Attorney General’s Office issues ruling on November 2018 shooting

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 5, 2021

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — On March 9, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office made a final ruling that a Shelby Township police officer acted with justification when he fatally shot a suspect in 2018 who turned out to be unarmed.

The Attorney General’s Office said that it had cleared officer Jason Zuk, who was the officer who fired the one shot in the incident in Shelby Township in November 2018, and closed its file on the incident.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel had agreed last July to review the 2018 case in which the suspect, a 25-year-old Macomb County man, turned out to be unarmed, to evaluate whether charges should have been filed against law enforcement involved in the incident. The Attorney General’s Office said it reviewed 18 different types of evidence, including hours of footage from four police dashboard cameras that captured the incident, and it spoke to all of the officers involved in the incident.

All of the officers and the dashcam recordings indicated that the suspect, Kanwarbir Malhi, ignored commands to put his hands up after getting out of his vehicle and moved toward police while reaching into the center pocket of his jacket, which caused police to fear that he was reaching for a gun. The investigation showed that Malhi had told police in the minutes before the fatal events that he had a gun.

“Officer Zuk acted under an honest and reasonable belief that he and other officers were in danger of death or great bodily harm at the time he fired the one shot. He had to make a ‘real time’ split-second decision in an extremely tense and dangerous situation. A police officer is protected if he reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary. The perceived danger need not be real and a person under great stress and excitement is not required to use infallible judgment in the space of a few seconds. However, as in this case, where the person against whom the force is directed is known to carry a weapon or indicates that he is carrying a weapon on his person and makes a move to use it, deadly force is permissible,” states the last paragraph of the Attorney General’s Office’s 20-page report.

“This matter will receive an exhaustive review and analysis with an impartial lens, and when completed, our department is committed to transparency in our decision-making process, irrespective of the outcome. Justice demands nothing less,” Nessel stated in the July 23 press release announcing that her office would review the case.

According to the Attorney General’s Office’s report, Malhi suffered from mental issues. He began showing signs of mental illness at around age 15, and the symptoms became more severe with age. Malhi’s brother told the Attorney General’s Office that Malhi had severe mood swings and had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder “six months to a year” before his death. Malhi also had drug problems and had sought treatment for opioid addiction, according to the Attorney General’s Office’s report.

On Nov. 1, 2018, Malhi’s mother originally called the police about her son possibly being missing.

According to the Attorney General’s Office’s report, before police arrived, she had found him agitated in the basement. When the police arrived, Malhi’s mother told them that she had received a text message from her nephew telling her that her son had sent the nephew a message about “going far away.” According to the Attorney General’s Office’s report, Malhi’s mother said that, in her culture, this meant that he wanted to harm himself. When police entered the house, Malhi reportedly would not cooperate with officers and told them to get out. Malhi reportedly continued to become more agitated, and officers then left the residence, explaining that they could not force Malhi to go to the hospital.

Malhi then got into a verbal dispute with his mother over the use of a 2005 Honda family vehicle, according to the report. His license was expired, and his mother wouldn’t let him drive the vehicle. According to the report, Malhi’s sister said that Malhi stated during the argument, “If you call the police, they will never take me alive.” He also spoke about “suicide by police,” the report states.

Malhi took the Honda, and the next day, his mother filed a stolen vehicle report with the Shelby Township Police Department, the Attorney General’s Office found.

An officer investigating the report at 1 a.m. Nov. 3 observed a 2005 Honda in the Spring Hill Apartments complex. At 12:59 a.m., according to the report, officer Joseph Wojcik conducted a license check of the 2005 Honda and discovered that the vehicle was stolen. At 1:01 a.m., Wojcik confirmed his location with the Police Department, which called for backup units.

According to the report, when Wojcik confronted Malhi and asked him to show his hands, Malhi initially did, but then he pulled them back in the car and refused to comply.

Other officers began to arrive, and Malhi continued not to comply with directions. At one point at 1:05 a.m., according to the Attorney General’s Office’s report, Wojcik can be seen on camera asking Malhi, “You got a gun?” and then yelling over to officer Dan Messing “backup let them know Dan (Officer Dan Messing) said he has a gun.”

At 1:08 a.m. on the dash camera, Wojcik reportedly sees Malhi making movements toward the backseat of the vehicle and yells, “He’s moving something,” according to the report.

Zuk arrived at the scene at 1:08 a.m.

“At 1:09, Malhi exits the vehicle while multiple officers continue to yell repeated commands for him to put his hands up. Malhi does not comply with those commands. The dash camera footage of Malhi is partially obscured by the adjacent truck. This makes it difficult to see what Malhi does with his hands, but in the footage, it appears that as the officers are yelling commands for him to ‘put his hands up,’ he makes a sudden movement towards the front area of his body. Almost immediately after that movement, Officer Zuk fired a single shot from his department-issued shotgun at 1:09:26 AM,” the Attorney General’s Office’s report states.

Malhi fell to the ground, having been hit in the upper chest and neck. After he fell to the ground, Malhi briefly sat up and made a hand gesture toward the officers before going down again, the report states. Dispatch was immediately notified and EMS called. Officers at the scene immediately rendered medical aid to Malhi using a defibrillator and manual chest compressions, the report states.

As the officers tried to help Malhi, the audio from Wojcik’s dash camera recorded someone saying the words “no gun.” According to the report, it is unclear who said those words. Malhi was taken to Troy Beaumont Hospital and was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m., the report states.

Zuk told the Attorney General’s Office that he thought Malhi was trying to pull a weapon from his jacket pocket but that it appeared the weapon was stuck in the pocket. Zuk told the Attorney General’s Office that he was afraid Malhi would shoot through the jacket at police.

“Officer Zuk stated that fearing for his own life, the life of Officer Wojcik and his fellow officers on the scene, he aimed at the suspects chest and fired one time with shotgun number 10. The suspect stood for a moment and fell to a sitting position. Then he rolled on his back. His right hand had come out of the jacket pocket, and his right index finger was pointed straight out with his other fingers in a fist, like a gun,” the Attorney General’s Office’s report states.

In 2018, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office presented the case to the Macomb County Prosecutor for review on the charge of manslaughter-death by weapon aimed with intent but without malice. The Sheriff’s Office told the Attorney General’s Office that the Prosecutor’s Office would not review a case without a warrant request, and the Sheriff’s Office wanted the Prosecutor’s Office to review the case. The Prosecutor’s Office denied the warrant request Jan. 29, 2019.

The report states that the dash cams recorded more than 70 verbal commands for Malhi to comply with between the start of the incident and the time he exited the Honda. The toxicology report from the autopsy found cocaine, morphine, benzoylecgonine, buprenorphine and norbuprenorphine in Malhi’s blood screen, according to the Attorney General’s Office’s report.

“When Malhi exited the vehicle without complying with demands to show his hands and made a movement that Officer Zuk interpreted as going for a gun, his only recourse lay in repelling the attack by the use of deadly force,” the Attorney General’s Office’s report states in its “conclusion” section.

The Attorney General’s Office’s report states that no one will ever know why Malhi said he had a gun when he did not.

“What is known and is significant is Kanwarbir Malhi’s earlier statements, during the argument with his mother, where he mentioned ‘suicide by police’ and stated that ‘if his mother called the police, they would never take him alive.’ These statements take on added significance in light of the events that would later occur,” the Attorney General’s Office states in the report.

“It is unknown if Malhi wanted police to think that he was going for a gun, but it would be consistent with statements and intentions that he expressed during the earlier argument with his mother over the family vehicle,” the report states.

“Because of sound public policy, to avoid public confrontations, persons are required to submit to police authority and challenge perceived errors later in court. Malhi’s continued and prolonged refusal to comply with police commands, coupled with his statement to Officer Wojcik indicating he had a weapon, formed a reasonable basis for Officer Zuk to believe that Kanwarbir Malhi posed a serious threat of serious bodily harm or death to himself and other officers on the scene,” the report states.

The Shelby Township Police Department previously described Zuk as a highly decorated officer with 14 years with the department.

The Shelby-Utica News was unable to reach the Shelby Township Police Department for comment.

The full report is available at michigan.gov/documents/ag/RTI_-_Malhi_K._CLOSURE_APPROVED_718833_7.pdf.

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