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Detroit Police Detail Circumstances Surrounding Fatal Shooting Of Porter Burks

A family member called it ‘a straight-up murder’ of their mentally ill relative, but the police are defending the officers.

Detroit police officials said Tuesday (Oct. 4) that a knife-wielding man fatally shot by officers last weekend was mentally ill and had encounters with police before.

Police Chief James White told reporters at the press conference that Porter Burks, 22, suffered from schizophrenia, the Associated Press reports. He called the shooting a “very tragic situation” and “not the desired outcome” of the police encounter.

According to the police, several officers responded on Sunday (Oct. 2) to a 911 call around 5 a.m. about a man with a knife on the city’s west side. A man identified as Burks’ brother told officers that Burks suffered from mental illness.

When the officers found Burks, they unsuccessfully used a stun gun to subdue him when he ignored their orders to drop the knife. Five officers fired 38 rounds in three seconds as Burks charged at one of them with the weapon on a west side Detroit street. Burks was pronounced dead at the hospital.

At the press conference, White showed police body camera footage of officers pleading with Burks to put down the 8-inch knife.

“Drop the knife for me, man. Come here real quick. You’re OK,” a Detroit Police Department crisis intervention team member said on the footage, according to the AP. “You’re not in any trouble. Can you just talk to me and drop the knife?”

The officer continued: “I just want to help you. I just want to help you, man. OK? Can you just drop the knife for me please? Please? Whatever you’re going through, I can help you.”

An autopsy by the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office was not completed by Tuesday, but the police believe the rapid gunfire struck Burks at least 15 times. The police chief said the officers immediately administered first aid.

White defended the officers’ response as part of their training.

“The officers had to stop a threat. They felt threatened,” White stated. “There’s no time in three seconds — and someone charging at you with a knife — to look over to see what other people are doing. You, as a trained police officer, are trained to stop the threat.”

Meanwhile, Burks’ family is demanding answers. His aunt, Michelle Wilson, called the shooting “a straight-up murder,” according to The Detroit News.

After the police press conference, which the police barred the family from attending, Wilson added, “If anyone out there has a family member or a loved one (in crisis), help them yourself. Don't call 911. They might not make it.”

The family has hired a lawyer to represent them as they consider taking legal action.

“When we have sufficient evidence and an understanding of the facts of the case we will report to the media and the public," their attorney Geoffry Fieger stated, according to the News. “We are working hard to understand how and why a mentally ill citizen, whose family called for help, was tased and then reportedly shot over 30 times.”

Burks has a known history of mental illness that has led to police involvement. In June, he escaped from a Detroit hospital psychological ward wearing hospital attire and was arrested as he ran in and out of traffic. And in August 2020, Burks stabbed his stepsister, 7, in the neck. Earlier that year, he stabbed his sister in the neck and his brother in the head.

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