May 29, 2010 at 1:00 am

Massive police response raises new questions in Detroit cop shooting

Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans and Commander Steven Dolunt talk about the shooting on May 3. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Detroit -- What appeared to be a routine dispatch to shots fired at a vacant house at 3:36 a.m. May 3 prompted an unusually aggressive response from Detroit Police -- at least 11 officers on the scene within eight minutes, The News has learned.

The massive response contradicts earlier reports by police officials that only six officers went to the abandoned duplex at 20263 Schoenherr.

More shots were fired, resulting in the death of Officer Brian Huff and the wounding of four other officers.

A 25-year-old man with a lengthy criminal record has been charged with murder and shooting three of the four other officers. Police say the case is still under investigation. A preliminary examination is set for Friday in the city's 36th District Court.

The unusual show of force raises new questions about what really transpired that morning in the vacant eastside duplex, and why there was such a response in a city where it takes police an average of 24 minutes to respond to major crimes.

Details uncovered by The News call into question the official version of events. Police officials are not commenting on the case, and city attorneys this week denied a Freedom of Information request for audio of the 911 call reporting shots fired in the vacant duplex and the dispatching of officers to the scene.

The day after the incident, The News filed a FOIA request for the recordings, which are routinely released by police. Attorney Ellen Ha, the city's FOIA coordinator, said a week later that police would not release the files when she asked for them.

"Normally they would give them to me," Ha said on May 11. "I don't know what's going on."

On Thursday, Ha sent a letter to The News denying the FOIA request.

"The disclosure of the recordings may lead potential witnesses to tailor their accounts based on the information contained in the recordings and may taint the jury pool," Ha wrote. She added that disclosing the files would "deprive a person or persons the right to a fair trial or impartial administrative adjudication."

Detroit News attorney James E. Stewart said the city may be in violation of the Freedom of Information Act by withholding the audio.

"Under an established Michigan Supreme Court case, the city is required to provide specific, detailed, factual reasons, a bill of particulars if you will, to support their reasons for refusing to provide these public records," Stewart said. "Their answer is insufficient. They have provided nothing. And they have made no effort to separate public from non-public information as required by the Michigan Supreme Court."

The official story

Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans said at a press conference hours after the shooting that Huff and his partner, Joseph D'Angelo, were in the "initial car that took the run" to the abandoned duplex.

Evans said the officers were responding to a 911 call at 3:34 a.m. by a neighbor reporting a break-in and gunfire. Officers Steven Schram and Kasper Harrison backed up Huff and D'Angelo, the chief said.

Huff and D'Angelo arrived at the scene at 3:42 a.m., Evans said. Two minutes later, Huff had been shot.

Later in the press briefing, Eastern District Commander Steve Dolunt amended Evans' statement, explaining that Huff and D'Angelo hadn't been the first unit dispatched to the scene, but the veterans had rushed to get there before rookies Schram and Harrison.

"(Huff and D'Angelo) were the backup unit," Dolunt said. "They just got there first. They were veteran cops, and they wanted to make sure the rookies were OK."

Undercover detectives John Dunlap and Brian Glover also responded, according to Evans.

Evans said Glover was hurt pulling Huff to safety.

At the press conference, Evans also said that six officers wouldn't normally respond to that kind of run.

"If we were to send more than one unit to each B&E, we wouldn't get to any B&Es," the chief said.

Evans and Dolunt never mentioned that at least five other officers also went to the scene before Huff was shot. But according to police reports reviewed by The News, at least eight officers, two undercover detectives and a sergeant responded to the scene within minutes.

When asked Thursday why so many officers in the manpower-strapped department responded -- and why the five other officers on the scene were never mentioned -- Detroit Police 2nd Deputy Chief John Roach declined comment, other than to say that police have already given their side of the story and that the case is under investigation.

Christopher Cooper, a criminologist and former Washington, D.C., police officer, said the heavy response to that kind of run is unusual.

"That's a routine call," said Cooper, director of the Black Police Officers Association. "There must be some other circumstance involved -- to have 11 officers available in a high-crime neighborhood is unusual. That tells me there was maybe something else going on there."

'Where's Huff?'

Police records examined by The News show that officials underreported the number of officers on the scene.

Officer Derrick Metcalf and partner Alan Johnson were not mentioned by Evans and Dolunt among those who arrived before Huff was shot, according to the written reports.

Metcalf claimed in his report that it was too dark to see because no street lights or house lights were on. He wrote that he and his partner were approaching the duplex when he heard several gunshots coming from inside. He said he noticed Dunlap lying on the front lawn and an unknown man was also prone in the grass nearby.

Officers Wayne Brown and Anthony Byrd also responded to the initial run. Brown wrote in his report that he saw a flash from a gun as he and Byrd walked toward the duplex. After the shots, Brown said he also spotted Dunlap lying in the grass; a bullet had grazed his cheek.

"I don't have my gun," Dunlap reportedly said. "It's in the lawn."

Brown said he heard Dunlap's undercover partner, Glover, yell from the darkness, "Where's Huff? He's not outside."

Also on the scene, according to written reports, was Sgt. Marian Champion. Police say Huff walked through the duplex's front door, while D'Angelo guarded the side entrance. The suspect, Jason Gibson, 25, allegedly opened fire as Huff entered, hitting him three times in the face and once in the shoulder.

Police officials originally said Gibson also shot four other officers. However, prosecutors have charged him with only three of the shootings, calling into question who shot the fourth, D'Angelo, who was struck in the leg.

After Huff was shot, according to snippets of audio broadcast by WJBK Channel 2, an unknown officer screamed to the dispatcher, "We've got to make entry; we've got an officer down. We need to get inside to get this guy."

A neighbor, Paul Jameson, whose wife placed the original 911 call, ran into the house and helped Glover drag Huff to the porch, according to police reports. At the time, according to the Channel 2 audio, which a producer said was taped off a police scanner, the shooter was thought to still be inside the house.

Once outside, Jameson reportedly administered CPR to Huff.

It is unclear why the five uninjured officers allowed a civilian to run into the middle of a live shooting scene.

The News visited Jameson's house twice; he was not home. He did not return telephone calls.

Dope stash house?

Jameson's wife, Danielle, has said she was awakened by gunshots coming from the abandoned duplex next door. Her husband then went outside to investigate, she said.

Danielle Jameson said her aunt and brother are Detroit police officers assigned to the Eastern District; and that her brother guarded Gibson his first night in St. John Hospital while he recovered from a single gunshot wound to the buttocks. She said detectives spent several hours in her basement the day after the shooting, poring over recordings from the seven video cameras that are positioned in and around her house.

"They said the video didn't show anything," she said.

Homicide detectives are seeking at least one other suspect: the alleged getaway driver, who reportedly sped off when officers arrived on the scene.

Police believe Gibson thought the duplex was a "dope stash house" containing bales of marijuana, News sources said.

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Officer Brian Huff