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Newly released video shows aftermath of police shooting of Porter Burks in Detroit

Detroit Police Department via Facebook

Detroit police have released videos that show a fuller account of a police shooting that killed Porter Burks — a Black man in a mental health crisis — almost a year ago.

Detroit residents, as well as family members of Burks, raised questions about the edited footage released by police shortly after the encounter and called for the release of unredacted, unedited video.

Following the police killing of a young man with schizophrenia several months ago, Michigan Radio collected resources to find support for people in mental health crisis.

Now, Michigan Radio has obtained previously unreleased footage through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

It shows that police attempted to resuscitate Burks after shooting him 19 times in the span of about three seconds following a mental health call in October, eventually pulling his unresponsive body into a squad car and driving him to the hospital.

The officers were responding to a 911 call from Burks’ brother, who told dispatchers that his brother had schizophrenia, was “having a real bad episode,” and was armed with a knife. The additional body camera footage from Officer Seamus Waderlow and another officer at the scene, obtained by Michigan Radio, shows officers shifting from firing shots to deploying aid.

Waderlow, a crisis intervention training team officer, took the lead after he and nine other officers responded to the call. The video shows him and other officers firing multiple rounds in Burks’ direction.

Seconds into firing, Waderlow calls, “Ceasefire, ceasefire!” and then, a moment later, another command: “Help him! Help him!”

Just over 15 seconds after the shooting began, officers put handcuffs on Burks.

redacted-video-waderlow-porter-burks.mp4

“He’s not breathing guys,” Waderlow said after approaching Burks. He asks if anyone has shears, presumably to cut his clothing to see his wounds, before asking for a medical kit and for paramedics to be called.

Less than a minute after the shooting, an officer appears to be performing CPR on Burks.

A little under two minutes after the shooting, the officers stop waiting for medical help to arrive, and instead decide to put Burks into the back of a squad car. Several officers carry Burks to a nearby police car. “Throw him in the back,” Waderlow directs, and then, “Pull his legs across.”

“Coming in hot,” Waderlow radios from his police car as he prepares to drive.

The video continues until the officers arrive at a nearby hospital.

Ever since Detroit police shot and killed Burks in October, residents have called for police to release the full, unedited body camera footage from their fatal encounter at public meetings. In May, the Board of Police Commissioners even demanded release of the unedited footage — but the Detroit police do not appear to have complied.

Michigan Radio filed a freedom of information request for the body camera footage soon after the police encounter. Now, after a months-long effort, we received three videos of the encounter between Burks and police on a dark street in his neighborhood last fall. The longest is just under 12 minutes long.

Detroit Police Chief James White made the rare decision to release part of the body camera footage in the days after officers fired 38 shots at Burks after he ran at officers with a knife in hand. In a press conference two days after the fatal encounter, White described the incident as a “tragic situation” and pointed to how one of the officers who spoke to Burks used techniques related to crisis intervention training.

But the footage he talked through at a press conference had numerous starts and stops. It began when police saw Burks in the middle of the street and it went black after several shots were fired.

After showing the footage, White described the approach he would expect officers to take. “You, as a trained police officer, are trained to stop the threat,” he said, and then added, “Multiple officers fired, as we've indicated. And that's part of their training because you see someone being advanced upon with a knife. And, you know, we've had officers stabbed and knife fights are very, very serious.”

Michigan Radio shared the footage with Burks’ family through their lawyer, Todd Weglarz, asking for comment on the newly released video. Weglarz’s office did not immediately provide a response to the footage.

Weglarz’s firm, Fieger Law, is representing the Burks’ family in a lawsuit against the City of Detroit and officers who are unnamed in the complaint. Burks’ family is seeking $50 million in damages for alleged assault and gross negligence.

The officers involved in the shooting did not face criminal charges, since Wayne County Prosecutors’ Office declined to bring them following an investigation of the incident.

Michigan Radio previously reported on how experts in aspects of crisis intervention training responded to how the officers responded to the call for help, and had differing views about the number of officers involved, how they communicated with Burks, and their use of lethal force.

Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Radio's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.
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