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Activist released after protest; prosecutor declines to charge, but police plan to refile

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit Will Breathe held two gatherings Sunday after Hakim Littleton was shot to death by police Friday and some demonstrators were arrested during protesting against the death.

Littleton, 20, was shot and killed after his own shots missed a Detroit officer from only a few feet away and officers returned fire, the department said.

Activist Tristan Taylor speaks to dozens of people gathered at the Butzel Family Recreation Center, in Detroit July 12, 2020, to protest police brutality in the wake of the shooting death of 19-year-old Hakim Littleton. Littleton was killed by police, July 10 after he shot at officers making the arrest of another individual.

A hastily called press conference Sunday by Detroit Will Breathe demanding the release of longtime local activist Meeko Williams, arrested Friday evening while demonstrating against police shootings, was followed by a scheduled Detroit Will Breathe meeting at the Butzel Family Center in Detroit. Police said Williams was released late Sunday evening.

"This is systemic racism," Taylor told 150-plus people on the lawn outside the center on the city's east side, "being played out in real time."

Littleton's death was caught on body camera video recorded by officers from the 12th Precinct who were arresting Darnell Sylvester on an outstanding drug warrant. They wanted to question Sylvester about a July 5 shooting that left three dead and five wounded near the same spot at San Juan and McNichols.

Sylvester submitted to arrest, but moments later, video allegedly shows Littleton pulling a gun from his left front pocket. Police released their video footage Friday evening, but by then protesters had assembled at the site for a protest that resulted in tear gas, nightsticks and eight arrests.

Several people at the Butzel Family Center meeting said they had been beaten or flattened by police during the eruption Friday, at which police said they were assaulted with rocks, bricks and other projectiles.

Detroit Will Breathe leader Nakia-Renne Wallace said at Sunday's press conference at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice that she had been placed in a choke hold Friday, and displayed a scabbed left elbow.

Wallace said police "should have and could have sent out a spokesperson" to explain the circumstances of Littleton's death. The video was not made public, she said, "until after they had charged the crowd."

Wallace said a writ of habeas corpus demanding Williams' release had been delivered to police late Friday afternoon.

Police had alleged that Williams threw a water bottle at an officer. Maria Miller, spokeswoman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, said there was "insufficient evidence to charge him with a crime in relation to that allegation."

Detroit police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said police will resubmit the warrant packet for Williams.

Williams had questioned Wallace and Taylor's legitimacy as faces of the anti-brutality movement at a Detroit Will Breathe rally a month ago: "I denounce this meeting. I denounce this event. And I denounce the organizers behind it."

Taylor said the movement is more important than any prior disagreement.

"It's bigger that that," he said. "We're concentrating on correcting all the things that need changing."

Speaking at Butzel, Taylor offered his analysis of the video of Littleton's shooting. In his telling, Littleton raised his hands, then lowered them and patted his pants.

The video displayed by Craig on Friday shows Littleton walk up to the officers, reach into the left pocket of his shorts, and pull out a gun. He fires a shot a few feet from an officer's head, but misses. The officer then charges Littleton, as other officers open fire.

Three officers fired four shots, police Chief James Craig said. All four hit Littleton, one in the head. 

Craig said Friday that he released the video of the shooting hours after the incident to quell "a false narrative" that the shooting was unjustified. The "erroneous information that was put out has incited violence." 

In a statement that night, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said police footage demonstrated that the officers' actions were justified.

"The video is clear that the officer was suddenly and unexpectedly fired upon," he said. "I commend Chief Craig for moving so quickly to release the video publicly."

Among the listeners as Taylor spoke on Sunday was Nathaniel Fuller Jr., 25, of Detroit, who said he was Littleton's cousin.

Fuller was sitting atop the railing of a fence holding a white T-shirt. The T-shirt had "Littleton" written on it, and below that, the outline of a heart.