Detroit Police Kill Deaf-mute Man--30 Aug. 2000

Published: Thu 31 Aug 2000 08:59 AM
August 30, 2000
Detroit police described it as a case of self-defense.
But relatives and neighbors who saw police fatally shoot a 39-year-old man on the city's northwest side shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday said police ignored their cries that the man couldn't hear or speak. They said police killed the neighborhood yardman who posed no immediate threat to them.
"I was screaming down the street, 'He's deaf, he's deaf, he's deaf,' " said Katina Crumpton, 24, of Detroit, when she tried to stop police from shooting her uncle, Errol Shaw Sr.
Crumpton said police opened fire on her uncle at least twice while he stood holding a rake 15 feet away from them. She said Shaw's mother, Annie Shaw, also screamed at the officers not to shoot. Crumpton said their pleas were cut short by gunfire.
It was not immediately known how many officers fired, but Crumpton said her uncle was facing four or five officers.
"It was a cruel, crying shame what happened here today," Crumpton said. "This madness has to stop."
Shaw died Tuesday night at Sinai-Grace Hospital in Detroit, where he was taken after being shot twice in the side outside his home in the 16500 block of Ferguson near McNichols.
The internal affairs section is investigating the killing. The officers involved in the incident were taken to police headquarters for questioning, a routine practice in police shootings. Under department regulations, the officers are off the street pending completion of the investigation.
Police said they were summoned to the house by a report that Shaw was armed and chasing his parents, Vernon and Annie Shaw, with whom he lived.
When officers from the 8th (Northwest) Precinct arrived and confronted Shaw in the driveway, police said, he ran to the back of the home. They said he returned with a metal rake and menaced them.
"He was threatening his father," said Deputy Chief Herman Curry, who was at the scene. "The rake was a threat to the officers."
The department's public information office said police fired when Shaw swung the rake at them. Curry said officers reported they fired when "he was in a striking position."
Curry said police were told that Shaw had a knife at some point in the confrontation with his parents, but that it hadn't been found.
He also said officers didn't know Shaw could not hear or speak.
"The officers didn't know he was deaf-mute," Curry said.
Several neighbors told reporters they heard people screaming at the police before the shooting that Shaw couldn't hear them. When asked about the statements, Curry said no one had given that information to investigators. "No one has come forward and said that," Curry said.
Crumpton disputed that, saying she gave detectives a detailed statement after she witnessed the shooting.
Her account was supported by neighbor Kim Armstrong, who said she heard the shouted warnings while standing outside her home several doors away.
" 'He's mute, he's deaf, he can't hear,' Then three shots -- pow, pow, pow," Armstrong recalled. "It was unnecessary. He didn't have a gun -- he had a rake."
Crumpton also said the detectives appeared "nonchalant" as she told them what happened and that other officers stood around laughing and joking.
Crumpton and neighbors also criticized police for waiting too long to take Shaw to the hospital in a scout car when EMS failed to appear.
Crumpton said police failed to provide any attention to her uncle as he lay on the ground next to the house. An unidentified neighbor said the only attention he saw police provide Shaw was to shoo flies away from his bloody wound.
Neighbors like Ann Humphrey said the gunfire was unnecessary. "Their life wasn't in danger," she said. "They could have maced him. They didn't have to shoot."
Curry said officers are issued disabling chemical sprays as part of their equipment, but he didn't know why it wasn't used.
Neighbor Donald Friday, like others, described Shaw as "Errol the yardman" because he did lawn work and odd jobs.
"He was no problem," Friday said. "All he does is cut grass and make a little money."
"Their reaction was utterly ridiculous. There's no way in the world he could have attacked them. I was hurt. Now I'm angry."
Family members said he was not violent. Shaw's son, Errol Jr., said he was told his father was with his parents and that Shaw's mother told a neighbor to call police.
Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer ordered police shooting investigations handled by internal affairs in May after the Free Press confronted police executives with allegations that the homicide section was not aggressively investigating police shootings.
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