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Prosecutor Says Detroit Cops Justified In Killing Man Who Charged Them With Knife

Detroit, MI – The five Detroit police officers who fatally shot a suspect after he ran at them with an eight-inch knife while they were trying to negotiate with him last month will not face criminal charges.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced on Nov. 23 that the officers did “all that they could to de-escalate the situation,” before ultimately shooting 20-year-old Porter Burks in self-defense, WDIV reported.

Burks’ family has alleged the armed suspect wasn’t a threat to anyone and that officers “flat-out” murdered him.

“This is a truly tragic case,” Worthy said in a statement to WDIV. “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.”

She noted that the officers tried to get Burks to put down the knife so they could get him medical assistance, but he refused.

“The police spent a significant amount of time trying to get him to drop his weapon,” Worthy wrote, according to WDIV. “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,” she added. “Unfortunately, Mr. Burks was fatally shot by the officers in self-defense and defense of others.”

Detroit Police Department (DPD) Chief James White said the fatal officer-involved shooting was tragic and that it is yet another example of the need for additional resources for citizens suffering from mental illness, WDIV reported.

“We greatly appreciate the time Prosecutor Worthy spent reviewing the facts and circumstances of this incident,” Chief White said.

“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,” the police chief explained.

The series of events leading up to the fatal shooting began on Oct. 2, when one of Burks’ family members called 911 to report Burks was armed with a knife and had slashed the tires of his brother’s vehicle, WJBK reported at the time.

Burks left the scene prior to officers’ arrival, bodycam footage showed.

“He’s frantic and has a knife,” one of Burks’ relatives told police out in front of the house. “I’m concerned for people.”

His family said Burks had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and that he was in the midst of a mental health crisis, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The officers told Burks’ family member that they would transport Burks to the hospital if they were able to locate him, and that they would then come pick the family member up and give him a ride to the hospital, as well, bodycam footage showed.

“The desired outcome was to get Mr. Burks some help… to get him secured and to a hospital,” Chief White said during a press conference last month.

The officers located the armed man standing in the middle of the street near the intersection of Lyndon and Snowden at approximately 5 a.m., the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Drop the knife for me, man!” one of the officers yelled out to Burks, bodycam footage showed. “You’re okay. You’re not in any trouble…Can you just talk to me and drop the knife?”

Chief White said the officer who tried to speak with Burks was a member of the DPD’s Crisis Intervention Team and has received specialized training in de-escalation and mental crisis intervention, WJBK reported.

“I just want to help you, man, OK? Can you do me a favor and drop the knife? Can you drop the knife for me?” he asked, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Please? Please, whatever you’re going through, I can help you. Porter, you’re not in any trouble, man.”

“Your brother is worried about you,” another officer told Burks. “You wanna get some help?”

The officers continued to ask Burks how they could assist him, but much of his responses were inaudible.

The officers calmly told Burks to put down the knife, but he refused, bodycam footage showed.

They also repeatedly instructed him not to walk towards them.

Bodycam footage showed the officers pleading with Burks to work with them just before he suddenly began running towards them with the blade in his hand.

Multiple officers opened fire on the advancing armed suspect at the same time, hitting and killing him, WJBK reported.

Investigators said the five officers fired a total of 38 rounds in three seconds.

Burks was shot 19 times, WDIV reported.

“I want to once again extend my condolences to the family of Mr. Burks, who are obviously grieving the loss of their loved one,” Chief White said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Any time the department has to use force is never, never a desired outcome. We always hope for a peaceful resolution.”

The DPD said Burks had stabbed three of his family members over the course of the past three years, WJBK reported.

One of the victims was just seven years old.

Police said the first incident occurred in March of 2020, when Burks stabbed his sister in her neck and hand, then stabbed his brother in the top of his head when he tried to rescue their injured sister, WDIV reported.

He stabbed his seven-year-old stepsister in her neck just five months later, according to police.

Burks was committed to a mental health facility for another incident on June 26, but he escaped and had to be apprehended by police during that incident, WJBK reported.

The DPD said it took four officers and multiple Taser deployments to subdue him after the escape.

He allegedly punched one officer in the face during the altercation, WDIV reported.

“This is a system that has failed Mr. Burks and Mr. Burks’ family,” Chief White said, according to WJBK. “We need help with the system. Officers are routinely put into this mode and, candidly, we’re seeing more and more violent episodes.”

“I think the bigger discussion needs to be not what the police are doing with mental health, but who else is helping us with mental health issues,” the chief noted, according to the Detroit Free Press. “The officers had to stop the threat. There’s no time in the three seconds and someone charging at you with a knife to look over and see what other people are doing.”

Burks’ family declared the fatal shooting was nothing short of “flat out murder,” the Detroit Free Pres reported.

“The community knows Porter. They trusted Porter. They helped Porter. They loved Porter,” his aunt, Michelle Wilson, told the Detroit Free Press.

“He wasn’t a threat to no one,” she added. “Y’all didn’t even give him a chance. We are outraged.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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