Nessel won't charge officer in fatal 2018 Shelby Twp. shooting

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Michigan's attorney general said Tuesday she has found no grounds to charge a Shelby Township police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Sikh man in 2018, though she did announce charges against an officer in an Ionia County shooting.

The office of Attorney General Dana Nessel determined after investigating the Nov. 3, 2018, shooting of Kanwarbir Malhi, 25, of Shelby Township, that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge township officer Jason Zuk.

In its report on the case, the Attorney General’s Office concluded Zuk “acted under an honest and reasonable belief that he and other officers were in danger.” 

"Law enforcement officers have the same right of self-defense as anyone else," Nessel said in a videotaped message outlining the two cases.

A Shelby Township Police Department dash cam shows the shooting death of Kanwarbir Malhi, 25, of Shelby Township.

According to the report, Zuk was one of two officers who had responded to an apartment complex on a call for backup from another officer who had located a vehicle reportedly stolen the day before. Malhi was the driver of the car, which belonged to his mother.

A police officer had approached the vehicle after Malhi had parked it and ordered Malhi, who was behind the steering wheel, to show his hands but he did not comply. When Zuk arrived, Malhi was repeatedly ordered to show his hands and exit the vehicle. At one point Malhi was asked if he had a weapon and he told police he did, Nessel's office found.

Malhi finally put one hand out the window but could be seen by police reaching behind the seat with his other hand. After about 10 minutes, Malhi exited the vehicle and made a sudden reaching motion toward the front of his body. Zuk fired a single blast from a shotgun, hitting Malhi in the chest and neck, Nessel's office said.

Police attempted first aid and determined Malhi was not armed; he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Members of Malhi's family expressed anger about the shooting and had called for Nessel's office to investigate after Macomb County authorities declined to file charges.

The department also faced protests last summer after inflammatory social media posts by police Chief Robert Shelide about Black Lives Matter demonstrators. He subsequently was suspended for 30 days by the township board of trustees.

The Shelby Township Police Department posted a note on its website that Zuk had been cleared of any wrongdoing with a link to the attorney general’s 20-page report.  Shelide did not return a phone call Tuesday from The News.

Malhi’s family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

During a protest in July 2020, against the Shelby Township department, the Rev. W.J. Rideout, pastor of All God's People churches in Roseville and Detroit, called for Nessel's office to investigate the shooting: “I feel like this was just open murder by a police officer and an unjustified shooting," he said.

Reached Tuesday, Rideout said was disappointed but felt that Nessel took the case seriously.

“First thing I’m very disappointed in the outcome as it relates to the officer not being charge,” he said. “Family members and citizens are also disappointed.

“However I can’t speak ill of the findings of AG Nessel. I trust her findings and she saw things in her investigation that we didn’t see,” Rideout said. “That doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to speak out against or stand by police brutality.”

Rideout said the Shelby Township Police Department “needs major changes. There has to be diversity and training on dealing with people of color, African Americans, and others.”

Rideout said he respected Nessel and “how she heard and didn’t overlook us.”

The AG report said Nessel’s Public Integrity Unit reviewed hundreds of hours of tapes and videos, interviews, police reports and medical reports. It said Malhi's mother had called police to her home on Spring Lane two days before the shooting because he wouldn’t leave the basement, and she was concerned about his mental health.

Police attempted to talk to him then but he refused to cooperate, according to the report. The next day, his mother reported her 2005 Honda Accord — the car Malhi was driving — had been stolen.

Nessel’s office reported Malhi had ignored "more than 70 orders" by police to show his hands and to remain in the car.

Malhi’s older brother confirmed his brother had mental health issues and told investigators his brother had been taking drugs in an effort to get off of opioids, according to the AG report.

It concluded: “Officer Zuk acted under an honest and reasonable belief that he and other officers were in danger of death or great bodily harm at the time he fired one shot. He had to make a 'real time' split second decision in an extremely tense and dangerous situation.”

In a separate investigation of the Aug. 29, 2020, incident in Ionia County, Nessel’s officer reported Lowell police officer Jason Diaz fired his weapon at a fleeing vehicle in a high-speed chase, striking a passenger in the head. The investigation concluded Diaz violated both the law and his department’s Use of Force Policy.

Charges were filed Monday in Ionia County’s 64-A District Court against Diaz: one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, a 10-year felony; misconduct in office by a public officials, a five-year felony; and careless discharge of a weapon, causing injury, a two-year misdemeanor. 

Diaz was arraigned Tuesday before Magistrate David Wirth in Ionia County 64-A District Court, who set bond at 10% of $50,000. Diaz is scheduled for a probable cause conference at 1 p.m. March 22 and a preliminary exam at 1 p.m. March 29.

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