Family of Porter Burks to sue Detroit police department, officers involved in 20-year-old's shooting

Family of a 20-year-old man killed by Detroit police while in the midst of a mental health crisis plan to sue the department and the officers involved in the fatal shooting. 

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said Burks' mom would need to be appointed as the head of the victim's estate before the suit could be filed. Once the appointment is approved, the Southfield attorney said he would be filing a suit alleging negligence by the police officers, as well as violations against the civil rights act and the state constitution.

Fieger spent Thursday morning chastising the Detroit police department and James White, disagreeing with the police chief's characterization of the Sunday morning shooting and accusing him of attempting to mislead the public.

"Clearly a mentally ill young man was executed by a Detroit Police Department firing squad of five officers firing reportedly 38 times into his body," the attorney said. 

Family of Burks had called police early in the morning of Oct. 2 due to a mental health episode that the 20-year-old was experiencing. Fieger said the family has a history of schizophrenia and Burks began exhibiting symptoms of the illness when he was 17.

Burks' brother called 911 and alerted police he had a pocket knife. Body camera footage released Tuesday show the moments leading up to the fatal incident.

The attorney also raised questions about the distance that officers were from Burks when they began shooting and how he was transported to the hospital. 

Feiger spent part of Thursday's press conference criticizing the department's response days after the shooting, though Fieger did agree with White on one sentiment the chief made.

"I think he is correct and tried to communicate to the public an essential problem that occurs in the state and many others," he said, referencing the state's closure of its mental health facilities when he ran for governor decades ago. "The state of Michigan at that time defended mental health."

Michelle WIlson, Burks' aunt leveled a similar statement about the state of mental health care in Michigan Wednesday.

"It definitely needs to be something in place for people with mental illness," she said. "There is nowhere for them to go, and the police need to be trained."

RELATED: ‘There’s nowhere for them to go;' Fatal shooting of Porter Burks spotlights need for better mental health care

According to White, one of the officers that responded to incident had crisis intervention training - the education that officers go through when they learn to deescalate situations involving mentally ill individuals. 

But making police officers the go-to officials for managing mental health issues is misguided, Fieger said.

"There was an absurd belief that you could medicate mentally ill people like Porter, close down the mental health facilities, put the onus on local hospitals and emergency rooms. But what in fact happened was instead of mental health being a health issue taken care of by doctors and trained mental health professionals, nurses, psychologists, social workers - instead what it has defaulted to the police and the prisons."

Fieger said he hopes to have a lawsuit filed in either state or federal court by next week. 

Detroit police replied to Fieger's comments in a press release:

"We normally do not comment on statements made by attorneys in litigation with the city, but some comments made by Mr. Feiger today cannot go uncorrected. The body cam videos of the incident show the efforts our officers made to deescalate the situation with Mr. Burks. DPD is proud of the many times we have achieved safe outcomes with armed and mentally ill individuals by relying on trained interaction and a great deal of patience. The officers hoped to achieve the same outcome with Mr. Burks, until he charged at an officer with a knife. The officers had only 5 seconds to stop the threat. Mr. Feiger's claim that officers dumped Mr. Burks at the hospital are 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. At the hospital, officers remained with Mr. Burks and remained engaged with the medical staff until a doctor, sadly, pronounced him dead. This is a tragedy felt by everyone in the community and by every member of the Detroit Police Department. Unfortunately, Detroit Police officers are having to confront a growing number of cases of armed individuals suffering from mental illness in our community. The department is investigating every aspect of this tragic incident to do everything possible to avoid the loss of life in these situations in the future."