Lawyer: Porter Burks' family will sue Detroit police officers




  • In US
  • 2022-10-06 19:49:29Z
  • By Detroit Free Press

Attorneys for the family of Porter Burks, the Detroit man killed by police Sunday during a mental health crisis, announced Thursday at a press conference they will be filing a lawsuit against the officers who shot 38 rounds in three seconds.

"We have what I consider to be an intolerable situation that occurred in the city of Detroit, in which a clearly mentally ill young man was executed by a Detroit Police Department firing squad of five officers," attorney Geoffrey Fieger said. "I hope that Chief White is listening - I have more questions today than answers."

Porter's body was handcuffed after being shot multiple times and "dumped" at the hospital, Fieger said. When asked for comment on the handcuffs, the department only said the allegation that Burks was "dumped" at the hospital is "just plain false."

What to do in a mental health crisis: Tips for families

Police believe Burks may have been shot 15 times. The department is awaiting confirmation from the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office.

Over a dozen family members, including Burks' mother and siblings, were at Fieger's office in Southfield as he addressed the public. They were somber, quiet. Many held one another, some unable to hold back tears.

Burks' family and Fieger's demand for justice comes after a tense confrontation between the family and Detroit police on Tuesday, when portions of body camera footage of the killing were released to the public.

Police initially told the public that officers deployed a stun gun before shooting and ultimately killing Burks, a 20-year-old who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But on Tuesday, Detroit Police Chief James White told reporters it's unclear at this time whether a stun gun was actually used. Family members said they were told moments before the Tuesday news conference that he had been shocked and shot "at the same time."

Fieger said Thursday that he also believes Burks was shocked with a stun gun.

Burks' family has called the killing "flat-out murder."

Sequence of events

The footage from a crisis intervention officer's body camerashows Burks, who was allegedly holding a knife with about a 3.5-inch blade, wandering in the street near Snowden and Lyndon at about 5 a.m. Sunday. Police had been told by Burks' brother that he was experiencing a mental health crisis and frantic. Earlier that evening, Burks had gotten hold of a pocket knife and slashed his brother's tires, his brother told police. He was concerned for Burks and others.

More:Detroit police release footage of officers fatally shooting Porter Burks

In the video, the crisis intervention officer can be seen with his hand out to Burks, repeatedly asking Burks to put the knife down.

"I just want to help you, man, OK? Can you do me a favor and drop the knife? Can you drop the knife for me? Please? Please, whatever you're going through, I can help you. Porter, you're not in any trouble, man," the officer said.

Burks was mostly inaudible, but he could be heard saying that he wanted to rest. He refused to put the knife down.

Later, the footage appears to show Burks attempt to possibly run toward or quickly approach the officers, but the video isn't fully clear.Police began shooting almost immediately. White said that police believe Burks was about 6 feet away from officers after the last shot.

"The officers had to stop the threat," White said Tuesday.

Fieger said at Thursday's press conference that the distance apart was "tremendous" - closer to 46 feet.

He accused White of purposely misleading the public. Burks was not running towards officers; rather, he was putting his hands up, Fieger said. He said it's "absurd" to claim Burks lunged towards officers and was a threat.

"Why you can't figure out a better way to deal with him than executing him by firing squad?" Fieger asked at Thursday's press conference.

"You have all sorts of equipment, all that body armor that police have," he said. "They have helmets, they have arm and chest armor. They have bulletproof vests everywhere. Are you telling me that today, you don't have sufficient equipment to send an officer towards somebody with a 3-inch knife and instead you have to execute him?

If that's crisis intervention, God help us all."

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger and associates, representing the family of Porter Burks, the Detroit man killed by police Sunday during a mental health crisis, announced Thursday at a press conference they will be filing a lawsuit against the officers who shot 38 rounds.
Attorney Geoffrey Fieger and associates, representing the family of Porter Burks, the Detroit man killed by police Sunday during a mental health crisis, announced Thursday at a press conference they will be filing a lawsuit against the officers who shot 38 rounds.  

'Propaganda show'

Fieger called White's press conference a "propaganda show" that attempted to portray Burks as violent.

Burks had gone to the hospital due to mental illness at least twice prior to his killing and was a victim of "a system that has failed (him) on several different occasions," said White and Chris Graveline, the director of the Department of Professional Standards within the Police Department.

Graveline recounted a previous incident where Burks allegedly stabbed his family members, but Fieger said they were scratched rather than stabbed, and that Burks had been experiencing a psychotic break.

Fieger also took issue with the way White described the knife as being 8 inches - the blade on the knife is about 3.5 inches - and the way the footage was shown in portions rather than its entirety.

Police respond to claims

The Detroit Police Department released a statement Thursday afternoon denying Fieger's claims.

"We normally do not comment on statements made by attorneys in litigation with the city, but some comments made by Mr. Fieger today cannot go uncorrected," the statement read.

Body cameras showed officers made efforts to de-escalate the situation with Burks, the department wrote in its statement.

The department also said in its statement:

  • Officers immediately transported Burks to the hospital.

  • One officer performed chest compressions in the backof a police vehicle while on the way to the hospital in an attempt to keep Burks alive.

  • Officers remained with Burks in the hospital and remained engaged with medical staff until Burks was pronounced dead.

  • The department has had many "safe outcomes" when dealing with armed and mentally ill individuals.

"This is a tragedy felt by everyone in the community and by every member of the Detroit Police Department," the statement read. "Unfortunately, Detroit police officers are having to confront a growing number of cases of armed individuals suffering from mental illness in our community. The department is investigating every aspect of this tragic incident to do everything possible to avoid the loss of life in these situations in the future."

Mental health

Fieger said he does agree with White on one thing: mental health care needs to be addressed and improved.

"Instead of mental health being a health issue - taken care of by doctors and trained professionals, nurses, psychologists, social workers -  instead it has been defaulted to the police and the prisons," he said. "And we expect that police and prison officials should appropriately deal with mental health. They're not trained to do so. They're not capable of doing so."

This has led to hundreds of deaths at the hands of police, like in Porter's case, and will lead to more, Fieger said.

"That has to change."

White has said they will not be releasing the names of the officers involved, but that they are on administrative leave pending the outcome of Michigan State Police and internal investigations. The findings will then be turned over to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to determine whether charges against the officers are appropriate.

Burks was described by family members as kind and loving, a good, "straight-A" kid. He loved to dance, to listen to music. He was quiet, happy. And he is missed.

Andrea Sahouri covers criminal justice for the Detroit Free Press. She can be contacted at asahouri@freepress.com or on Twitter @andreamsahouri

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Porter Burks' family will sue Detroit police officers after shooting

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