"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.
Summary of the Facts
On October 1, 2022, at 6:36 p.m., a family member of Porter Burks, 20, of Detroit, called 911 and reported that Mr. Burks had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was outside with a knife. Other 911 calls were made on October 2, 2022, at 4:13 a.m. and again at 4:58 a.m. At 5:04 a.m., five Detroit officers arrived at Mr. Burks' house located in the 14900 block of Littlefield and spoke with his brother. He was very concerned because Mr. Burks was walking around the neighborhood with a knife and was having a "real bad episode". His brother agreed to go with officers to petition that Mr. Burks be admitted to a hospital if he could be located. He indicated that he would need transportation because Mr. Burks had slashed his car tires with a knife.
At 5:09 a.m., the officers located Mr. Burks the next block over, on Snowden near Lyndon. He was standing in the middle of the road in front of a house in the 14540 block of Snowden. Officers announced to each other Mr. Burks was armed with a knife. Officer 1 told Burks in a calm voice to drop the knife and that he was not in any trouble. At least three other officers formed a perpendicular line to Mr. Burks stretching across the road from sidewalk to sidewalk. Mr. Burks was in front of the officers and their scout cars were parked on both sides of the road behind them. The evidence shows that most of the officers had their weapons out and pointed down at their sides, and one officer had a taser.
During this time Officer 1 and Officer/Sgt.2 spent almost five minutes asking Mr. Burks in calm tones to put the knife down so they could talk to him and get him help if he needed it. The officers referred to Mr. Burks' brother being concerned for him, that they were concerned for him, and that they just wanted to get him some help. In the meantime, other officers radioed for a medic, though apparently none were available.
The investigation showed that the officers spoke to Mr. Burks using his first name, posed open ended questions, asking what he wanted to have happen, and when he said he wanted to get some rest they offered to take him wherever he wanted to go if he put the knife down. Mr. Burks repeatedly refused, at one point telling officers that he "like[d] to hold the knife." The officers made no threats and used no hostile remarks or tones. They told Mr. Burks to stay where he was and not come any closer to them, especially when Mr. Burks would occasionally appear to begin walking toward them. Officer/Sgt. 2 had the officers back up at least once and reminded them to not advance on Mr. Burks.
At approximately 5:14 a.m., Officer 1 continued speaking with Mr. Burks, who was pacing back and forth in the middle of the street. Officer 1 said, "We can get you home, we just need you to drop the knife." Suddenly, at a distance of approximately 40-45 feet, Mr. Burks took long strides directly toward Officer 1 and then broke into a run. Mr. Burks' arms were raised above his head, flailing, with the knife still in hand. The officers yelled more warnings to Mr. Burks and when he did not stop, they fired. Officer 1 took a few steps backwards. Mr. Burks was shot and fell to the ground near where Officer 1 initially stood. The officers stopped firing immediately after Burks fell to the ground, and the knife was kicked away from the area near his head.
The officers holstered their weapons and provided CPR at the scene. Mr. Burks was not breathing, and CPR was continued while the police transported him to a local hospital. He was declared deceased shortly after arrival at the hospital.
DPD evidence technicians determined that the knife wielded by Mr. Burks was an eight-inch-long lock blade knife.
It appears that Mr. Burks was able to cover approximately 40 feet in under three seconds, approximately 35 of which were in the last two seconds while he was running with a knife, and police were shooting at him. Before he collapsed, he was approximately six to eight feet from Officer 1, the primary officer who tried to talk Mr. Burks into dropping his knife.
Investigation of the scene indicates a taser was deployed. There is no evidence of the taser having taken effect upon Mr. Burks.
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.
The Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office noted that Burks was shot at 19 times, including a shot to the top of his head, chest, abdomen, arms, and legs. There was no evidence of close-range firing.
Mr. Burks' Background Known to Family Members
DPD has two separate reports of Mr. Burks having assaulted a total of two adults. He allegedly non-fatally cut two individuals with a knife in March 2020. Although police reports were made by the victims, when the warrant was being reviewed the complainants could not be reached and the warrant request was denied.
In August 2020, Mr. Burks is alleged to have used a knife to non-fatally cut a 7-year-old girl reported to the police to be the child of his mother's boyfriend. Mr. Burks was never arrested for this incident. Although the police were contacted, the family refused to make themselves or the child available for an interview with DPD.
Most recently, WCPO authorized Resisting and Obstructing charges against Mr. Burks in July 2022, arising from his having escaped psychiatric care at Sinai and assaulting a police officer who tried to bring him back into custody. He was not arraigned on that case.
More than one of these reports note that his family reported Mr. Burks had schizophrenia and was not compliant with his medication. DPD officers involved in the fatal shooting were unaware of Mr. Burks' prior contacts with the law. However, his family knew how violent he had been in the past and this explains why his family called the police when he was in crisis on October 1 and 2, 2022.
Analysis and Charging Decision
The actions of the officers were based upon what they observed and knew at the time of the incident. The officers knew they were dealing with a person who was reported to have a history of mental illness and to be in psychiatric crisis as reported by his brother. He was observed to be irrational, and the officers knew he was armed with a knife. They also knew that his behavior made his family so concerned for his safety and others in the neighborhood that his brother volunteered to assist in petitioning the court to have Mr. Burks taken to a hospital for evaluation. Officers also knew he had used the knife to slash his brother's tires that night.
The officers were engaged with calm negotiations to try to get Mr. Burks to disarm himself. Mr. Burks was unprovoked when he charged toward Officer 1 and the other officers with a knife.
Officers repeatedly warned Mr. Burks to keep his distance prior to his running, then ordered him to stop and drop the knife. Given how rapidly Mr. Burks was charging toward the police while armed with a knife, the decision to shoot Mr. Burks was justified. Under the facts and the evidence in this case the officers' acted in self-defense and defense of others. Accordingly, no charges will issue in this case.