Woman killed by Dearborn police near mall ‘distraught’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Authorities have ruled the death of a woman shot by police outside Dearborn’s Fairlane Town Center on Wednesday a homicide.

Janet Wilson, 31, died from multiple gunshots, according to the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, which said the death was a homicide. The office was expected to turn over findings to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

Dearborn police Chief Ron Haddad asked Michigan State Police to investigate the incident, which began earlier at JCPenney at the mall, where witnesses told police Wilson had appeared “distraught” and incapacitated, according to MSP’s Lt. Michael Shaw.

Contacting state police is a “pretty common practice” across Michigan in instances of officer-involved shootings, Shaw said. The Chevy HHR the woman drove is in MSP custody, Shaw said.

It was the second fatal shooting of an African-American in the last month involving a Dearborn police officer.

Kevin Matthews, 35, an unarmed black man, was shot Dec. 23 by a Dearborn police officer. Friends and family have described Matthews as harmless and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Dearborn police claim he went for an officer’s gun before he was fatally shot on Whitcomb on Detroit’s west side.

The officer has been placed on paid administrative leave, Dearborn police have said. The Detroit Police Department is investigating that case.

Haddad said Thursday that once the criminal investigations conclude, the department will conduct internal reviews on both incidents.

“Both of the officer-involved shooting incidents are being independently criminally investigated by outside agencies, and we are totally committed to transparency and disclosure by fully cooperating with these investigations,” Haddad said in a statement.

“While we are very proud of our long history of civil rights advocacy as well as our history of appropriate use of force, we will closely examine all of our policies and procedures to ensure that we are employing the latest training and following national best practices in all of our responsibilities to the community.”

But activists, who identified Wilson on Thursday as African-American, say the second fatal shooting in as many months involving Dearborn police and unarmed suspects from Detroit underscores a need for policy changes.

“Our concern is that when you have two (fatal) shootings in less than 40 days, this is a pattern,” said Chris White, a member of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. “This is an organizational cultural problem within the Dearborn Police Department.”

Wednesday’s incident remains under investigation, but Wilson appears to have tried to hit a security guard and a vehicle outside the mall with her Chevrolet HHR, Shaw said. He said no weapon was found in her vehicle.

Dearborn police, who were called by mall personnel to the scene, tried to pull her over nearby but she fled onto Hubbard Drive, he said. Traffic briefly stopped the woman, but when it cleared as officers approached, she “started to speed away, almost striking an officer,” Shaw said. An officer pulled out a weapon and shot at her, he said.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality called for more police training.

“It appears that police sworn to ‘protect and serve’ are instead exercising target practice on Detroiters and persons of color, now tragically ending in the death of yet another Detroit individual. This is a pattern and practice that we must break,” Sandra Hines, the group’s president, said in a statement Thursday.

To ensure that, the coalition is calling for a probe, more information on the officer involved and a departmental overhaul, White said. “We do understand there’s a culture that exists. And no task force or civil rights statement from a PR firm is going to change the fact or bring back the lives of Wilson and Matthews.”