Young boy's slaying prompts expanded patrols on Metro Detroit freeways

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — The fatal shooting on Interstate 75 last week in which 2-year-old Brison Christian was killed and his 9-year-old brother wounded was a case of "mistaken identity," police and prosecutors said Tuesday.

The revelation came as Detroit and Michigan State Police officials said for the second summer in a row that they will beef up patrols on Metro Detroit freeways after a rash of shootings.

The boys’ father, Brian Christian, was driving the Dearborn family in the southbound lanes from Seven Mile on Thursday night after attending a basketball game when a light-colored four-door vehicle pulled alongside; he heard gunfire then noticed his pickup was malfunctioning, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office said Tuesday.

Interim Detroit Police Chief James White discusses the investigation of the fatal freeway shooting of 2-year-old Brison Christian as the boy's father, Brian Christian, listens at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit on Tuesday. Brison's picture is displayed in the background.

Christian pulled over, and he and his wife realized their sons had been shot — Brison in the head, brother BJ in the arm — and their truck hit multiple times.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said two Detroit men charged Tuesday "mistakenly identified the Christians' black truck based on its color and make," believing it was someone else. 

"The Christian family were innocent victims," Worthy said in a statement. 

In response, police officials on Tuesday announced "Operation Brison," an effort they described as multijurisdictional to quell freeway violence, in response to the fatal shooting of the young boy.

The initiative will be "a coordinated effort with neighboring police agencies that have freeway veins that run into the city," interim Detroit Police Chief James White said, adding the focus will be on pooling intelligence and resources.

"This will entail eyes in the sky, air support and patrols on freeways to ensure we're looking out for road rage incidents and other violence," White said. "I won't say these things won't happen again, but we'll have the necessary attention to ensure they're reduced.

"We want to have a greater presence out on the freeways to capture aggressive drivers and other potential problems.”

White said he didn't want to reveal which other police agencies will be involved until each signs a formal memorandum of understanding. He added that details of the initiative were still being finalized and he planned to meet with area police chiefs later this week to determine respective agencies’ responsibilities. 

It wasn't clear what the initiative might cost or when it might begin.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan earlier this month authorized White to pay 4,000 hours of overtime per week for officers to work crowd management details and an additional 2,000 weekly overtime hours for a plan to tackle drag racing and drifting and the raucous "party atmosphere" in neighborhoods and parks that often leads to fights or gunplay. 

Last year, state police increased patrols after there were 12 freeway shootings in a three-week period. It was the latest effort to curb freeway violence that goes back decades.

On Tuesday, Brian Christian said he racked his brain after the shooting trying to figure out why he was targeted before he learned his truck was mistaken for someone else's.

"I keep replaying the incident in the back of my mind, thinking what I could've done differently," Christian said during a press conference with police.

Five days after the shooting, Christian expressed thanks that investigators had arrested his son's alleged killers, and that police named their operation after Brison.

After he heard police had determined the shooting was a case of mistaken identity, Christian said he felt a small measure of relief that he hadn't done anything to cause his son's death.

"That closure was huge for me," he said. 

"The conclusion I came up with is, I don't think I could've done anything. ... If I'm with my family coming from a family event, with Brison in his car seat where he's supposed to be, I was doing the right thing, and I find peace with that."

Wayne County prosecutors on Tuesday charged 21-year-old Eugene Hubbard and Darius Lanier, 19, with Brison's killing. 

"It is alleged that the defendants opened fire on the vehicle with the two children on the freeway before fleeing the scene," a prosecutor's press release said. "It is further alleged that the defendants mistakenly identified the Christian’s black truck based upon its color and make; the Christian family were innocent victims."

White said Brison's killing and other violence in the city is the work of "evil predators in our community that are focusing on our children, indiscriminately firing weapons. Enough is enough.

"We as a police community are fed up; the community should be fed up — and I know they're fed up because I've gotten more calls on this case than any other case," White said.

"These evil predators must be taken off the street. This so-called no-snitch culture came with something else when I was coming up: You don't hurt kids or women."

During Tuesday's press briefing, Duggan called Brison's killing "a tragedy that has rocked the entire city."

"The worst call I get is the one I got from Chief White Thursday to say we'd lost a 2-year-old," Duggan said. "It's just so difficult to accept, and in the days that followed, I thought the clearest statement was made by Brison's father, Brian Christian, who said he wanted Brison to be the face of freeway shootings.

"We're not going to accept this as normal the idea that people go up and down freeways shooting at cars. This cannot be accepted. As a community, we have to fight back."

Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw on Tuesday credited Detroit's Project Green Light, which sends high-definition video feeds to the city Police Department's Real Time Center, with capturing Brison's alleged killers.

"Anyone who talks about the Green Light camera system just doesn't know what they did for us to bring these people into custody," Shaw said. "I can't get into a lot of the details of the investigation because it's ongoing and there may be other arrests that come down the road."

Brian Christian said his son's killing has prompted him to try to effect change.

"I found my new calling," he said. "I had a good heart, but now I feel like I have a voice to push for change. I'm going to continue to keep my son's name alive and continue to do good things for the community."

The family has started a GoFundMe online fundraiser to help with funeral and other costs.

Freeway shootings go back decades

Operation Brison is the latest effort by police to address freeway shootings — a problem that goes back decades. 

From February 1988 to January 1989, there were 17 shootings on area freeways. Most were not solved.

In October 2012, Raulie Casteel of Wixom shot at 23 vehicles on Interstate 96. He was convicted of terrorism and is serving 18 to 40 years in prison.

State police said they believed three freeway shootings on Dec. 7, 2017, were the work of one gunman, although no arrests were made.

The Jan. 24, 2019, killing of 3-year-old Christian Miller, who was shot while riding with his godmother on the Southfield Freeway, made headlines. The family was headed to see "Sesame Street Live" in Detroit.

State police have increased freeway patrols multiple times through the years, including in 1988, following a pair of violent incidents in Oakland County.

Police said Derrick Durham fired his gun because he was cut off in traffic.

Durham, who was charged with open murder days after the shooting, is awaiting trial. Court records show a jury trial commenced on Dec. 2, 2019, but a mistrial was declared four days later.

Since murder charges were reinstated, there have been multiple motions filed and other delays. A July 20 review hearing is scheduled before Wayne Circuit Judge Margaret Van Houten.

15 shootings since Saturday

The recent violence hasn't been confined to freeways. Detroit police have reported 15 shootings, four fatal, since Saturday, including a father and son who were shot on Father's Day, in what police said likely was fallout from an argument at a party.

As of Tuesday, there were 152 criminal homicides in Detroit this year, up from 129 during the same period last year and 101 year-to-date in 2019.

And this comes as recent year over year numbers have risen dramatically. Detroit recorded 327 criminal homicides in 2020, up 19% from 274 the previous year. And nonfatal shootings soared last year, with 1,173 shootings, up 53% from 2019.

Brison Christian, 2, was killed on June 17, 2021 in a shooting that occurred on southbound Interstate-75 near 7 Mile in Detroit. Police say his father's black Ram pickup was targeted in a case of mistaken identity by gang members.

With many of the recent shootings reportedly happening after large crowds gathered, White earlier this month announced a crowd control plan that he said aimed to stop potential problems at large gatherings before they start.

White said since he assumed command of the police department on June 1, Detroit police have made more than 600 illegal gun arrests and confiscated 750 illegal firearms.

"If you're asking me what's driving the crime, a lot of this is impulsive decision-making," the interim chief said. "It's bad choices; people shooting into the car of a family leaving a basketball game. How do you unpack that?"

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

Staff Writer James David Dickson contributed.