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Family of man killed by Detroit police will sue the department

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

An attorney representing the family of Porter Burks said Thursday that he intends to sue the Detroit Police Department after they shot and killed Burks over the weekend.

During a press conference in his Southfield office, Attorney Geoffrey Fieger called the police a “firing squad” and said an earlier press conference held by the police department in which officials described Burks' fatal encounter with officers was a “propaganda show.”

Fieger also said the family told him that Burks had been "dumped" at the hospital while handcuffed after being shot at 38 times. He said the family told him that officers did not inform them that Burks had been shot by police.

In an emailed statement, Detroit police refuted Fieger’s claims about what happened at the hospital, calling Fieger's account "just plain false."

"Officers transported Mr. Burks immediately to Sinai-Grace Hospital. One officer performed chest compressions on Mr. Burks in the back of the police car the entire way to the hospital in an attempt to keep him alive," the department's statement said.

"At the hospital, officers remained with Mr. Burks and remained engaged with the medical staff until a doctor, sadly, pronounced him dead," police said.

The statement did not address the use of handcuffs.

Several of Burks' family members came to the Thursday press conference, though they did not speak during it.

Fieger said he planned to file a lawsuit against the police department in Wayne Circuit Court next week. Before he does that, he said, Burks' mother, Quieauna Wilson, must be appointed as the estate's representative. Fieger said that process should take about a week.

Detroit Police Chief James White said at the police department's Tuesday news conference that a broken mental health care system failed Burks, who was 20 years old when he was killed on Sunday.

Officers said they responded to a report by his brother that Burks was having a mental health crisis.

Body camera footage of Sunday's encounter showed officers finding Burks holding a knife.

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

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

Police said five officers fired a total of 38 shots in three seconds. Burks had 15 wounds on his body, police said.

The five officers who shot at Burks were placed on administrative leave. They're being investigated by the Michigan State Police and internally by the Detroit Police Department.

Fieger and Chief White agreed that the healthcare system failed Burks.

But Fieger said police need to explain why they fired so many shots, and why officers didn't use tasers instead of guns.

"I’m not in it and this family isn’t in it for money, they can’t bring him back," Fieger said. "They want answers. And there’s thousands — hundreds of thousands — of other Porters out there who this shouldn’t happen to ever."

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.
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