Dad of accused cop killer: ‘He had anger issues’

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Childhood lead poisoning, anger issues and, ultimately, bad decisions all may have contributed to Marquise Cromer’s violent path that now has him facing murder charges related to the shooting death of a Detroit police sergeant, his father and stepmother say.

The couple talked to The Detroit News from their east side home Sunday about the incident that led to the death of Sgt. Kenneth Steil and the issues they believe drove Cromer, 21, to lash out.

The trouble began a little over a week ago — Sept. 11 — with an assault on his own family that seemingly came out of the blue, said Marquise Cromer’s father, Sterling Cromer, 62.

Sterling Cromer said he was in his dining room, set to enjoy a meal with his longtime girlfriend Tammy Johnson, when he heard a loud boom. Then he looked down to his foot. He’d been shot.

“It felt like a hot piece of steel jammed into my foot,” Cromer said from the couple’s home in the 2100 block Dickerson.

His girlfriend of more than two decades, Johnson, 47, had been grazed in the forehead.

After being shot, the elder Cromer ran out the home’s side door. Johnson was set to follow when she saw Marquise emptying shells from his shotgun.

“What the hell are you doing with a gun in here?” she asked.

Marquise put another round in, pointed the shotgun at her, then chased her outside.

The couple said they waited outside, fearing death if the assault continued, but nothing happened. Instead, the younger Cromer allegedly stole his brother’s 2001 Oldsmobile Silhouette and left.

The events of that afternoon were only the start of the violence, authorities say.

Later that night, Cromer allegedly stole a 23-year-old Hamtramck man’s pickup at a car wash, then shot the man in the stomach with a sawed-off shotgun.

The next night, a tipster called 911 after seeing Cromer standing at a bus stop on the east side. Steil and the special ops team of the 9th precinct approached, and Cromer allegedly ran, hiding behind the Sunoco at East Seven Mile and Hayes. Cromer then allegedly fired a round, which hit the sergeant in the shoulder. The unit made the arrest without further incident, but by the end of the week, Steil died of a blood clot.

In addition to charges involving his father and the Hamtramck man, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office on Monday charged Cromer with one count of murder of a peace officer, one count of first-degree murder, one count of resisting and obstructing a police officer, causing death, two counts of resisting and obstructing a police officer, one count of possession of a short barreled shotgun, and felony firearm. He’s expected in court Tuesday.

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Steil was “a good man, a brave man,” the elder Cromer said. “I am sorry for what happened, and I offer my deepest condolences.”

While Sterling and Tammy are unsure what, exactly, triggered the assault, they did note that Marquise had been behaving strangely that weekend.

Sterling believes his son should never breathe free air again, whether that means prison or a mental institution.

Tammy finds it hard to come to grips with the turn Marquise’s life has taken. “He threw his life away,” Tammy said. “It almost doesn’t feel real.”

For Marquise Cromer, the violence was the latest episode in a troubled life, his parents said. He served almost three years in the juvenile system after being charged with an arson at Tammy Johnson’s home on Lappin in October 2010, the couple said. They said prosecutors wanted a longer sentence, but they lobbied for less time on his behalf.

A Detroit Fire Department report from the incident, obtained by The Detroit News, details the events of the Oct. 30 fire, which broke out at about 6:05 p.m. Sterling and Tammy both told investigators that Sterling and Marquise “had words,” which left the younger Cromer “very upset.”

Sterling and Tammy left Marquise alone at that point to go grocery shopping. While they were out, neighbors notified Tammy’s daughter, Jasmine, that her house was on fire. Jasmine told Tammy. Tammy also told investigators that Marquise, then 15, had told her and Sterling that he had a gun.

An across-the-street neighbor told investigators that Marquise had come over and that he was “so mad.” Marquise had a cigarette lighter on him, the neighbor said, and made off with a newspaper on the porch. He “looked both ways to see if anyone was coming,” then went into Tammy’s backyard.

The fire that ensued “originated with ordinary combustibles located on the kitchen countertop next to the kitchen sink,” and was “probably ignited with an open-flame device.”

The home suffered fire damage on the front and on the east side, which included “broken glass, fire, soot, and smoke damage.” Inside, the home suffered “heavy fire damage,” water damage, and damage from smoke and soot.

Investigators eliminated “electrical and accidental means of accidental ignition” as causes for the blaze. That, in addition to statements as to Marquise’s anger at the time, access to a lighter and newspaper, and isolation in the home led investigators to pin the blame on the teen. He was arrested two days later.

As a juvenile, “he already had anger issues,” Johnson said. The couple believe those issues to be a result of lead poisoning as a child from chipping paint in a home he lived in. Growing up, Cromer was reported as a runaway on at least three occasions, police confirmed.

Sterling said the younger Cromer was kicked out of Detroit Public Schools for carrying a knife, sent to a number of different schools and had been prescribed medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but took it irregularly. None of the punishments, or mentorship programs or medications worked, Sterling said.

A Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman said the district could not confirm Cromer’s disciplinary history, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Sometime in the next eight weeks, the wrap will come off Sterling Cromer’s foot and he won’t need a walker anymore. The five broken bones in his foot will largely have healed.

But the idea that one of his four children turned a gun on him and is now accused of being a cop killer, won’t heal so easily.

“That’s what he did, that’s what he is,” Sterling Cromer said.

He said he has not visited his son in jail, and he won’t visit him in prison if he’s convicted.

Johnson hasn’t visited him either. Her plan is to love him from a distance.