Porter Burks death: Detroit officers won't be charged in shooting of man having mental health crisis

No charges will be filed against Detroit Police Officers in the shooting death of Porter Burks, the 20-year-old man who was shot more than a dozen times in early October.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has been reviewing the circumstances of what led to the shooting death of the man who was in the middle of a mental health crisis and carrying a knife when he was shot 15 times in 3 seconds. A total of 38 shots were fired 

On Wednesday, sources confirmed that Worthy decided that no charges will be filed against the officers involved in the shooting.

Burks was killed in the early hours of Oct. 2 in Detroit after DPD Chief James White said he refused to comply with the officer's orders to put the knife down. When he ran towards Detroit Police Officers, White said they had no choice but to take shoot the 20-year-old man.

The family has been informed that charges will not be filed.

"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 seven-year-old girl in 2020. 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 de-escalate 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," said Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

The Detroit Police Department released this statement after the decision was made by Worthy:

"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."

"At this moment the feeling is devastated. I mean I can't even describe how I feel," said Burks' aunt, Michelle Wilson.

Wilson said charges would have been justice for the family.

The family says they called 911 that night and next morning because Burks had a knife. The family says Burks didn't attack them but had slashed the tires of his brother's car.

White released bodycam video of the shooting in the days after Burks died. The video showed the officer extending his hand in front of him, which White said was part of his training to show Burks that he was not a threat.

The officer asked him to drop the knife multiple times and asked Burks what he wanted.

Other officers asked him what he needed as he stood in the middle of the street, about 20 feet away from the officers as they urged him to drop the knife.

After about four minutes of trying to convince him to drop the knife, he starts to run toward the officers, who then shot him when he was about six feet away, investigators say.

DPD Chief James White  said the officers were in fear for their lives.

Police say Burks had schizophrenia and stabbed three family members - including a 7-year-old - the past three years. At one point, he was committed to a mental health institution, which he later escaped from. It took four officers to take him into custody and multiple Taser deployments during that escape.

In the weeks after the shooting death of Burks, his family and protesters demanded that the involved officers be identified but police refused to do so.

Burks' family ultimately retained attorney Geoffrey Fieger who filed a $50 million lawsuit against the police department.

"You don't even need to be a police officer to understand there must have been 1,000 different things that could have been done other than shooting him," Fieger said on Nov. 1 when announcing the lawsuit.