Family of man slain by Detroit police files $50M lawsuit

Nov 1, 2022, 9:58 AM | Updated: 2:01 pm

DETROIT (AP) — The family of Porter Burks, a Black man fatally shot during an early morning confrontation with Detroit police, is suing the city for $50 million, their lawyer announced Tuesday.

Five unnamed officers also are named in the wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday by attorney Geoffrey Fieger. It claims gross negligence and assault and battery, among other things.

Burks’ Oct. 2 death was recorded by police body cameras as officers pleaded with him to drop a knife he was carrying.

They initially were called to a home on the west side about a knife-wielding man who was having a mental health crisis and spoke to a man who identified himself as Burks’ brother. The man said Burks had slashed the tires on his car.

“Drop the knife for me, man. Come here real quick. You’re OK,” a member of the Detroit Police Department’s crisis intervention team can be heard telling Burks. “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.”

Burks — who police say had schizophrenia — was shot as he sprinted toward officers from the middle of the street.

Police officials have said 38 shots were fired in three seconds. Burks was struck 19 times, according to an autopsy report provided Tuesday by Fieger.

Detroit police are conducting an internal administrative probe into the shooting, and the officers who fired shots at Burks have been placed on administrative leave. State police are also investigating and are expected to submit their findings to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office.

Police Chief James White told reporters at a news conference two days after Burks was shot that the mental health crisis in Detroit and around the nation “is real.”

The Detroit Police Department will continue advocating for mental health resources, White said Tuesday in response to the lawsuit.

The department also “will take every opportunity to improve its response to people suffering from mental illness,” White said in a statement.

“We firmly believe that if appropriate mental health facilities and treatment plans had been available, this situation may have been avoided,” he said. “Regrettably, the (department) remains the primary emergency response service for individuals suffering from mental health emergencies.”

On June 26, Burks was admitted to a Detroit hospital psychiatric ward after he was found walking in his neighborhood “looking to fight someone,” police said.

He escaped two days later in hospital garb and was arrested by officers as he ran in and out of traffic.

In August 2020, he stabbed his 7-year-old stepsister in the neck. That March, he stabbed his sister in the neck and his brother in the head.

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Family of man slain by Detroit police files $50M lawsuit