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No charges for Detroit officers who shot and killed Porter Burks

DPD Chief James White 3.png
Michigan Radio
Detroit Police Chief James White.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s office will not press charges against the Detroit police officers who shot and killed Porter Burks on October 2, saying evidence shows they acted in self-defense.

Burks had schizophrenia, his family and police have said. Burks' family called police to report he had a knife and was in the midst of what his brother described as a “real bad episode.”

Officers found Burks in the street with the knife. According to Worthy’s review, they attempted to de-escalate the situation, but Burks suddenly ran at them quickly and unprovoked. A medical examiner's report showed he was shot 19 times and died at the scene.

“This is a truly tragic case,” Worthy said in a statement. “The police spent a significant amount of time trying to get him to drop his weapon. He suddenly ran at them with the knife and covered the distance between them in approximately three seconds. Eyewitnesses to the shooting were interviewed and indicated that the police did all that they could to de-escalate the situation before Mr. Burks charged at the police. Unfortunately, Mr. Burks was fatally shot by the officers in self-defense and defense of others.”

Worthy said Burks had a history of knife violence, and that officers acted appropriately given the circumstances. “The actions of the officers were based upon what they observed and knew at the time of the incident. The officers knew they were dealing with a person who was reported to have a history of mental illness and to be in psychiatric crisis as reported by his brother. He was observed to be irrational, and the officers knew he was armed with a knife.”

Detroit Police Chief James White said Burks' death "remains a tragic event that continues to call attention to the need for additional resources for those suffering from mental illness.”

“This includes reinstituting long-term mental health treatment centers, greater awareness of behavioral health challenges and additional training. It also includes recognizing our responsibility as a community to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to individuals in mental distress," White said.

He said the prosecutor’s “independent review confirms that the actions of our officers were justified under the circumstances.”

White has said his department has dealt with a sharp spike in mental illness calls this year. Detroit Police shot and killed another person with schizophrenia earlier this month.

Burks’ family has filed a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit against Detroit Police. The family’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, declined to comment on Worthy’s charging decision Wednesday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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