Feds: Cop didn't recant story about hammer in ICE shooting

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Terrance Kellom

Detroit — Federal authorities insist a Detroit cop did not recant his story about the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting four years ago of robbery suspect Terrance Kellom, as civil rights advocates have recently claimed.

A federal judge is scheduled to rule Monday on the government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Kellom's family against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer Mitchell Quinn. The agent said he acted in self-defense when he shot Kellom on April 27, 2015, because the 20-year-old man had threatened him with a hammer.

Last week, the chief of staff for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told Kellom's family that the AG's office will review the shooting, after civil rights attorney Nabih Ayad called for authorities to take another look at the case. 

Ayad said one of the cops who witnessed the incident, Detroit police officer Darrel Fitzgerald, recanted his initial story about seeing Kellom brandishing a hammer. Government officials replied in their motion to dismiss the case that Fitzgerald didn't retract his story, but merely said his memory was fuzzy.

Fitzgerald is also a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in April 2017. Federal Judge Sean Cox is presiding over the case.

Quinn and other officers on the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team task force had gone to Kellom's father's home in the 9500 block of Evergreen looking for Kellom in connection with the alleged robbery of a pizza delivery man weeks earlier.

When the fugitive team arrived at his house, police officials claim Kellom was wielding a hammer. When he lunged at Quinn, police said, the agent shot him.

After Michigan State Police and Detroit police investigated the shooting and determined it was justified, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy declined to charge Quinn with a crime.

But earlier this month, Ayad called for reopening the investigation after he said Fitzgerald, during a deposition, had changed his story about seeing Kellom with a hammer.

Government attorney Brandon Helms insisted in the Feb. 6 motion to dismiss that Fitzgerald's statement didn't amount to a retraction.

"Contrary to plaintiffs’ histrionics ... Fitzgerald did not recant his police report," Helms wrote. "Rather, Fitzgerald’s deposition revealed his flawed recall of the event, which is why Agent Quinn did not rely on his testimony for summary judgment purposes."

Two days after the shooting, Fitzgerald wrote in his report that he saw Kellom attack Quinn with a hammer, although during the deposition on Nov. 26, 2018, Fitzgerald said he couldn't recall seeing a hammer.

When Ayad asked about Fitzgerald's statement, which seemed to contradict his written report, the cop said: "I couldn’t recollect if he had a, a hammer in his hand.” 

But during cross-examination, Helms asked Fitzgerald: "Would you have put something in your report on April 29th, 2015, if it was not true?”

Fitzgerald answered: “No, I would not.”

Tuesday, Ayad told The Detroit News that the government was playing "lawyer games" by insisting Fitzgerald didn't recant his story.

"At the end of the day,  you don’t just forget that kind of incident," Ayad said. "Their position is that he maybe had a lack of memory — but he was very particular in his police report about what happened that day. Then, under oath, he changed his statement. It's a clear recantation. If (the government) wants to put a lawyer's spin on it, and play lawyer games, they can say what they want. But it's clear: You'd remember something like that."

Ayad added: "From day one we’ve been alleging there’s a cover-up, and that’s what’s happening here. We know the good old boys network always protects their own. I think Officer Fitzgerald did the right thing by saying what really happened that day, and you can only imagine the stigma this officer is going through because he stood up and told the truth. But the police have been trying to cover this up."

In his motion to dismiss, Helms dismissed the notion that police were covering anything up.

"Aside from mischaracterizing Fitzgerald’s testimony, the remainder of
plaintiffs’ response attacks the quality of the investigation subsequent to the
shooting, referring to it as a 'cover-up,'" Helms wrote, pointing out that "the court previously dismissed the plaintiff's ... conspiracy count. 

"Thus, even if there were evidence of a conspiracy — there is not — it is unlikely plaintiffs would be able to argue (or present evidence) about a conspiracy to the jury," Helms wrote.

Gina Balaya, spokeswoman for the Detroit U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment Tuesday.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN