Dearborn officers cleared in 2 fatal shootings

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Two Dearborn police officers will not face criminal charges in connection with the fatal shootings of two African-Americans in separate incidents, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said Wednesday.

The officers were cleared of charges in the deaths of Kevin Matthews, 35, who was shot Dec. 23, 2015, after a foot chase and tussle, and Janet Wilson, 31, of Detroit, who was fatally wounded on Jan. 27, following a disturbance outside Fairlane Town Center.

The incidents sparked comparisons to a spate of deadly shootings of unarmed African-American men by white police officers across the country. The deaths of Matthews and Wilson prompted local protests and calls for more thorough investigations.

Announcing her decision not to file criminal charges against the officers, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office’s goal is to “make just decisions according to applicable law.”

“These decisions were particularly difficult and heart wrenching for all parties involved, including me,” Worthy said in a statement. “We take our responsibility very seriously and both cases had many issues to investigate.

“After careful analysis we have concluded that we cannot prove the Matthews case beyond a reasonable doubt because of the laws of self-defense,” she said. “We also cannot prove the Wilson case beyond a reasonable doubt because of the law of self-defense, the law of defense of others and the law regarding apprehension of a fleeing felon.”

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality on Wednesday decried Worthy’s decision.

“Here it is almost a year to the day when Kevin Matthews was murdered by Dearborn police and the Wayne County prosecutor makes this call ... the ultimate insult to the Matthews family and the community,” said Kenneth Reed, a coalition spokesman. “This man wasn’t able to put up a tussle. He was hit by a car (a week before the shooting) and his arm was broken. We’ve very disappointed they are doing this to this family a few days before Christmas.”

Reed said he believes the prosecutor “had no intention of (prosecuting) those police officers anyway.”

Dearborn police refused to comment Wednesday.

Matthews was fatally shot some time after Dearborn officers responded to a report of a disturbance at a gas station at Tireman and Greenfield.When officers arrived, they asked Matthews to step outside the store, but he fled. .

Later, during an unrelated traffic stop, a Dearborn police officer saw Matthews walking near the same location. The officer yelled “Stop, police!” as Matthews fled. They ended up in a driveway in the 8800 block of Whitcomb, where Matthews climbed over a fence into a yard. An “intense struggle” ensued, the prosecutor said, and Matthews pulled the ammunition magazine from the officer’s duty belt. The officer, who was allegedly on his back, fired nine shots from his gun, killing Matthews.

The Prosecutor’s Office said audio and video from the traffic stop also was reviewed as part of its investigation.

It took four months to view the in-car video “due to a technical difficulty,” which required an analysis by experts from Dearborn Police Department, Detroit Police Department, Secret Service and the West Bloomfield Michigan Police Department.

The incident involving Wilson occurred after she left Fairlane, where she had caused a disturbance, yelling at a store clerk and other customers, authorities said. She also attempted to run down mall security that day, the Prosecutor’s Office said.

Dearborn police followed Wilson on Hubbard Drive as she left was allegedly driving erratically and making gestures at others.

Two officers approached Wilson’s vehicle. One officer was allegedly “inches” from the front bumper of Wilson’s vehicle when she allegedly pulled forward. The officer pointed a gun at Wilson as he ordered her to stop and turn the vehicle off. The officer shot three times through the front windshield on the passenger side of the vehicle and once through the passenger side window.

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, video from the patrol car shows the officer near the bumper “backing away from Wilson’s car as he continues to shoot.”

“It does not make sense that he would move backward and discharge his weapon unless he felt the need to immediately move to a place of safety, while Ms. Wilson’s car was moving,” the release notes.

Wilson was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She had three gunshot wounds to her chest and another that entered and exited an arm.

“It is well established that a police officer attempting to make a lawful arrest may use that force which is reasonable under the circumstances in his own self-defense,” the Prosecutor’s Office said.

Both Matthews and Wilson “had mental issues and they both were unarmed,” said Reed from the Detroit coalition.

“(Police officers) had her pinned in. All of the officers on the scene and they couldn’t take that woman into custody without shooting her to death,” he added.

The families of Matthews and Wilson have filed multi-million dollar federal lawsuits against the city of Dearborn and the officers involved.

“Today marks another dark day in the criminal justice system. Janet Wilson’s family is deeply disappointed in the prosecutor’s decision and disagrees with her analysis of the evidence, notably the discrediting of valid eyewitness testimony,” said A. Vince Colella, an attorney representing Wilson’s family. “Prosecutor Worthy’s decision not to charge is another example of how the criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with fatal police shootings and rogue police officers who use excessive force against citizens.”

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