DETROIT — Detroit police officers who fired 38 rounds at a 20-year-old Black man wielding a knife will not be charged for his death, a county prosecutor said.
Porter Burks, who police said had schizophrenia, was believed to be experiencing a mental health crisis when he was fatally struck 19 times during a confrontation with officers early on the morning of Oct. 2.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced her decision not to prosecute responding officers Wednesday, saying they had minimal time to “eliminate the threat,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
“The police spent a significant amount of time trying to get him to drop his weapon,” Worthy wrote in a statement. “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.”
Body camera footage shows law enforcement pleading with Burks to drop the 3 1/2-inch (9-centimeter-long) blade he was carrying on a dimly lit Detroit street.
“Drop the knife for me, man. Come here real quick. You’re OK,” said a member of the Detroit Police Department’s crisis intervention team about 5 a.m. on the city’s west side. “You’re not in any trouble. Can you just talk to me and drop the knife?”
“You’re not in any trouble, OK?” 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.”
But Burks — who had a history of struggling with mental illness — didn’t drop the knife and after pacing in the middle of the street suddenly sprinted toward officers, who fired 38 shots in three seconds, hitting him 19 times. Burks was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The decision not to prosecute the officers who killed Burks “devastated” his family, said Michelle Wilson, Burks’ aunt.
The family’s lawyer announced earlier this month that they are suing the city for $50 million in a wrongful death lawsuit claiming gross negligence, assault and battery, and more.
“He was a smart, loving person. He was a human. That’s a life. He didn’t deserve to be murdered,” Wilson said.
“It feels like (Burks’ death) is happening all over again. We are hurt, words do not describe the pain.”
Demonstrators near the site of Burks’ death called for change in the way police respond to mental health calls.
Detroit Police Chief James White called the shooting a “very tragic situation.”
“Not the desired outcome. This is not what we wanted,” said White, who later added “our mental health crisis in this country is real. Our mental health crisis in our city is real.”