Family: Fatal police shooting 'not justified'

Mike Martindale, and Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Relatives of a driver fatally shot by Royal Oak police after fleeing a traffic stop called the shooting unjustified and say the 28-year-old did not pose a threat.

The White Castle on 13 Mile and Coolidge where the shooting took place was closed Wednesday.

“There is no question that this officer was not justified in killing him,” said Joseph Dedvukaj, an attorney whose niece is married to the driver. “This officer basically became the judge, jury and executioner.”

Police said the driver, Antonino Thomas Gordon, had many previous offenses and no license, when an officer sought his BMW Tuesday for a traffic-related offense, but Dedvukaj doubts they knew that since the Commerce Township man was driving a relative’s car.

“Regardless of what the Royal Oak Police Department claims, it’s not relevant,” he said. "... a police officer is not above the law and must obey the law like any other citizen. In fact, they are held to a higher standard. He knew the difference between right and wrong when he did what he did yesterday.”

A Royal Oak officer attempted to pull over Gordon around 6:10 p.m. Tuesday near 13 Mile and Woodward but Gordon did not stop, investigators said in a statement.

Antonino Gordon,

“He stopped and the officer approached the vehicle and tapped on the driver-side window for him to roll the window down,” Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue said Wednesday. “Instead, the driver sped off into the White Castle lot.”

O’Donohue said Gordon eluded the officer after driving out onto Coolidge. The officer called in what had happened and stayed in the area. About 15 minutes later, driving past the White Castle, he saw the vehicle in the drive-through line.

“(Gordon) was at the drive-through window and the officer pulled his car in to block him from leaving,” said O’Donohue. “He approached the car, which backed into a vehicle behind it in line and also struck the patrol car to drive away.”

It was during that incident that the officer fired his weapon, said O’Donohue, who would not elaborate. Gordon was wounded and drove west on 13 Mile before collapsing and losing control of his car and striking another vehicle.

Gordon was taken to Beaumont Hospital and pronounced dead.

Neither the motorist in the drive-through line nor the motorist on 13 Mile was seriously injured, the chief said.

“We don’t want to — we can’t — say too much about the shooting but want to have a clear, independent investigation of what occurred,” said O’Donohue. “It’s a tragedy any way you look at it and shows an ugly side to police work.”

Dedvukaj disputes the department’s position, saying Gordon, a construction worker who dreamed of opening his own business, “did not do anything to provoke the police officer to draw his weapon, point it at him and pull the trigger four or more times, killing him.”

Citing witness accounts and how the county medical examiner described the location of the driver’s wounds, Dedvukaj does not believe Gordon tried to attack or ram the officer. “If you look at the trajectory of those bullets, and the angle of those shots that went into the vehicle, there is no way on earth anyone was in danger, including this police officer,” he said.

Dedvukaj also criticized police declining to release more information about the officer while highlighting Gordon’s background Wednesday.

Gordon had arrests for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and was wanted on an outstanding bench warrant of $75,000, police said. In addition, his driver’s license was revoked in April 2017, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles records.

Gordon had multiple offenses leading to license restrictions and suspensions over the past 10 years and the revocation of his license April 5, 2017, which followed convictions in Bloomfield Hills for open intoxicants in a vehicle and operating while intoxicated. He received six points on his driving record for that episode and would have been eligible to reapply for his license April 22.

Past offenses occurred in both Oakland and Wayne counties after Gordon obtained a driver’s license in August 2007. Less than two months later, he was cited for speeding 90 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone in Novi.

Since then, he had received tickets in Waterford (possession of alcohol by a person under 21); careless driving (Novi); speeding (Redford and Novi); careless driving (Royal Oak); no proof of insurance (Taylor); speeding (Novi); OWI (Royal Oak); speeding (Bloomfield Hills); failure to signal and observe and failure to display a valid license (Highland Park); and allowing a suspended, revoked person to operate a vehicle (Novi).

That history “has nothing to do” with the force the officer used, Dedvukaj said. “There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever for this to have occurred.”

Royal Oak City Manager Don Johnson said Tuesday’s incident was the first officer-involved shooting in the city in at least seven years.

The officer involved in the shooting was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.

Gordon’s death has devastated family, who hope for “justice so that the public is protected and the integrity of the law enforcement system is kept,” Dedvukaj said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact sheriff’s officials at (248) 858-5000 or the Royal Oak Police Criminal Investigation Division at (248) 246-3456.