Rochester Hills man charged with shooting at black teen

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills — A homeowner faces up to life in prison after being charged with firing a shotgun blast at a lost teen the man feared was breaking into his house.

Jeffery C. Zeigler, 53, was charged with assault with intent to murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony in a video arraignment from jail before Rochester Hills District Judge Julie Nicholson. The assault charge can carry a penalty of any term of years up to life in prison and the firearm offense carries a mandatory two-year sentence.

“There’s a lot more to this story that will come out,” Zeigler said, before Nicholson cautioned him about saying anything more without his attorney present. “… I would like to like to stay in my home and keep my family together.”

Nicholson entered a not-guilty plea for Zeigler and set a $50,000 cash assurety bond, no 10 percent. Bond conditions include no contact with the 14-year-old boy or his family; keeping at least 10 miles from the teen’s residence; no use of alcohol or controlled substances and random testing; surrender of all firearms or weapons to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office; mental health counseling at least twice a week; surrender of his passport; and instructions not to leave the state of Michigan and to notify the court of any address changes.

Nicholson set an April 25 probable cause conference and a May 1 preliminary examination on the charges.

Zeigler, a retired Detroit fire department lieutenant who is on a disability from injuries suffered in a house collapse, was described as a “pillar of the community” and a non-flight risk by a pretrial services worker but assistant prosecutor Kelly Collins asked Nicholson for a high bond in the case.

“If the law provided, I would ask for no bond,” said Collins, who added Zeigler “should have known better” than to fire his weapon under the circumstances. “… I’m asking that he not be permitted to return to Rochester Hills because of the likelihood that he might run into the victim.”

Collins said Zeigler had a police contact in 2005 involving another non-injury incident involving a firearm but could not provide Nicholson with any specifics.

Collins questioned Zeigler’s “candor” and recollection of events leading up to the shooting and said a home surveillance video viewed by investigators revealed his intentions. Zeigler initially told investigators he had tripped when running out of the house and the shotgun accidentally discharged.

No one was injured in the incident, which according to a preliminary report occurred about 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the 2200 block of South Christian Hills Drive. A woman who lived in the house called the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office to report a black man had been trying to break into their house and her husband had chased him off with a shotgun.The teen, who was located near the street, is a freshman at Rochester High who said he had missed his bus so he was walking to school when he became lost in the subdivision and stopped at the address to ask directions.

He said he had knocked on another door in the subdivision prior to the incident but was confused by directions he had been given by the first homeowner and became lost again.

Both the teen and Zeigler were questioned by deputies, who said the teen was wearing a backpack loaded with his school books and supplies.

The teenager was not in court Friday but his mother, Lisa Wright, sat through the arraignment and huddled with an assistant prosecutor afterwards.

“I don’t have any statement,” Wright said as she left the courthouse. “I’m still in shock.”

The sheriff’s Rochester Hills substation reported no problems with either the student or Zeigler in the past but did say records showed multiple runs had been made to the Zeigler home for break-ins and theft of beer from a garage. A teenager was eventually arrested in those incidents.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said this week’s incident was regrettable but that Zeigler had no right to shoot at someone fleeing his property.

Citizens inside their homes when faced by an intruder can lawfullly defend themselves if they feel their safety is threatened in a break-in.

Earlier Friday, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had called on Oakland County prosecutors to level strong charges against the man who discharged his firearm at the African-American teen.

“The shooter should be robustly charged according to our state’s criminal law for shooting at the unarmed teen who simply came to a home asking for directions,” said Dawud Walid, CAIR-MI’s executive director. “We suspect that the alleged shooter may have been motivated to attempt to murder the unarmed teen due to racial bias.”

Charles E. Ramirez and Leonard N. Fleming contributed.