Police show video of fatal officer-involved shooting

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police officials on Monday released body camera video that shows a suspect aim a pistol at a police officer a split-second before the officer opens fire, killing the man.

The July 23 incident is one of three officer-involved shootings in Detroit during the past two-and-a-half weeks — the result, police chief James Craig said, of "suspects being aggressive like nobody has ever seen."

"These suspects are emboldened, they’re armed and they’re being extremely aggressive toward our police officers," he said.

A screen grab from a Detroit police body-worn camera video shows the moments before an officer shot a gun-wielding suspect

In two of the three recent incidents, video shows suspects pointing pistols at cops. In one of the instances, a shot was fired within feet of an officer's head.

"This is an example of the kind of danger our officers face every day," Craig said Monday during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters, where he aired footage from an officer's body-worn camera of the Thursday shooting.

Hours after another officer-involved fatal shooting on July 10, Craig released video showing Hakim Littleton shooting his gun at a Detroit cop before officers returned fire.

Investigators on Monday were still processing video of a shooting Sunday in which police wounded a man suspected of selling drugs, Craig said.

"We've been more transparent than most police departments," the chief said. "We have nothing to hide."

Detroit police chief James Craig, flanked by Christopher Graveline, head of the department's Professional Standards Section (left), and Capt. Eric Decker, commanding officer of the Homicide Section.

The video released Monday opens with officers investigating a July 19 quadruple shooting, in which an 18-year-old man died. The footage then shows a blue Mercury Grand Marquis making a U-turn and speeding away.

While Detroit police policy bans high-speed chases in most instances, it's allowed when violent suspects are involved.

The footage shows officers pursuing the car as it careens through side streets and lurches onto the sidewalk multiple times, narrowly missing pedestrians before crashing into a tree. Three men get out of the car and run in different directions, with officers at their heels, the video shows.

One of the men is seen in the video with a pistol in his left hand. As he runs, he turns, raises the gun and appears to point it at an officer before the officer fires a single, fatal shot that hit the suspect in his torso, Craig said.

"When you think tactics and training, the fact that this suspect was armed and pointed a weapon several times, and the officer only fired one shot — that's because of discipline and training," he said.

"Put yourself in that officer’s shoes for just one second, and try to understand," Craig said. "I've been in those situations in my career where you have to make a decision: 'do I shoot or not shoot?' Many don't understand the amount of stress involved in these incidents, and officers have to make a decision within a hair of a second."

Another of the car's occupants ran in a different direction after the crash, and Craig said the officer chasing him made a less-than-lethal split-second decision.

"The officer heard a gunshot, and he wasn’t certain if the shot was from the suspect he was chasing," Craig said. "He realized the suspect he was chasing was not armed, so he reholstered his gun and transferred to a Taser."

Both men were arrested, Craig said. He said it was later determined one of those two suspects and the man who was killed by police had been involved in the July 17 quadruple shooting.

"When you’re talking about an armed suspect, there are often are no easy answers, but these officers did what they were trained for, and I applaud them," Craig said.

The first officer-involved shooting this month happened July 10, when video shows Littleton pull a pistol from his shorts and fire it a few feet away from a Detroit cop. Police returned fire, striking Littleton four times and killing him, Craig said.

The most recent officer-involved shooting happened about 11 p.m. Sunday in the 10000 block of Wyoming.

"The suspect was selling drugs at a gas station," Craig said. "An officer observed him at the station, and noted he was carrying a gun that was partially showing."

The officer approached the man, who ran away, the chief said.

"At that point, there was a foot pursuit, and the gun was exposed," Craig said. "You can clearly hear the officer (on body camera) saying, 'drop the gun, drop the gun.' The officer then fired shots, wounding the suspect."

Craig said the man is in stable condition.

"We're seeing way too many cases recently where suspects are being aggressive, and not complying with officers' commands to drop their weapons," Craig said.

During his press briefing, Craig said: "It's no secret that there's been an uptick in violence across the country, including Detroit. Part of that violence is violence against police officers."

Craig pointed to recent seizures of illegal firearms "as an example of the kind of danger our officers face every day."

He said from June 22 to July 19, Detroit police seized 537 illegal guns and made 129 arrests for carrying concealed weapons.

"We've never seen the number of handguns we're seeing now," Craig said.


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN