Detroit cop shot in '78 to be honored as a fallen officer 11 years after his death

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Scott Larkins will be honored as a fallen police officer 41 years after a mentally ill sniper shot him in the back on the city's east side, leading to decades of health problems that caused his 2008 death.

Larkins, a former Detroit cop, is scheduled have his name added to the National Fallen Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C., in May, thanks to Wayne State University police officer Chris Powell, who discovered the oversight earlier this year.

Sharon Larkins, 74, with the police items of her late husband Scott Larkins who died in the line of duty.**Sharon Larkins, widow of deceased Detroit cop Scott Larkins, who was shot in 1978 and died from his injuries in 2008. October 3, 2019. Harper Woods, Mi. (Clarence Tabb, Jr./The Detroit News)

Powell in 2017 set up a scholarship in the name of his former best friend, Collin Rose, a Wayne State K-9 officer who was killed in the line of duty Nov. 22, 2016. In April, the Officer Collin Rose Memorial Foundation received an application from Jacob Fournier, 18, a graduate of L'Anse Creuse High School-North.

In his application essay, Fournier mentioned that his father was a retired Clinton Township police officer, and that his grandfather, Larkins, was a Detroit cop who had been shot on the job in 1978 and died years later from related injuries.

After reading the essay, Powell said he checked the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and didn't see Larkins’ name. 

"I got permission from the family to look into what happened," Powell said. "I started digging into it on my lunch breaks and days off, and things progressed pretty quickly from there."

Powell obtained a copy of the autopsy report that ruled Larkins' March 9, 2008, death at age 58 was a duty-related homicide. He then arranged to have Larkins' name added to the National Fallen Officers Memorial.

Powell said he hopes to raise enough money to send Larkins' family to the May 13 ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Larkins' widow, Sharon Larkins, 74, of Harper Woods, said she's "stunned by the whole thing."

"I can't believe (Powell) did all that for our family," she said. "We've been through so much over the years."

A clip from a Nov. 6, 1978 Detroit News article about the ambush of Detroit police officers Scott Larkins and Richard Savin

The family's ordeal started the night of Nov. 5, 1978, when Larkins, who was assigned to the Detroit police Harbormaster Unit on Belle Isle, had a craving for coleslaw, Sharon Larkins said.

"We had seven children, so eating out was a luxury, and he usually brown-bagged it," she said. "But once in a while he'd go out to eat. He said he wanted some coleslaw that day."

Larkins and partner Richard Savin drove their police cruiser off Belle Isle to the Big Boy restaurant on Jefferson Avenue, a well-known cop hangout at the foot of the MacArthur Bridge. (The restaurant closed in April 2017 and was razed seven months later to make way for a $50 million residential and retail development project that's set to open next year.)

As the two officers ate, Lorrell Williams sat near the second-story bathroom window of the Humphries Hotel across the alley from the restaurant, clutching a shotgun.

Williams, who had been in and out of mental institutions most of his life, later said he wanted to kill cops, so, knowing officers frequented the Big Boy, he sat at the window and waited for his chance. It came as Larkins and Savin exited the restaurant.

"It was about 6 p.m. when we walked out of the Big Boy toward our police car," Savin said. "Then all hell broke loose."

Savin, 69, said he thought the first shotgun blast was a car backfiring. "I turned around and looked at the street — then there was another shot; that's the one that hit Scott. 

"When he got shot, some of the pellets ricocheted on the ground around me. That's when I knew we were in trouble. I took one step toward a parked car I was going to hide under, then I got hit square in the back.

"I heard Scott saying on the radio that we were shot. It took (an ambulance) four minutes to get to us, and we both went to the hospital. I had pellets in my kidney and intestinal area."

Detroit police officer Scott Larkins

Williams was charged with assault with intent to murder. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was incarcerated in a mental institution until his 1995 death.

Savin eventually returned to work after the shooting. Larkins retired on a duty disability and struggled with health problems for the rest of his life, his widow said.

"He had several operations over the years," Sharon Larkins said. "He'd set off metal detectors because he still had shotgun pellets in his back."

Larkins' daughter, Nicole Fournier, said her father had eight surgeries. "They took out all the nerves from his leg because he was in constant pain," she said. "When he got older, his organs started deteriorating from the (shotgun) blast. His footing was off; he'd fall and bump his head. 

"One time, in the ER, they said his brain was bleeding. You'd say goodbye, and a few days later he'd be fine. But he never really did get to live the life he wanted. He had seven children at home he wanted to help support, but this thing really took him down, and he just couldn't do it."

When Larkins died in St. John Hospital, Wayne County medical examiners ruled the death a homicide and removed the pellets that had been lodged in his body for decades.

After the death, Fournier said she petitioned Detroit police to send an honor guard to his funeral.

"I called the city and I'm not sure how many people I talked to," she said. "I asked, 'is there anything you can do to honor him?' I got nowhere; one person would say I needed to talk to the next person, and that person said you needed to talk to that person.

"They finally told me 'we don't have the capability to send out an honor guard for something like that,'" Fournier said. "At the time, my husband was a Clinton Township officer, and he approached the sergeant who ran their color guard. Without hesitation, he agreed to send them, so the Clinton Township honor guard came out and paid respects at the funeral."

Sharon Larkins said she never picked up her late husband's death certificate and never petitioned to have him honored as a fallen police officer.

"There was so much going on," she said. "First, my daughter died. Two days after that, my other daughter got married. Then, 92 days later, my husband died. So I never followed up on getting the death certificate."

Fournier, who was 5 when her father was ambushed, believes things may have turned out differently if he had died immediately after the shooting.

"Because he didn't die right then, it kind of fell through the cracks," she said. "He lived for many more years, but being shot is what started all of his illnesses."

Jacob Fournier at a July ceremony in which he was named a recipient of the Collin Rose Memorial Foundation scholarship

Jacob Fournier, who is pursuing a law enforcement degree at Macomb Community College, won the $500 scholarship, to be applied toward his tuition. He can reapply for another $500 next year.

"I believe the ... scholarship came at the right time and for a reason,” Jacob Fournier said in a written statement to the Collin Rose Foundation. “Divine intervention. I was honored to be selected as a recipient and I’m proud to represent this foundation."

After reading the essay and completing a five-month investigation, Powell presented the information he'd collected to the Detroit Police Department, which last month certified Larkins' death as duty-related.

That allowed Powell to petition the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to have Larkins' name added to the memorial, and on Sept. 18, the decision was made to allow the former Detroit cop's name to join the nearly 22,000 officers on the memorial.

Fournier said she's grateful to Powell for working to ensure her father finally will be honored as a fallen police officer.

"I can't tell Chris how much I love him anymore," she said. "I asked him why he would do this for a family he doesn't even know, and he said, 'I saw a hero who was never honored properly, and brothers and sisters on the police force have to look out for each other.' I'm eternally grateful for Chris. I never thought something like this could happen."

Powell said he felt a duty to make sure Larkins got proper recognition.

"It's been an honor to learn (Larkins') story and help tell it," Powell said. "Thinking that it grew out of our scholarship is even better."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN