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Police have interviewed a woman who says she saw a Dearborn police officer struggling with a man in a backyard on the city’s west side Wednesday, a fight that culminated in the officer fatally shooting him.

The officer, identified by a police source familiar with the investigation as a five-year veteran with no disciplinary record, spotted Kevin Matthews walking near the Dearborn/Detroit border. Matthews was wanted for a probation violation and had escaped from officers earlier Wednesday after committing a larceny in Dearborn, according to a Dearborn police press release.

“The witness said she saw a struggle,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. “We’ve talked to her, and will interview her again as the investigation moves forward.”

He said it’s unclear whether the woman corroborates the officer’s story. He claimed Matthews tried to wrest his gun from him as they struggled, according to two police sources.

“It’s always a tragedy when someone loses their life, and my condolences and prayers go out to the family,” Craig said. “We are committed to having a thorough investigation into what happened, and finding the truth.”

Craig said police have not yet interviewed the officer. “It’s still very early in the investigation,” he said.

The incident started at 12:27 p.m. Wednesday, when the officer radioed in to Dearborn police dispatch: “Approaching one on foot, Tireman and Whitcomb,” according to dispatch audio.

Three minutes later, the officer, breathing heavily, reported: “Shots fired,” before adding, “I’m OK ... we have a suspect with a gunshot wound.”

When more police arrived at the scene, a home in the 8000 block of Whitcomb, the officer was covered in mud, his uniform was ripped, and the belt holding his service pistol was loosened, Craig said.

“There clearly was some kind of a struggle,” Craig said.

A Detroit Police homicide task force that includes Michigan State Police is investigating the incident. “After that, we’ll forward the findings to the Wayne County Prosecutor to determine if there was any criminality,” Craig said.

Craig told reporters at the scene Wednesday: “This suspect has been a crime problem in this area. Local businesses were familiar with him.”

In addition to the probation violation warrant, the man was suspected of numerous crimes in the area, Craig added.

Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore criticized Craig’s comments.

“Because of ... Craig’s biased statement against the deceased suspect, this situation would warrant an independent investigation from the Michigan State Police, solely,” he said. “Craig should be trying to give the public trust in this investigation, as opposed to creating tension between the community and the police.”

Craig responded, “I disagree. My saying there was a struggle doesn’t mean the suspect went for the officer’s gun. I didn’t say that. That’s something that will be determined during this investigation.

“(Moore) should look at what happened in Chicago, where they didn’t communicate what was going on. We’re not going to have that. In today’s environment, there is no option to say nothing. That doesn’t work anywhere.”

When the officer arrived at a nearby hospital for treatment of minor injuries sustained in the skirmish, a police source said he wasn’t aware the suspect had died, and that he asked whether he was OK.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality released a statement Thursday urging Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad to suspend the officer involved in the incident.

“For the sake of Kevin’s family, and for the peace and safety of our community, we believe suspension of the officer is necessary until the facts are known,” coalition spokesman Ken Reed said. “We are hopeful that Chief Haddad will do the right thing in this matter, and (we) will continue to conduct our own investigation as well to ensure that justice is served.”

Haddad said at the scene Wednesday: “I stand behind the officer, and we’re going to have a full investigation with Detroit police.”

Craig said his office has reached out to community activists. “They support us doing a full investigation,” he said.

An autopsy on the body has been scheduled for Friday, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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