Slain Detroit officer believed in ‘leading from front’

George Hunter, and Charles E. Ramirez
Detroit Police Sgt. Kenneth Steil with wife Joann Steil; kids are William, left, and Alexander.

Detroit police Sgt. Kenneth Steil’s wife and their two young sons were busy getting ready for Steil to come home from his almost week-long hospital stay Saturday.

The dad, husband and 20-year department veteran had been recovering after being shot Sept. 12, allegedly by a man with reported mental health issues.

“They had a 7-foot sign at the house that said ‘Welcome Home, Dad,’” said Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt. “They were going to have a barbecue for him when he got home.”

There was no celebration. Steil, 46, died Saturday at the hospital from complications from the gun wound, developing a blood clot that killed him, Dolunt said.

“They were getting ready to release him,” he said. “He thought he was going home Saturday.”

Steil is the first Detroit police officer to be killed in the line of duty since police Chief James Craig took the post in May 2013, Dolunt said. He is the 40th police officer nationwide to be fatally shot this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial page. That’s up 50 percent from last year.

Craig called Steil a cop who “believed in leading from the front.”

“He was an American hero,” Craig said Saturday. “He and his team were fighting to keep Detroit safe. They knew they were going after an armed suspect.

“I thought he was going to be released from the hospital,” Craig said. “I visited him, and he was in good spirits. He was looking forward to going home.”

Steil was a member of the department’s Underwater Recovery Team before moving to the 9th Precinct. He is survived by his wife, Joann, and two boys, William, 5, and Alexander, 3.

“His family has been rocked,” Dolunt said. “His wife asked me, ‘What do you say to your kids?”

Steil with his children.

Dolunt said Steil’s family will likely hold a funeral Mass on Friday, but details are pending.

Police said Steil was struck near his underarm when pellets from the sawed-off shotgun struck around his bullet-proof vest, Dolunt said. He had been chasing 21-year-old Marquise Cromer on Seven Mile on Detroit’s east side when Cromer allegedly fired at Steil, police said. Cromer was wanted for allegedly shooting his father and carjacking a 23-year-old man the day before.

Steil himself thought he was on the mend. Craig said Steil sent him an email Friday, thanking him and other officers for their support. It’s not clear when his medical condition moved from promising to dire.

“I have experienced the brotherhood of DPD throughout my career, but to be the recipient of so much love and support is truly a humbling experience,” he wrote. “I have never been prouder to be a member of the Detroit Police Department. All of the support has made a huge difference in keeping my mind off the pain and keeping my spirits up.

“The doctor said that I can probably go home tomorrow and I should fully recover. I know that I will be taken care of until I am back on my feet. To everyone that visited, called, texted, said prayers and well-wishes: I love you, God bless you, and I look forward to working with you all again.”

Steil also told Craig “I’m glad I took the rounds, because I would not have wanted anyone on my team to take them,” Craig said at a news conference Saturday outside St. John Hospital. The night he was shot, some 150 members of the Detroit Police Department showed up at the hospital to show support, Craig said.

Mayor Mike Duggan, who also spoke at the news conference, said he visited Steil at his hospital room Wednesday.

“He was a joy,” Duggan said. “He thought he was going home this week.”

The 9th precinct was Detroit’s most violent in 2015, Duggan said, a precinct with 150 shootings. This year, the precinct is on pace for half that. The 9th precinct, on the city’s east side, is bounded roughly by East Eight Mile to the north, Interstate 94 to the south, East Outer Drive to the west and Kelly to the east.

“The last thing he said to me was ‘Thank God I’m going to be here for my wife and sons,’” Duggan said. “Now we know he’s not going to be there, but I want (his wife) to know that the 700,000 people of Detroit are going to be there every step of the way.”

Duggan said the city would be setting up a means to support Steil’s family financially. Details were not immediately available, Craig said.

Even though Craig’s mother passed away Thursday, the first thing Craig did Friday was visit Steil, Duggan said.

During that visit, Craig said, he reminded the sergeant to walk around his room, which he was doing.

News of Steil’s death comes as four officers in other states were shot Saturday.

In Philadelphia, two officers were ambushed, reportedly by 25-year-old Nicholas Glenn, whom police say penned an anti-police note that reportedly included plans to kill police officers. Both injured officers were listed in stable condition.

In Fort Worth, Texas, two officers who responded to a home check after receiving a call about a suicidal man were shot by a gunman hiding in a backyard shed. Both officers, who were wearing body armor, sustained minor injuries.

Detroit man charged with shooting father

Cromer, whom police said suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, allegedly went on a violent crime spree, starting Sunday at his parents’ east-side home.

According to police and Wayne County Prosecutors, Cromer’s father, 62, was in his home on the 2100 block of Dickerson at about 5 p.m. on Sept. 11 when his son allegedly shot him in the feet with a shotgun.

Prosecutors also allege the younger Cromer pointed the shotgun at his stepmother. She reportedly told him to stop, and he lowered the shotgun, fled the home and drove away in a van, police said.

After leaving his father’s house, he then allegedly drove to a car wash in the 11500 block of Conant and tried to carjack a 23-year-old Hamtramck man, ordering the victim out of his vehicle before shooting him in the stomach. The victim was treated and released from the hospital.

The following night, Monday, police received a 911 call from someone reporting Cromer was seen in a restaurant on Seven Mile.

When Steil and other officers from the 9th Precinct arrived, they spotted Cromer standing at a bus stop, Detroit police spokeswoman Kenyetta Hebron said.

“The sergeant approached on foot and the suspect took off running behind the Sunoco station at East Seven Mile and Hayes,” Hebron said. “The suspect fired a round from a sawed-off shotgun, striking the sergeant in the shoulder.

“Sgt. Steil said he never saw the shot, he was ambushed,” Duggan said.

Cromer allegedly was uncooperative with police and resisted arrest.

Cromer was charged Tuesday with two counts of of assault with to intent to murder in connection with Sunday’s shooting of his father. His bond set at $750,000.

Cromer was charged Thursday with Steil’s shooting.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office plans to amend the charges against Cromer after Steil’s death, according to spokeswoman Maria Miller. He likely will be arraigned on the new charges during his next court appearance, scheduled for Tuesday.

“Sgt. Steil knew he was putting himself in danger by going after this suspect, but he did it so that Detroiters could be safe,” Craig said. “All those officers knew what they were confronting, but they didn’t hesitate to respond.”

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN