Feds seek gag order in suit over Kellom shooting death

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Terrance Kellom

Detroit — Federal officials are seeking to prevent attorneys from discussing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer Mitchell Quinn's 2015 fatal shooting of robbery suspect Terrance Kellom because they say talking about the case could prevent the agent from getting a fair trial in a lawsuit.

Quinn is the defendant in a federal suit brought by the family of Kellom, who was killed April 27, 2015, in his father's home on Evergreen in northwest Detroit. A joint task force was searching for Kellom, 20, in connection with the robbery of a pizza delivery man. When officers approached Kellom, he lunged at Quinn with a hammer, police alleged.

Wayne County prosecutors cleared Quinn of wrongdoing following an investigation, although Kellom's attorney Nabih Ayad has insisted Kellom didn't have a hammer. Ayad called for reopening the investigation after he said one of the cops at the scene had changed his story.

Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, filed a motion Tuesday asking Judge Sean Cox to impose a gag order in the case.

"During the early months following the April 27, 2015, incident underlying this case, there was a substantial public interest in the investigation," the nine-page filing said.

"But after state and federal agencies determined that Agent Quinn had 'acted in lawful self-defense,' the media attention fizzled. The media’s focus on this case was only recently renewed because of the efforts by plaintiff’s counsel to cultivate it," Schneider wrote.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel in April agreed to give the case a second look, after Ayad said Detroit police officer Darrell Fitzgerald, who had previously said Kellom had a hammer in his hand, changed his story while testifying in a federal lawsuit last November, denying Kellom had a hammer.

"This corroborates what the family of Terrance Kellom, who witnessed the shooting, have said all along: That Terrance did not have a hammer, did not pose a threat to any officer, and was executed," Ayad said in a press release. 

Attorney Nabih Ayad, left, with Kevin Kellom, father of Terrance Kellom, speaking outside the Levin Federal Courthouse in Detroit on April 8, 2019.

Federal prosecutors insist Fitzgerald didn't change his story as Ayad alleged. 

"Contrary to plaintiffs’ histrionics ... Fitzgerald did not recant his police report,"  Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon C. Helms wrote in a Feb. 6 motion. "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 a Nov. 26, 2018, deposition, 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.”

In Tuesday's motion, Helms wrote: "Because plaintiff’s actions threaten defendant Mitchell Quinn’s right to a fair trial, he seeks a protective order to prohibit further media statements by plaintiff. To be clear, this motion does not seek to prevent the media from reporting on developments in this case."

The motion seeks to "prohibit plaintiff Nelda Kellom, her counsel, and former plaintiffs Kevin and Teria Kellom from communicating with the media about documents, testimony, or evidence obtained during discovery."

Ayad said Tuesday: "We feel (the government) is the ones who put this in the public in the first place, starting with (Wayne County Prosecutor) Kym Worthy's 90-minute press conference (in which she cleared Quinn of wrongdoing). So we're objecting to (the motion for a gag order), based on the grounds that this case is of importance to the community, and the public has a right to know.

"That's in addition to the First Amendment rights of individuals to speak their minds," Ayad said. "Even if they order the attorneys to stay quiet, I don't think the family will stay quiet."