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Autopsy backs Detroit police in shooting that killed Hakim Littleton

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Video evidence corroborated the official story of how a 20-year-old man died after being shot by Detroit police officers on July 10, and an autopsy report released Wednesday further backs up statements made by the city's top cop about the incident.

Hours after Detroit police officers fatally shot Hakim Littleton on the city's west side, with protesters hurling objects at officers and threatening more violence, chief James Craig released video of the shooting.

The video, shot from an officer's body-worn camera, shows Littleton pull a gun from his shorts pocket and fire two shots from about two feet away from a cop who was part of a crew that was at McNichols and San Juan investigating a July 5 mass shooting in which three people were killed and five others wounded.

Hakim Littleton

After Littleton fires his pistol, video shows, the officer charges him, while other cops open fire. At a press conference hours later, Craig said three officers had fired four shots, and that they all struck Littleton, one in the head.

An autopsy report from the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office, obtained by The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information request, confirmed Craig's statement.

The autopsy, conducted by Chief Wayne County Medical Examiner Carl Schmidt the day after the shooting, ruled the cause of death as homicide, the result of four gunshot wounds — one in the head, two in the right thigh, and one in the left thigh.

A still from an officer's body-worn camera shows Hakim Littleton leveling a gun at a Detroit cop's head, seconds before Littleton fired two shots, missing the officer. Police returned fire, killing the suspect

Schmidt's report said Littleton was shot in the back of the head; the bullet went through his brain and lodged in his scalp, where it was recovered.

"There was no evidence of close range fire on the skin and around the entrance wounds," Schmidt wrote.

A toxicology report that accompanied Littleton's autopsy shows he had marijuana and alcohol in his system when he died. His blood-alcohol level was .016.

It's unusual for police to release video of an officer-involved shooting so quickly after the incident, but Craig said Wednesday he felt it was necessary to quell the violence that was brewing at the shooting site.

"There was a false narrative being put out that we shot (Littleton) while he was on the ground," Craig said. "So we released the video, which poked holes in that narrative."

While releasing the video seemed to calm the burgeoning violence at the shooting scene, not everyone was satisfied with how officers handled the situation. Activist Tristan Taylor of the Detroit Will Breathe group called the killing "an execution."

"The thing that we find most disturbing about his shooting was the fact that the last shot was point-blank to the head," Taylor said during a July 28 press conference. "... We call these murders, especially someone who's shot point-blank to the head, an execution. They are the victims of police brutality."

Craig said Taylor's allegations were "ridiculous." Taylor did not return a phone call Wednesday.

During a press conference when he released the video, Craig said a total of eight shots were fired by both officers and Littleton, but he said Wednesday that crime scene investigators found 9 shell casings at the scene.

"It was early on in the investigation when I put out that there were eight shots, but there were actually nine shots fired — the initial two by Littleton when he fired at the officer, and then while he was falling and on the ground, he was able to get off three more rounds," Craig said.

The other four rounds were those fired by officers that hit Littleton, Craig said.

"When you think about only four rounds being fired by three officers in that situation, that's what I call discipline," Craig said. "Our officers have shown tremendous discipline and poise lately under some tough circumstances."

Craig also released video of a July 23 officer-involved fatal shooting of a man who was one of four people shot by Detroit police in July, three fatally. All four were armed, Craig said.

The video of the July 23 incident shows a man brandishing a pistol during a foot chase that followed a high-speed pursuit after police spotted a homicide suspect.

On July 26, police wounded a man suspected of selling drugs after he refused commands to drop a gun he was carrying, Craig said. The department has not released footage of that incident.

Last week, police say they were confronted by a man wielding a sword and dagger. A video of the July 30 confrontation, apparently shot by a citizen, shows a Detroit cop backing away from the man, who throws a dagger at the officer, striking him below the right eye.

Craig said officers shot the man but he continued advancing on the cops with the sword. A Good Samaritan helped police capture the man after he climbed into a squad car; the citizen used his vehicle to pin the suspect inside the cruiser until officers handcuffed him. He died on the way to the hospital, Craig said.