Coalition demands clarity after fatal police shooting

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Though the Detroit Police Department officer who fatally shot a man during a struggle Monday on the city’s west side is out on administrative leave, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality believes that action doesn’t go nearly far enough.

The man slain in that shooting, Raynard Burton, was 19, says the Wayne County Medical Examiner, which conducted his autopsy Tuesday. Burton’s manner of death was homicide via a gunshot wound to the right chest area.

Officers on Monday remained on the scene after a police shooting in which a man was killed.

In the wake of that shooting, the coalition released a statement Tuesday making five demands of the Detroit Police Department: for the officer’s suspension; for the department to name and identify the race of the officer; the officer’s disciplinary record; a drug test for the officer; and release of dash-cam footage leading up to the shooting.

In an interview with The News, coalition spokesman Kenneth Reed added that the shooting should be investigated by an independent entity.

“Why should we have Detroit police investigate themselves?” Reed asked.

Michael Woody, media relations director for Detroit Police Department, said that the shooting team from internal affairs is investigating the case simultaneously with the homicide unit — standard procedure in a fatal shooting. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office will decide on what charges, if any, to bring.

Detroit cop fatally shoots man after struggle

Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, the city’s police union, disagreed with the coalition's demands. He noted the officer is on administrative leave and not back on the street, so a suspension isn't necessary. 

Woody and Diaz agreed that being pulled off street duty for a time is essential to an officer's mental health.

“It’s not like TV, where you reload and you’re right back on the street,” Woody said. “Taking a life is not an easy thing and is not taken lightly by anybody.”

A fatal shooting, Diaz said, is “a very traumatic experience, and very much out of the psychological profile of the people who become officers” with the intention of helping people. After such an incident, “it’s important we pull the person out and stop the clock while we examine the circumstances.”

While Reed is pushing for transparency and the coaltiion would prefer the “immediate” release of the officer’s name, Diaz said the union is “absolutely opposed” to naming the officer while the investigation is ongoing, and before charges have even been presented to the prosecutor.

“An allegation is just that,” Diaz told The News, describing the protection of the officer’s identity as a matter of safety. “Say the officer’s name is put out there and he’s never charged — it’s hell to be persecuted for something you didn’t do.”

Reed, though, said that the shooting to him, “didn’t pass the smell test,” adding that “we don’t know who this (officer) is and what led up to this. Something just doesn’t feel right in this incident. We have seen many occasions where officers are able to take suspects in without even drawing a weapon. What happened to using de-escalation tactics? Did (the victim) have any history with officers in that precinct?”

Concerning the drug tests, Diaz said within the department they are conducted randomly except when there is cause.

“When an officer has no other choice or other option but to engage in deadly force, that officer should not be presumed to be on drugs,” Diaz said.

As for the dash camera video, which Detroit police say does exist but does not show the incident itself, that “could be FOIAed” when the case is closed, Diaz said, referring to Freedom of Information Act requests, which anybody is able to make.

Woody said that video would be “very much a part of the investigation.”

The shooting took place around 1:25 p.m. in the 4200 block of Webb near Otsego on the city’s west side, police said. Officers on patrol saw a green Pontiac Bonneville traveling at a high rate of speed and attempted to initiate a traffic stop, Police Chief James Craig told reporters at the scene Monday.

The suspect drove off and struck a nearby utility pole. The suspect got out of the vehicle and led one of the officers chasing him on foot behind a vacant house a quarter-mile away, Craig said.

“As the officer was giving the suspect direction to get down to handcuff the suspect, the suspect lunged in the direction of the officer,” he said. “What we believe is he attempted to secure the officer’s weapon.”

During a brief struggle, one shot was fired, striking the man in his lower right torso. He died at the scene. The officer was not hurt.

Official figures for officer-involved shootings in Detroit in 2016 were not immediately available.

The coalition hasn’t been able to reach out to Burton’s family yet, but plans to, Reed said.

“I just don’t think that someone speeding and running away from police on foot constitutes death, I really don’t,” Reed said. “There has to be something more to it.”

The Detroit Police Department has not said whether or not Burton was armed.

Reed admitted he has seen improvement in police-community relations in Detroit, which he credited to the 13 years Detroit Police Department spent under a federal consent decree the coalition fought for.

“But we don’t want to go backwards; we’re trying to go forward,” Reed said.