- At the November 1989 hearing, the Chin estate, represented by attorney James Brescoll, questioned how Ebens could obtain loans for a Dodge van and Plymouth Sundance requiring payments of $682/month, yet could not meet his $200/month minimum obligation. Ronald Ebens explained about the motorcycle accident in Wisconsin that killed his youngest stepson, Matt Nitz (Juanita Ebens lost her job after quitting work to care for her son), and of Ebens' general inability to find work due to his infamy from the Chin case. Ebens testified that he had stopped looking for work, other than the occasional odd job, and was awaiting the outcome of the litigation against Chrysler.
- On September 6, 1990, a decision of No cause of action against the plaintiff, Ebens, and in favor for the defendant, Chrysler, at which point Chrysler attempted to sue for the $10,921.84 ($9919 labor and $1,002.84 expenses) in legal fees it spent on the case.
- On August 28, 1997, the Chin estate renewed the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years. The complaint listed Ebens as having only paid $3,000 on the judgement, and adjusted the damages with $3,205,604.37 in accrued interest, $15.00 for the judgement, $90.00 in clerk fees, and $65.00 for service fees and mileage for a new total of $4,683,653.89. The proof of service listed an address in Henderson, Nevada.
- A 2000 article about Las Vegas real estate, quoted Ron Ebens, a customer service manager for a company called Real Homes Inc., that had partnered with Centex Homes.
- Michael Nitz reportedly did make payments pursuant to the original settlement, in spite of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1986. Ebens' homeowners' policy paid about $20,000. Ronald Ebens has been attributed with conflicting statements as to whether he ever intends to fulfill his debt, but in a 1987 newspaper interview, Ebens told future filmmaker Michael Moore that he would not give his detractors satisfaction by committing suicide.
Judge Kaufman's was the judge presiding over the conviction for manslaughter (after a plea bargain brought the charges down from second-degree murder) and sentence of three years probation and $3,780 in fines and court costs given to formerChrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz on March 16, 1983 for the killing of Vincent Chin. Asian American advocacy groups were outraged not only because Ebens had viciously beaten Chin in the head with a baseball bat, but also because the act was seen as the hate crime of a laid-off American autoworker taking out his frustration about the Japanese automobile industry on an innocent person, even though Ebens was still employed by Chrysler at the time of the attack.
Citing the judge's POW record as one of several reasons to invalidate the lenient sentence in favor of a more stringent punishment, advocacy groups unsuccessfully tried to vacate the original sentence. Kaufman cited the defendants' clean prior criminal records and that there was no minimum sentence for a manslaughter plea as he responded, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal." Kaufman's sentence was upheld as valid and final, due to the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy, and the advocacy groups shifted their efforts toward a Federal prosecution for the violation of Vincent Chin's civil rights. This would also prove ultimately unsuccessful after an appeal and retrial of Ebens' original 1984 Federal conviction resulted in acquittal,.