Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Wednesday, Nov. 23, her decision not to charge the five police officers who together fired 38 rounds at 20-year-old Burks on Oct. 2 on the city’s west side. Burks, who was reportedly experiencing a significant mental health episode, was fatally shot when he charged at officers with the knife in hand, officials said.
According to the prosecutor’s office, Burks’ brother called 911 on Oct. 2 because his brother was having a “real bad episode” and was walking around the neighborhood with an eight-inch-long lock blade knife. Detroit police reportedly received several calls regarding Burks that morning, including one the evening before, when a family member reported that Burks had been “diagnosed with schizophrenia and was outside with a knife,” officials said.
At about 5:04 a.m., five Detroit police officers arrived at Burks’ home on Littlefield Street, near Lyndon Street and Schaefer Highway. Police were reportedly met by Burks’ brother, the one who called police, who agreed to go with them to locate Burks in hopes of admitting him to a hospital, officials said.
Officers found Burks walking in the area of Snowden Avenue and Lyndon Street, standing in the middle of the road and armed with the knife. The prosecutor’s office says the five officers formed a line in the road and spoke to Burks for several minutes in an attempt to get him to disarm. Burks reportedly ignored the requests and refused to drop the weapon.
At about 5:14 a.m., one officer told Burks that they could get him home if he dropped the knife. That’s when Burks “took long strides directly toward” the officer then “broke into a run,” officials said. Burks reportedly ran with his arms raised above his head while still holding the knife.
The five officers, who were reportedly armed and holding their weapons at their sides, yelled warnings for Burks to stop, but he did not. The officers fired 38 rounds in total, of which 19 struck Burks in his head, chest, arm and elsewhere.
Officers rendered aid but Burks was not breathing. Police transported him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The police shooting garnered significant attention throughout the community, with activists protesting on several occasions to demand more information about the shooting and that the officers be held accountable.
Prosecutor Worthy said she ultimately decided not to charge the officers because they were acting in self-defense and did “all that they could to deescalate the situation.”
“This is a truly tragic case. Mr. Burks had a long history of mental illness and violent behavior and a propensity for carrying knives that had been communicated by his family to the responding officers. He previously allegedly cut two individuals and a 7-year-old girl in 2020,” Worthy said in a statement Wednesday. “The police spent a significant amount of time trying to get him to drop his weapon. 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 deescalate the situation before Mr. Burks charged at the police. Unfortunately, Mr. Burks was fatally shot by the officers in self-defense and defense of others.”
“The death of Porter Burks remains a tragic event that continues to call attention to the need for additional resources for those suffering from mental illness. This includes reinstituting long-term mental health treatment centers, greater awareness of behavioral health challenges, and additional training. It also includes recognizing our responsibility as a community to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to individuals in mental distress.
We greatly appreciate the time Prosecutor Worthy spent reviewing the facts and circumstances of this incident. Ensuring an objective review of such a tragic incident required the utmost professionalism within both the Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, particularly at a time like this when emotions are running high. Their independent review confirms that the actions of our officers were justified under the circumstances.
Enhancing and expanding mental health response and increasing crisis stabilization services remains a top priority for Mayor Duggan and the Detroit Police Department. We will continue to work with city departments and our community partners in this endeavor."Detroit police Chief James White