Detroit police fatally shoot man who reportedly fired at them

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A crime scene involving five gunshot victims and a motorist who likely was killed by the getaway driver became deadlier Monday morning when Detroit officers fatally shot a 27-year-old man after he reportedly fired at them and led them on a high-speed chase, police officials said.

The incident on the city's west side marked at least the fifth since March in which Detroit officers fired at citizens after they reportedly shot at or pointed guns at them — and it occurred as detectives were investigating at least the ninth mass shooting in Detroit in less than a month.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, flanked by Assistant Police Chief David LeValley, left, and Cmdr. Eric Decker, head of the department's Homicide Section, speaks about officers' fatal shooting of a suspect.

During a press conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, Police Chief James Craig laid out what he called "a very complex incident," and said "reckless" anti-police rhetoric by elected officials is partially driving a recent wave of violence against officers in Detroit and nationwide.

 At 2:38 a.m. Monday, officers were investigating a shooting near McNichols and Ward in which five victims ranging in age from 18-36 were wounded, and a motorist was killed, police believe, when the gunman struck the car while fleeing the scene in his own vehicle.

As police worked the shooting scene, Craig said "a 27-year-old man driving a 2019 GMC Yukon drove up and fired a single shot at the officers."

The bullet stuck a police vehicle, Craig said. 

"As the suspect was leaving the crime scene, he struck two more parked police vehicles," the chief said.

Officers chased the fleeing SUV, Craig said. "Clearly, this was a suspect that we had to apprehend. He was focused on one thing only — to kill a police officer."

The man, whom Craig did not identify, led officers on a high-speed pursuit "down Woodward and through Campus Martius," he said. "He got onto (northbound Interstate 75), and exited on Gratiot.

"The speed he was traveling at is estimated at over 100 mph," Craig said. "While certainly it was (early) in the morning, and not many people were out, that poses an extreme danger."

The suspect pulled into a parking lot, exited his SUV, "and initiated an exchange of gunfire with the officers who were at the scene," Craig said. "I'm not sure if he was struck at that point."

During the press briefing, police officials played two short video clips, narrated by Cmdr. Eric Decker, head of the department's Homicide Section, which show the man firing shots at officers, who returned fire.

"Michigan State Police will go through all the body camera video," Decker said. "You can clearly see from the two videos when he existed the vehicle, he was clearly firing shots at our officers on two different occasions."

After the initial gunfire exchange, Craig said the suspect fled, getting less than a half-mile away before pursuing officers caught up with him.

"As soon as the first officer arrived, he pointed the gun in the direction of the officer," the chief said. "The officer, believing this was a direct threat to his life, began exchanging gunfire. When he fell to the ground, our officers went into lifesaving mode."

The suspect was taken to a hospital, where he died from his injuries, Craig said.

Police recovered a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol and an open container of alcohol from the suspect's vehicle, police officials said.

Craig said detectives don't believe the suspect, who has "very little in the way of a criminal history," had any connection to the quintuple shooting officers initially were investigating.

"We’re really trying to understand the why of this attack on police officers," the chief said. "He had no connection to that scene ... it's hard for us to determine a motive.

"We believe ... that he laid in wait," Craig said. "He may have been nearby, certainly consuming alcohol. His music was loud. It was if he was preparing himself for battle."

Craig said the man was reportedly upset because his friend, a 21-year-old man, had been killed in a dice game the day earlier. The man posted on Facebook, "I'm hurt mad," the chief said, adding that about a month ago, the man's 6-month-old cousin also died of an undisclosed cause.

"So, we don't know if he was going through a state of depression or not," Craig said. "Our prayers go out to his family."

The incident is the latest in what he said is an "alarming trend" of people pointing guns at his officers or firing shots at them.

"Yes, we’ve seen an increase in violence toward our police officers," Craig said. "What's driving the violence is the anti-police rhetoric."

Craig said recent comments by Democratic U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Maxine Waters of California were "fanning the flames."

Tlaib tweeted last week that policing in the United States is "intentionally racist" and "can't be reformed," in response to the death in Minnesota of Daunte Wright. Wright, a Black man, was shot by White ex-police officer Kimberly Potter, who has been charged with manslaughter after she reportedly mistook her pistol for her Taser.

During a Saturday rally near Minneapolis, Waters called for protesters to "get more confrontational," adding: "We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business."

In addition to Wright's death, a verdict is expected soon in the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder charges after last year's choking death of George Floyd. 

Craig said Monday: "I firmly believe those kind of comments can fuel anger ... we wish more (public officials) would've stood up and denounced the reckless comments by both U.S. congresspersons.

"I know the President denounced the reckless comments," Craig said. When asked last week about Tlaib's comment, White House press secretary Jen Paski said: "That's not the president's view."

Craig said of Tlaib and Waters: "You sit in a seat of influence. I can't say you sit in a seat of leadership, but you sit in a seat of influence, and that comes with responsibility. The majority of Detroiters want effective and constitutional policing, and they don't take to individuals who take the flames of violence toward our police officers."

Another unwelcome trend, Craig said, is a recent flurry of mass shootings in Detroit. The FBI defines mass shootings as incidents with three or more victims.

In addition to Sunday's quintuple shooting, since March 21, there have been at least three quadruple shootings and five triple shootings in Detroit.

"We've seen a lot more of those (mass shootings) this year," Craig said. "Almost all of them started as arguments that escalated. People just don't know how to control their anger ... we can blame part of it certainly on the pandemic and the mental health of so many, and the impact that's having."

During a press conference Monday in which he updated the city's COVID numbers, Mayor Mike Duggan said: “The violence in this city is not at an acceptable level.”

Duggan also commended Craig and his team for quickly releasing video of Monday's shooting incident.

"The Detroit Police Department is different," he said. "We didn’t wait two or three weeks to release a video after we had been badgered into it. Chief Craig came out the next day. We’ve had the ability when these kinds of incidents have come out to show the public exactly what’s happened.

“And when officers do something wrong, Chief Craig is the first one to say ‘I can deal with it.’ I’ve only seen limited clips. It looks like the officers last night were heroic," Duggan said.

The mayor also said many protesters who call for defunding the police are coming in from the suburbs and “don’t represent most Detroiters.”

Christine Ferretti contributed.

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN