Detroit police chief: Gunman in custody after three-day standoff

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police exhausted traditional methods and waited 52 hours before extracting a barricaded gunman without incident Thursday on the city's east side.

The suspect, a mentally ill man in his mid-40s, was taken into custody around 2:30 p.m. after the three-day standoff with police.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig at the scene Thursday of a standoff with a barricaded gunman on the city’s east side.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said traditional methods and negotiation did not work with the suspect. The last police heard from the suspect, who refused to communicate, was around 9 p.m. Wednesday when he fired a single shot. Police were unsure if it was self-inflicting or a message.

"We did not know what to expect once we made entry," Craig said. "We were concerned about his well-being, and we thought we may have been too late. The great news is he's alive."

Special response teams punched a hole in one side of the residence to deploy an FBI robot. Officers entered and found the man covered on the top floor of the home and arrested him without incident, he said.

"He's hypothermia," Craig said. "If this had gone on much longer, he would not have made it, according to the assessment made by the on-scene medics."

Officers found a loaded shotgun and ammunition nearby where the man had secured himself in a bunker.

"He didn't resist and even said 'thank you,' " Craig said. "We never thought we would go into this for three days. This is some of the best police work I've seen in 43 years."

The incident began Tuesday morning when neighbors on the 19500 block of Pelkey reported shots had been fired at their home by an angry neighbor. 

The neighborhood on the 19500 block of Pelkey on Detroit's east side remains on lockdown.

The suspect is a former bounty hunter, a survivalist who was prepared for a long standoff, Craig said.

Negotiators had put family members in touch with the man. They believe that after the death of his mother, the suspect stopped taking medication.

“(His late mother) lived in a neighboring residence and performed a caretaker function for him,” Craig said.

In 2017, he was in a similar situation with police. The recent standoff occurred near the anniversary of his mother’s death and officials believe it's contributing to the incident this week, Craig said.

Special response teams made entry into the residence after other tactics were unsuccessful, Craig said. During the three days, police deployed tear gas four times, extraction devices and water, all to no avail. 

“We tried to get a reaction out of this suspect, unsuccessful,” he said. “We’ve deployed water into the residence because we know the temperature is cold and would force the suspect to give up. Didn’t work.”

DTE Energy Co. cut power and gas lines to the home. With the help of several agencies, officers deployed several drones and robots that the man disabled. Officers reported he threatened to shoot the first to enter, Craig said. 

There's a number of charges he could be facing, Craig said.

"We're going to make sure that he gets the help he needs," he said. "This could have been a very different outcome. This is a holiday gift to all of us."

The neighborhood lockdown near Schoenherr and East Seven Mile has been lifted.