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Groups seek probe of Littleton shooting; Worthy's office says inquiry is underway

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Correction: This article was updated to correct the name of the Public Integrity Unit.

Detroit — A coalition of 15 civil rights groups and activists asked Wayne County prosecutors Thursday to investigate last month's killing of Hakim Littleton by Detroit police, after the group says the state attorney general turned down a similar request.

Hakim Littleton

But prosecutors said they're already several weeks into an independent probe of the July 10 fatal shooting.

Littleton was killed after video shows he leveled a pistol about two feet from a police officer's face and fired two shots, missing the cop. Officers returned fire, and police officials say the 20-year-old man was pronounced dead in an area hospital.

Hours after the incident, with an unruly crowd throwing objects at police officers at the shooting site at McNichols near San Juan, police chief James Craig released video of the Littleton incident, saying it showed officers were forced to shoot because their lives were in danger.

But the Coalition for Police Transparency and Accountability, whose members include the American Civil Liberties Union's Michigan office, the Black Legacy Coalition, and the Detroit and Michigan chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, have released a frame-by-frame breakdown of the shooting video, which they say calls into question whether officers needed to kill Littleton.

"The number of shots that were fired after (Littleton) was on the ground raises serious questions about what (police) were doing," said attorney Julie Hurwitz, who is part of the group asking for an independent investigation. "The question is, should police have a license to execute someone, no matter what?"

Craig said Littleton continued firing his pistol as he fell to the ground, and that officers followed their training by stopping the threat. The chief also called the coalition's efforts "yet another attempt at putting out the false narrative that this wasn't a justified shooting."

The coalition on Thursday sent a letter to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking her to "undertake an independent investigation into the (incident) ... the Littleton family, and the Detroit community as a whole, are entitled to an impartial investigation and justice."

But assistant prosecutor Maria Miller said in an email: "The (Public Integrity Unit) is currently investigating the police involved shooting of Hakim Littleton. The WCPO independent investigation began on July 14, 2020."

Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, said the office turned down an earlier request by the coalition to investigate the shooting because, "at this point, we are not involved," adding that the prosecutor's Public Integrity Unit is best-suited to review the case.

Hurwitz, who represents the National Lawyers Guild in the coalition, said Thursday no one from the Attorney General or the prosecutor's offices contacted her group, and that she wasn't aware an investigation was ongoing.

"We will be filing a (Freedom of Information) request this afternoon, asking for details of this investigation," she said.

Although Craig said the video exonerates his officers, others have insisted deadly force was not warranted. During a press conference last month, Detroit Will Breathe co-founder Tristan Taylor called the shooting "an execution."

"That's the thing that we find most disturbing about his shooting was the fact that the last shot was point-blank to the head," he said. "... we call these murders, especially someone who's shot point-blank to the head, an execution. They are the victims of police brutality."

On the video released by the coalition, the narrator questions whether officers needed to continue shooting Littleton after an officer appeared to kick the gun from his hand. 

"Does it appear to you that the officers' lives are in danger?" the narrator asks. "Do you think the officers had the option to arrest Hakim?"

Craig said the video was "deceptively manipulated and slowed down to continue the false narrative that they tried to put out the night of the shooting."

"That night, they tried to say we shot an unarmed man in the back," Craig said. "Then, when we released the video, it took them two weeks to come up with this.

"To suggest that those officers were not in danger, and that they could have just arrested (Littleton) is completely false," the chief said. "This was an armed and dangerous suspect. Period. I really don't know what other way to say it."

Hurwitz insisted: "All slowing the video down does is, it allows people to view more accurately what actually happened. We didn't alter, delete or remove anything; we simply took the videos released by police and incorporated it into what we believe is a more accurate description of what happened."

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN