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Iraqi facing deportation gets no pity from cop he shot

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

An Iraqi Christian who spent decades in prison after shooting an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy and now fears deportation isn’t getting sympathy from the man he wounded.

Nahidh Shaou, 55, was convicted of armed robbery with intent to murder and spent more than 33 years in prison after wounding then-Deputy Michael Elliott following an armed robbery at a Rochester Hills McDonald’s in 1983. Shaou was implicated in several armed robberies in Wayne and Oakland counties in the early 1980s, according to authorities.

Michael Elliott

“This guy’s a pile of crap,” Elliott, 66, said in an interview Monday with The Detroit News. The now-retired sergeant called Shaou “a serial robber.”

That criminal history led to Shaou being immediately transferred into federal custody after he was paroled from prison six months ago. Immigration officials last week moved Shaou to a detention facility in Louisiana, where he was told he would be deported any day to Iraq.

But Shaou’s attorney, Richard Kent, said Monday that immigration officials issued a temporary stay on orders to deport Shaou, who left Iraq as a child and fears being killed by Islamic State militants if he is forced to return.

“I have just received word from the Board of Immigration Appeals that his stay of removal has been temporarily granted,” Kent said. “So he is not leaving.”

Shaou is among hundreds of local Iraqi Christians facing the possibility of deportation in the wake of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Activists call the looming deportations an “egregious human rights violation” because of the genocide against Iraqi Christians by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Shaou’s family believes he’s served his time and faces certain death if he’s deported. But the law enforcement officers who crossed his path more than 34 years ago say there are consequences for his actions.

“He made those choices,” Elliott said.

Police’s side of story

Retired Troy Police Chief Charles Craft was an officer for the city when he took two robbery reports at a Troy McDonald’s on Feb. 8 and Feb. 23 in 1983.

During both robberies, Shaou “herded the employees into the coolers and told them to wait 10 minutes” before calling the police, according to Craft.

“Here’s why I remember it so distinctly after all these years: Mostly, there were young people working in there, and they were incredibly scared,” Craft said.

Nahidh Shaou fears deportation back to Iraq, a country he left with his family when he was 5 years old.

“One of the things they said was, ‘What if he comes back?’ I said (the perpetrators) don’t come back because generally that’s true. Two weeks later, I got another report. They saw him coming and they locked the door. He pulled out the gun and fired at the lock, and then he entered the restaurant.

“It was the very next night that Deputy Elliott was shot. (Shaou) didn’t just do something stupid. He was a serial armed robber, perfectly willing to use his weapon.”

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe responded, alongside Elliott, to a disturbance call after 11 p.m. on Feb. 24, 1983, at a McDonald’s in what then was Avon Township. The area now is in Rochester Hills.

The two then-deputies pulled up to darkened restaurant in separate patrol cars, McCabe said.

“As I get out, and I’m about to go to the (restaurant) door, out of the corner of my eye I see a blue Pontiac Ventura pulling out (of the driveway) the wrong way, exiting the parking lot,” McCabe said. “(Elliott) ... walks up to the driver’s side of the vehicle.

“I see two flashes, obviously, gunshot fire. I saw Elliott fall down to the ground. I knew he had been shot. I heard him scream.”

After the shooting, Shaou jumped the curb in his car and fled but was thwarted by several gunshots from McCabe and another officer who was parked across the street as backup. One of the rounds flattened the tire of Shaou’s vehicle, and he was apprehended nearby by other officers after a brief chase, McCabe said.

Back at the McDonald’s, McCabe rushed to Elliott’s side.

“I look in the car and he’s kind of hunched, half out of the car and half in the car, hunched over the steering wheel. He’s a bloody mess. He’s shot square in the chest,” McCabe said. “Unfortunately he didn’t have a bullet-proof vest on. (The bullet) hit him and just missed his heart.”

The injured man frantically told McCabe: “He got me bad; he got me bad.”

Elliott had also been hit in the upper left portion of his back, McCabe said.

McCabe, who drove Elliott to Crittendon Hospital, said Shaou is lucky Elliott survived.

“The doctor said if (Elliott) had gotten there a couple minutes later, he’d be a dead man,” McCabe said. “Had we not been lucky enough to get to the hospital in time, you and I wouldn’t be talking today because (Shaou) would still be in prison for life for first-degree murder.”

Last week, Shaou told The News he blacked out during parts of the incident. Thirty-four years ago, he told officials the gun went off accidentally, McCabe said.

“He never said anything about blacking out. Never,” McCabe said of Shaou’s statements in 1983. “He tried to mitigate (the shooting) by saying the gun went off accidentally. He said he was trying to hand it to the officer.”

Elliott also disputed Shaou’s claim from 1983 the gun discharged accidentally, saying it is unlikely that a revolver would go off twice without intent.

“Afterwards, he said he had the gun cocked, and it was an accident,” Elliott continued. “But what about the second shot?”

‘He’s been reformed’

Shaou pleaded guilty and was sent to prison with a sentence of 42-200 years for the Feb. 24, 1983, robbery, assault and firearm violation. His sister on Monday insisted he is a changed man as a result of that incarceration.

“He educated himself in prison,” said Nadia Shaya, 53. “He’s been a role model in prison when he could have joined a gang. He’s been a stellar inmate; he’s mentored young men.

“He’s remorseful. He’s been reformed. He’s been rehabilitated,” she continued. “He’s not that angry young man anymore.”

Shaya, who now lives in Cincinnati, said her brother also changed after serving six months in South Korea shortly after joining the U.S. Army in 1980. That layer of anger didn’t melt away until he was imprisoned.

“I’d have to say probably after that first year, I saw him soften up,” Shaya said. “Year after year, I saw my beautiful brother come back to life and blossom.”

Deportation to Iraq would deprive Shaou of a critical support system as he works to assimilate back into society, his sister said.

More importantly, Shaou’s life is at risk if he is sent back to his homeland, according to Shaya.

“The minute they find out he’s been in the United States and he’s an Army vet, they’re going to think he’s a spy,” she said.

And Shaou is an Iraqi Christian, a religion whose members activists say are being persecuted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“Between his religion and his military service, he doesn’t stand a chance,” Shaya said. “He doesn’t stand a chance of living.”

‘A dangerous move’

Shaou received a green card at age 5 after arriving with his parents to the United States, according to Kent, his attorney. It was revoked when he was convicted.

Despite Monday’s reprieve, Shaou still may eventually be deported if the immigration board declines to review his case, or reviews it and upholds the deportation order, according to Kent.

“This is not the end of the road. It simply lengthens the road somewhat,” Kent said. “I have spoken with my client, and he is delighted with the (stay). But he is also aware that this is a temporary solution. He knows that this is by no means over.”

Kent echoed Shaya’s condemnation of a decision to send Christian deportees to Iraq.

“You don’t return people to a country where they’re having genocide committed against them. The idea of sending Christians back there flies in the face of common sense,” he said. “We’re not supposed to be doing this. It is a dangerous move that will likely result in many deaths.”

It was Kent who filed an emergency motion on Shaou’s behalf to stop federal officials from putting him on a plane to Iraq — the first flight going to the country in seven years.

For years, Iraq has not accepted deportees from the U.S. without travel documents in an effort to secure its border against terrorists from groups such as the Islamic State, said Eman Jajonie-Daman, a Warren-based immigration attorney and Southfield magistrate.

But a new policy was recently negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq, allowing deportations, according to an affidavit from Julius Clinton, a detention and deportation officer assigned to Enforcement and Removal Operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The first charter flight to Iraq since 2010 is scheduled to leave the U.S. this month, confirmed Khaalid Walls, spokesman for ICE’s Detroit office. He declined to say how many people would be aboard or when it would be departing.

For now, Shaou is praying he doesn’t get sent back.

“I’m scared to death,” said Shaou on a telephone call last week from the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana. “If I show up on their soil, my beheading will probably be on YouTube. I honestly believe that is what is going to happen.”

(313) 223-4616

Twitter: @HollyPFournier