Mapping Police Killings
This map highlights 6 known cases of Detroit Police Department officer homicides of civilians, and one nonfatal shooting that resulted in paralysis, from 1958 to 1963. These 6 cases represent barely one-fourth of the official total of police-involved fatalities during this time period, which is likely an undercount. According to statistics compiled by the police department and city government, DPD officers killed 22 civilians between 1958 and 1963 (and another 6 civilians in 1957).
The Detroit Police Manual, revised in 1962, stated that police could use deadly force "to apprehend or prevent escape of a known felon," when no other alternative to capture existed, and that the officer must witness the felony (including burglary) to "shoot to prevent escape." The policy also stated that police officers should not shoot their revolvers at "a person who is called upon to halt upon mere suspicion" or "a person who is running away to avoid arrest for a minor offense" (see policy at right).
Four of the fatalities involve people shot by police officers from behind when fleeing for alleged nonviolent offenses or no offense at all: one black male teenager and one white male teenager shot during alleged car thefts (joyriding), one black male 21-year-old shot for suspicion of misdemeanor theft, and one black female sex worker murdered for refusing to submit to an illegal arrest. The other two fatalities involve deadly force by multiple officers against an adult white male and an adult black male who were experiencing mental health crises. The incident resulting in paralysis started with a suspicion-less, racial profiling stop.
Before 1962, DPD policy allowed officers to use deadly force against fleeing suspects, even for alleged misdemeanor offenses and for encounters involving juveniles. After the 1962 revision, the DPD and prosecutor continued to justify deadly force by defining misdemeanor-level offenses as felonies or claiming, in disputed cases, that the deceased civilian was armed and represented a threat to the officer's life. The DPD's Trial Board and the Wayne County prosecutor found all of these killings to be justifiable homicides. Major protests followed the 1963 killings of Kenneth Evans (white) and Cynthia Scott (African American).
Police Homicides and Shootings of Civilians, 1958-1963
Police Homicide Cases
Lark Jordan, a 38-year-old white male, died on May 6, 1958. Jordan was experiencing a mental health breakdown and calling for help when arrested for "malicious destruction of property" by two officers in the middle of the night. According to the police report, Jordan 'went beserk' while being transported to Receiving Hospital, and the officers called for assistance. At least a dozen more officers arrived and as the group subdued Jordan, he died of suffocation from the straps used as restraints. The coroner ruled it "necessary to subdue the man" and that with the restraint straps in place, "he continued to scream, thereby exhausting most of the air from his lungs." The prosecutor found the police actions justified because of Jordan's mental illness and actions. The DPD report (at right) exonerated the officers and did not contemplate whether it was good policy, rather than legally permissible, for police to use deadly force to arrest a man for a misdemeanor property offense while he was experiencing a mental health episode.
Lawrence G. Paul, a 21-year-old African American male, was shot and killed by Patrolman Donald W. Ogle, a white officer, during the crash crackdown on Dec. 29, 1960. A woman reported that Paul had allegedly stolen a carton of Christmas cards out of her station wagon. The officers responded and pursued the fleeing suspect, who was unarmed. According to the official report, Ogle shot and killed Paul from a distance of 200 feet. The Wayne County prosecutor ruled the case to be a justifiable homicide a couple of hours later, after a cursory investigation that involved asking Ogle to make a statement. (The 1962 revision of the DPD's use of force policy disallowed firing at an unarmed and fleeing suspect for misdemeanor theft).
David Carson, a 14-year-old African American male, was shot and killed by Patrolman Peter Hall during a police chase on May 13, 1962. Two white police officers began chasing Carson after he ran a red light in a stolen car. Carson crashed the car and began to flee on foot. Patrolman Edward Zupancic fired at Carson three times and missed. Patrolman Hall fired twice, and one bullet struck Carson in the back of the head. The police officers and newspapers reported that Carson was 5'9'' and weighed 175 pounds, and "appeared much older than 14." Carson also had escaped from a juvenile detention center, although the officers did not know that during the chase. The NAACP protested the killing of a juvenile, but the DPD and the prosecutor exonerated Patrolman Hall. For more information, see the detailed analysis on the Police Shooting of Juveniles page.
Cynthia Scott, a 24-year-old African American female, was shot in the back two times and killed by Officer Theodore Spicher in the early morning hours of July 5, 1963. Spicher claimed that Scott attacked him with a knife after he sought to arrest her, allegedly for larceny. Multiple witnesses disputed this story and stated that Spicher shot Scott as she walked away after refusing to submit to an 'investigative arrest,' which he did not have the authority to carry out. Massive protests followed the prosecutor's exoneration of Spicher. For the full story, see the Brutal Murder of Cynthia Scott and Protesting the Cynthia Scott Killing pages.
Kenneth Evans, an 18-year-old white male, was shot in the back on July 12, 1963, by DPD officers Paul Funk and Charles Archibald. Evans allegedly stole a car to joyride with friends and ran away when police tried to arrest him. The incident resulted in large protests by white Detroiters against the DPD and sustained criticism after the prosecutor exonerated the two officers. Detailed information is on the Police Shooting of Juveniles page.
L. B. Bridges, a 42-year-old African American male, was shot and killed by two white officers, Sgt. Joseph Cox and Patrolman Richard Wing, on October 1, 1963. Bridges supposedly went crazy and brandished a shotgun in his grocery store, putting two children in danger, and so the police were called. A trial board exonerated the officers and applauded their bravery.
The Shooting and Paralyzation of William C. Green
On September 18, 1961, William C. Green and two co-workers were parked on the corner of Commonwealth Street and Grand River Avenue to let one of the passengers get out of the car. All three were African American men. Two white officers, Patrolman Abraham Azzam and Patrolman John Tabor, stopped to investigate, allegedly because Green's car was illegally parked, too far away from the curb. William Green stepped out of the car at their request and provided his personal and vehicular papers. The officers also asked for indentification from the passangers, which one provided, but the other did not have any.
The two officers noticed a hatchet on the floor of the car under the front seat, which one of Green's passengers moved to the trunk, which held other tools used in the men's profession, painting and masonry contract work. Officer Azzam stated to his fellow officer, "we have three B and E 'ers," referring to breaking and entering suspects. The officers led the men across Grand River Avenue to a police call box and lined them up against a storefront. Officer Azzam also used racially derogatory language toward the three men.
Defending his civil rights, William Green stated that the officers had no right to detain them and became agitated about the unfounded investigation. As Green attempted to leave, Officer Azzam pushed him back into line, resulting in a struggle between the two. Azzam began to beat Green over the head, and as Green attempted to defend himself, he also began to run away. Patrolman Azzam pursued and shot William Green in the back. Green was taken to Receiving Hospital and survived but was left partially paralyzed as a result.
William Green's saga is an example of how Detroit police officers racially profiled and commit violence against innocent African Americans. Patrolman Azzam initiated the confrontation based on an alleged traffic violation that DPD officers enforced against African Americans in discriminatory and disproportionate ways, and often as a pretext for an illegal investigative arrest and detention. Azzam escalated the confrontation after Green initially complied with his request for identification, and the officers detained the men without any reasonable suspicion, making their actions illegal, also while using racist language and brutality. Then Patrolman Azzam used lethal force against an unarmed, fleeing man, paralyzing him.
The assistant prosecutor, George Kent, conducted an investigation and publicly criticized Azzam, stating: "we can't have police officers running around shooting people for parking violations." The Wayne County prosecutor, Samuel Olsen, then intervened and exonerated Patrolman Azzam, saying he had "acted lawfully" in every way. Olsen claimed that William Green had been "belligerent" and had made an "unprovoked and unjustifiable attack upon the officer," making him guilty of felonious assault. Prosecutor Olsen therefore ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide," despite strong evidence that William Green had only tried to defend himself from being beaten.
William Green eventually had his right leg amputated as a result of the shooting. He continued to press for justice and accused the Wayne County prosecutor of a cover-up, as explained by the story in the Detroit Courier (right), an African American newspaper.
The gallery below contains an investigation of the William Green case by the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing organization. The report found that Azzam's actions were illegal and that Prosecutor Olsen "did a substantial disservice to the cause of justice" and reported a "biased summary of the facts" in his public exoneration.
Mayors of Detroit Papers, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library
Detroit News, Dec. 30, 1960
Detroit Free Press, May 15, 1962
Detroit News, Oct. 25, 1963
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan/Metropolitan Detroit Branch Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University