ROYAL OAK, Mich. - The family of a 28-year-old man who was fatally shot by a Royal Oak police officer in April is suing the city, calling the shooting unjustified.
Antonio Thomas Gordon, 28, of Commerce Township was shot and killed by a Royal Oak police officer on April 10 while sitting behind the wheel of his BMW outside a White Caslte drive-thru window.
The incident started about 6 p.m. when a Royal Oak police officer attempted to stop the BMW on Woodward Avenue near 13 Mile Road. Investigators now say the traffic stop was initiated because Gordon was driving recklessly.
Investigators said after a short pursuit, Gordon's vehicle came to a stop as traffic backed up from Coolidge Highway. As officers approached, Gordon fled in his vehicle. The lawsuit says Gordon "drove away fearing arrest due to a warrant which he believed was issued for his arrest."
About a half hour later, police located Gordon at the drive-thru window at the White Castle at 13 Mile and Coolidge roads. Officer Keith Bierenga blocked the vehicle with his patrol car and approached Gordon with his service weapon drawn. Gordon then "quickly put his vehicle in reverse, smashing into the vehicle directly behind him and then accelerated forward narrowly missing the officer, who had to jump out the way," investigators said.
According to the lawsuit, Gordon "at no time used the vehicle to strike or injure the officer." However, police said Gordon used the vehicle to ram his way out of the blockade. Bierenga fired his weapon, striking Gordon. He crashed his vehicle about a half-mile away and was later pronounced dead. Investigators said autopsy reports indicate Gordon's bodily alcohol content was three times the legal limit and tested positive for marijuana.
Several witnesses said they saw the whole incident.
"We saw the cop pull up to White Castle, and we saw him get out and draw his gun immediately. We heard four or five gunshots," said one witness. "We could see him swerving and driving really slow, and he looked out of it. And then he just started coasting into oncoming traffic, and I assumed that he passed out."
Shooting deemed justified
After a monthslong investigation, Bierenga was cleared of any wrongdoing. The shooting was ruled justified due to Michigan's "Self Defense Act," which states an individual may use deadly force against another when they "honestly and reasonably believe the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death," or or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.
Michigan law allows deadly force to be used in making an arrest when the "arresting person is met with force or when deadly force is required to prevent the person being arrested from fleeing."
However, Gordon's family is calling the shooting in violation of the United States Constitution's Fourth Amendment rights.
"Keith Bierenga deprived Antontio Gordon of his clearly established right, privileges and immunities in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution," reads the lawsuit.
The Fourth Amendment is part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
The lawsuit is seeking thousands of dollars in damages from the city of Royal Oak including compensation for Gordon's "conscious pain and suffering prior to his death."
In November, a multi-million dollar wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the city of Royal Oak on behalf of the family of Cody Reynolds, who was shot and killed by a Royal Oak police officer on May 14, 2018 following a domestic dispute call to the Reynolds’ family home.
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