IN FOCUS: Raymond Peterson
About Officer Peterson
Raymond Peterson was the most well-known of the STRESS officers. He was recruited to the unit in 1971, following a decade of relatively tame police work with DPD. By the end of STRESS’s first year, though, for his aggressive policing and often fatal tactics, Peterson had earned the nickname “Mr. STRESS”, used by both those in support of the STRESS unit and those against it.
In fact, by the end of 1971, Peterson had been involved in 8 fatal shootings of Black civilians. To most Black Detroiters, Peterson was a deadly villain. To so many white Detroiters, and even higher-income Black communities in the city, Peterson was cleaning up the streets: preventing street muggers from devolving further into brutal murderers or drug ring operators.
[Add details of Peterson killings from Ramparts article]
On May 11 of 1971, Peterson was responsible for the very first fatality of the STRESS program, when he shot Herbert Childress. Peterson claimed Childress and his companion, James Henderson, charged him with a knife, leading him to fire twice and fatally wound Childress.
In September of that same year, following more shootings, fatal and nonfatal, by police, Peterson shot and killed James Henderson at the Neal Hotel in Detroit. According to testimony from Rawley McDuffey, the hotel’s desk clerk during the shooting, STRESS officers were the ones who brought Henderson to the hotel, dragging him in, beating him, and then calling, “Run n*****!” to him. They shot and killed him as he fled. There are a number of conflicting testimonies on file for this event, and that, paired with Henderson’s history testifying against Peterson in the Childress case, has led to reasonable suspicion about the assassination of Henderson by STRESS.
Some months later, in March of 1973, Peterson shot and killed Robert Hoyt following a fender-bender between their two cars. Peterson’s account at the time stated that Hoyt had attacked him at the scene with a knife, and Peterson even had a slash through his jacket. This shooting, one of the 22 civilian “suspect” fatalities linked directly to STRESS, sparked an investigation that found debris that matched Peterson’s own pocket contents and cat hairs belonging to Peterson’s cat on the knife he claimed belonged to Hoyt. The lab didn’t find any particles on the knife that matched Hoyt’s clothes or pockets. It seemed that, at this point, police were not only baiting “criminals” on the street as decoys. Some, like Peterson, may have also been planting weapons to cover their own tracks.
Jeffrey Patzer, an officer who later resigned to come forward about misconduct he witnessed within DPD, told the Detroit Free Press that instructors in the department had advised carrying a knife around in case an unarmed citizen was shot and killed. This raises further suspicions about the other shootings Peterson was responsible for, most of which involved the suspect supposedly pulling out a knife.
Raymond Peterson was arraigned for the murder of Robert Hoyt on March 23, and was immediately suspended from all DPD activity. He was ultimately acquitted of second degree murder, and, though a police trial board upheld his firing, was also awarded two years back pay. This was a major event when it came to shifting perspectives on STRESS in its early stages, as some people who had not previously questioned the methods of STRESS began to.
Raymond Peterson had spent a full decade on the Detroit police force before STRESS was created, and his involvement in the first four STRESS shootings, paired with his seniority in the department, likely set an example for his fellow officers. Peterson, who had not been involved in fatal shootings prior to his time on STRESS began to make a habit of shooting at Black Detroiters in 1971, and his time with STRESS ended not only with the death of a Black civilian, but also with a planted weapon. Officer Raymond Peterson is not only a key figure in almost a dozen STRESS-related shootings, he is also significant for his role in the corruption that was rampant throughout DPD at this time.
Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1973
The Michigan Chronicle, 1973