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Family of Detroit man killed by police during mental health crisis sues city and 5 officers for $50 million

"There’s absolutely no excuse for the execution of Porter Burks under the facts and circumstances of this case," attorney Geoffrey Fieger said.

The mother of a young Detroit man shot more than a dozen times by police during a mental health crisis filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city and five unidentified officers.

Quieauna Wilson’s attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, who filed the suit Tuesday, told reporters at a news conference that officers "executed" Porter Burks on Oct. 1. 

"There’s absolutely no excuse for the execution of Porter Burks under the facts and circumstances of this case. The Detroit police had a myriad of alternatives available other than executing him by firing squad," Fieger said, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The lawsuit, obtained by NBC News, described Burks, 20, as someone who liked to dance and listen to music but said he had struggled with his mental health since high school. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had been in and out of the hospital for treatment, the lawsuit said, noting that his family or Detroit police officers would take him there.

When he had an episode, Burks would hallucinate and hear voices that were not really there. "He could respond normally" when he was on medication, the lawsuit said.

Porter Burks
Porter Burks.Courtesy Geoffrey N. Fieger

On Oct. 1, one day before the shooting, Burks went to his family's home "agitated and with a pocketknife in his possession," according to the suit.

Wilson told him he could not come inside with the knife and called police to ask for help getting her son to the hospital. Fieger has said the knife was 3½ inches long.

Burks left the home before police arrived but returned around 4 a.m. the next day with the pocketknife.

The lawsuit says Burks' brother told him he could not come into the home and called police for help. Burks again left before officers arrived, but this time police told the family they would look for him and take him to the hospital.

Burks' brother told officers that Burks was in a mental health crisis and had only a pocketknife on him, the lawsuit said.

Officers found Burks minutes later walking through a residential neighborhood. Police Chief James White released partial body camera video last month showing officers speaking to him.

For several minutes, the officers appeared patient and asked him to drop the knife so they could talk or give him a ride home. When Burks refused to drop the knife, an officer responded, "Can I ask why not?"

"I don’t want to talk," Burks appeared to say. "I just want to get some rest."

The edited video did not show the moment Burks was shot. In the moments before, he appeared to be waving his hands above his head before moving quickly toward the officers. Fieger said in the lawsuit that police fired 38 rounds.

In a statement Tuesday, White called Burks' death a "tragic event."

"The Department will continue to advocate for greater resources for the mental health community and will take every opportunity to improve its response to people suffering from mental illness," he said. "We firmly believe that if appropriate mental health facilities and treatment plans had been available, this situation may have been avoided. Regrettably, the DPD remains the primary emergency response service for individuals suffering from mental health emergencies."

All five officers, who have not been named, are on routine administrative leave, the police department said.

The city said it could not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit said Burks was "confused" when officers — "most of whom had their firearms drawn and pointed toward him" — approached him.

"At the moment mentally ill Porter Burks took a step forward with his hands raised above his head in a non-threatening manner, and while standing approximately 50 feet away from Defendant Officers" he was shot, it said.

A Wayne County medical examiner's report, released by the family's attorney, said Burks was shot 19 times, including six times in the chest and two in the head. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner was listed as a homicide, the medical examiner ruled.

The family accused the five officers of gross negligence, assault and battery and wanton and willful misconduct. The city is accused of violating the state’s Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act.