Worthy: Detroit police officers won't face charges in Porter Burks killing

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — The five Detroit police officers who fatally shot 20-year-old Porter Burks during an Oct. 2 confrontation acted in "self-defense" and will not face criminal charges, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Wednesday.

Burks, who reportedly suffered from schizophrenia, was killed after a videotaped confrontation with police officers, who repeatedly implored him to drop the knife he was wielding. When Burks lunged toward the officers, five of them opened fire, discharging 38 bullets, 19 of which struck Burks, according to an autopsy report from the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office.

After the shooting, a warrant was presented to Wayne County Prosecutors for consideration, as happens with all shootings. Michigan State Police conducted a criminal investigation and found no criminal wrongdoing, passing on the results of its probe to prosecutors for further review, State Police 1st Lt. Michael Shaw said.

Worthy said in a press release that her office's review of the case also found the officers broke no laws.

"This is a truly tragic case," Worthy said. "Mr. Burks had a long history of mental illness and violent behavior and a propensity for carrying knives that had been communicated by his family to the responding officers. He previously allegedly cut two individuals and a seven-year-old girl in 2020. The police spent a significant amount of time trying to get him to drop his weapon. He suddenly ran at them with the knife and covered the distance between them in approximately three seconds.

"Eyewitnesses to the shooting were interviewed and indicated that the police did all that they could to de-escalate the situation before Mr. Burks charged at the police," Worthy said. "Unfortunately, Mr. Burks was fatally shot by the officers in self-defense and defense of others."

Worthy said Burks "was able to cover approximately 40 feet in under three seconds, approximately 35 of which were in the last two seconds while he was running with a knife, and police were shooting at him. Before he collapsed, he was approximately six to eight feet from Officer 1, the primary officer who tried to talk Mr. Burks into dropping his knife."

Burks' aunt, Michelle Wilson, said she was "devastated" to hear that no officers would face charges.

"I just can't believe that," she said. "Anyone who watched that video can see what happened. Those officers need to be charged."

A phone call Wednesday seeking comment from Geoffrey Fieger, the Southfield attorney representing Burks' family in a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit, was not immediately returned.

An internal investigation into whether the officers properly followed Detroit Police Department procedure is ongoing. In previous public statements, Detroit Police Chief James White has said the officers involved in the Burks situation appeared to have followed their training, although he stressed letting the investigations run their course.

White said in a statement Wednesday following Worthy's announcement: "The death of Porter Burks remains a tragic event that continues to call attention to the need for additional resources for those suffering from mental illness. This includes reinstituting long-term mental health treatment centers, greater awareness of behavioral health challenges and additional training. It also includes recognizing our responsibility as a community to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to individuals in mental distress."

"(The) independent review confirms that the actions of our officers were justified under the circumstances," White said.


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