Man shot to death by police chased officers with sword, Detroit chief says

George Hunter and Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

Detroit — A man who was reportedly standing in the middle of a west side street wielding a sword before throwing a dagger at an officer Thursday became the fourth person to be shot by Detroit police this month, and the third fatality.

Detroit police recovered this sword from the scene where an officer fatally shot a man Thursday, July 30, 2020.

At one point during the confrontation at 7:15 p.m. near Grand River and Meyers, after the suspect was shot, he continued chasing officers while swinging the sword, and jumped into a squad car before a good Samaritan used his vehicle to box him in, Detroit police Chief James Craig said.

Officers came upon the man "in the middle of the intersection with what appeared to be a 32-inch sword," Craig said at a press briefing at the scene less than two hours after the shooting. "He was swinging it very wildly."

The officers exited their squad car, and "as soon as the officers got out of their vehicle, the suspect began to run toward them, swinging the sword. They asked him several times to drop the weapon. He refused. Instead, he continued to advance."

When the man, whom Craig said was in his late 20s, would not comply, an officer deployed his Taser, but it didn't take effect, because the man was wearing what Craig described as "protective covering over his torso."

"I wouldn't call it a bulletproof vest; it was something like what a hockey player would wear," Craig said.

Detroit police recovered this knife from the scene where a sword-wielding man was shot to death by an officer Thursday, July 30, 2020.

"At some point, I'm not sure if it was before or after (the Taser was used), the suspect took out a second sharp object ... an 8-inch dagger; threw it in the direction of the officer, striking the officer below the right eye.

"This thing continued ... the officer continually said drop the weapon ... at some point, the officer's partner deployed one round from his service (weapon), striking the suspect," Craig said. "But he continued forward.

"As he was chasing the officers, he went into the driver's side (of a squad car)," Craig said. 

"When he jumped into the scout car, the concern that the good Samaritan had, knowing police officers had shotguns and rifles in the front seat of the car ... that he may have been attempting to gain control of the weapons."

Detroit police said a man wielding a sword threw a knife at an officer and jumped into this squad car. An officer shot the man to death.

The motorist he used his vehicle to block the suspect in the squad car, and officers subdued the man.

The man was transported to an area hospital and pronounced dead, Craig said.

"I commend (the motorist)," the chief said. "It was a very risky situation, but he saw our officers were in danger and wanted to assist."

Andre Johnson said he intervened with his car to help the officers.

“The victim went after the officers” Johnson said. “Officers asked him about three or four times to put the weapons down. They Tazed him, but that didn’t stop him, and then he pulled out this knife they make in Nepal and he ran after the officers."

Craig said he suspected the suspect had mental issues.

Police officers congregate on the corners of Grand River Ave. and Meyer St. after a police involved shooting, July 30, 2020, in Detroit.

"From the description of his behavior, wildly swinging a sword in the middle of traffic, it makes me wonder if he wasn't suffering from mental illness," he said.

Isys Love, who lives in the area where the shooting took place, said she knew the man from the neighborhood. He was always dressed like a ninja and walked along Grand River Avenue, she said as she watched from the scene late Thursday. 

“We always see him dressed in his ninja outfit with his swords, but he doesn’t bother anyone ... that’s why we are wondering what set him off." 

The incident marks the third police-related fatality in Detroit since July 10, and the fourth officer-involved shooting. In two of the fatalities, video shows suspects pointing pistols at officers. 

Police officers congregate on the corners of Grand River Ave. and Meyer St. after a police involved shooting, July 30, 2020, in Detroit.

In the other shootings:

  • On July 10, video released by police shows Hakim Littleton shooting his gun at a Detroit cop feet away from his head, before officers returned fire, killing him.
  • On July 27, police released video showing a high-speed vehicle chase four days earlier that ended with a car crashing into a tree. Three men fled the car, one of whom is seen brandishing a pistol. Police fatally shot him.
  • A man allegedly was selling drugs in a west-side gas station lot on July 26, when an officer saw a partially concealed pistol on him, Craig said. Following a foot pursuit, Craig said the man pulled out the gun, and, when he did not comply with the officer's command to drop it, the officer shot him, wounding him.

Craig said the shootings are a result of suspects becoming more brazen recently. He said he's hearing more reports about aggressive behavior toward officers than at any time since he became chief in 2013.

"Clearly, our officers are facing very aggressive suspects who are armed," he said. "It could be any number of reasons. It could be the anti-police rhetoric that's permeating our country. Frankly, these suspects feel emboldened."

Police officers investigate a scene where police involved shooting occurred near the corners of Grand River Ave. and Meyers St., July 30, 2020 in Detroit.

Chris White, director of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said in a statement he wanted an outside entity to investigate the recent use-of-force incidents.

"An independent agency should handle the investigation of these shootings," he said. "We're very concerned about what has become a shoot-to-kill policy."

White also criticized Thursday's shooting.

"While some may see the department (as) having improved, we see this as a setback," he said. "It doesn't take an expert in weaponry to know a dart doesn't compare to a bullet."