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Detroit Police say broken mental health care system led to fatal police shooting

DPD Chief James White 3.png
Michigan Radio
During a press conference when he shared crime statistics, Detroit Police Chief James White said he believes gun-related enforcement has contributed to a decline in violent crime.

Detroit Police Chief James White said Tuesday that a broken mental health care system failed 20-year-old Porter Burks.

Burks was shot and killed Sunday by officers who responded to a report by his brother that Burks was having a mental health crisis, according to police.

Detroit Police Director of Professional Standards and Constitutional Policing Christopher Graveline said police and mental health agencies have encountered Burks several times over the last few years.

Body camera footage of Sunday's encounter shared by White at Tuesday's press conference showed officers finding Burks holding a knife.

The video showed Burks ignoring and refusing officers' commands to drop the knife.

"Drop the knife and we'll be good," an officer says in the recording played for reporters.

"You're not in any trouble, just drop the knife and we'll get you some help," another officer says.

In the video, Burks runs at one of the officers, seemingly without warning. Officers opened fire.

Police said Tuesday that five officers fired a total of 38 shots in three seconds.

White said after the shooting, officers gave Burke first aid and transported him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Burks had 15 wounds on his body, police said.

"This is a system that has failed Mr. Burks. It has failed Mr. Burks' family because they’ve obviously tried to get him help. And unfortunately it has culminated in the incident that we have before us today. We need help with the system," said White.

Anytime there is an officer-involved shooting, there are two investigations, one by Graveline's team within the Detroit Police Department and another by an outside agency.

In this case, the criminal investigation will be led by Michigan State Police. That investigation will be submitted to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

Graveline said Burks had been diagnosed with schizophrenia that manifested in violent behavior.

He said Burks stabbed two family members in March 2020 and again in August 2020. This year, family called police when Burks was walking around trying to fight people, police said. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital, but he escaped and ran into traffic before he was taken in again by police, according to Graveline.

Chief White said the incident is indicative of bigger problems. "Our mental health crisis in this country is real. Our mental health crisis in this city is real," he said. "This is not just a police matter, we’re a response unit. Mr. Burks was in the care of mental health facilities and he did not receive the treatment he needed — he so desperately needed."

The five officers are on administrative leave while police investigate. White says he will not be releasing the officers names while they're under investigation.

“This is a tragic situation,” White said. “Anytime we use force, it’s not the desired outcome. Anytime we use fatal force, it’s the worst outcome.”

Briana Rice is a reporter/producer operating out of Detroit.