Family files lawsuit against police, St. Clair Shores, for November shooting

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 11, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — The city of St. Clair Shores, the St. Clair Shores Police Department and five police officers are being sued by the family of Theoddeus Gray, who was shot and killed Nov. 4 outside Lakeland Manor, 26211 Harper Ave.

According to a press release issued by A. Vince Colella, a Southfield civil rights and personal injury attorney, a $10 million lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of the family of Gray, of Detroit, after the Moss and Colella Law Firm completed its own independent investigation into the death of the 29-year-old.

The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office stated Nov. 28 that its investigation into the shooting, which also resulted in the death of St. Clair Shores Police K-9 Axe, was concluded at that time and the officers involved in the shooting were justified in their use of deadly force.

The law firm alleges, however, that its investigation has shown that Axe was killed by his own officers and that Gray had surrendered to police and was unarmed when he was fatally shot.

On a video played during a press conference Nov. 28, a representative of Lakeland Manor, 26211 Harper Ave., is heard frantically calling 911 for help at around 6:22 p.m. Nov. 4 because of an agitated man outside the banquet hall carrying a gun while patrons were inside the hall for a baby shower.

When St. Clair Shores police arrived, according to Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham in November, they found a large crowd formed outside the south entrance of the hall that included the suspect.

Although police gave the man several verbal commands to stop, the man, later identified as Gray, ran northbound along Harper Avenue, then pulled out a FN 5.7 handgun and fired a shot at police officers and K-9 Axe. According to Wickersham at that time, Gray allegedly continued to run away from officers and when he rounded the corner of Harper Auto Electric’s building, he stopped and engaged with officers. He was “ordered to drop the gun, which he did not,” Wickersham said, so St. Clair Shores police shot the suspect.

Police called for emergency medical services, and Gray was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The lawsuit filed Feb. 7 states, however, that “while within the aforementioned parking lot, Gray was shot to death while unarmed.”

Despite the assurance of a “very serious, complete and thorough investigation, designed to recover all evidence and speak to all witnesses,” there are glaring omissions, Colella stated in the press release.

“The abbreviated three-week investigation was woefully inadequate to fully investigate the murder of this young man,” he continued. “Through this lawsuit, it will become clear that investigators failed to collect evidence, obtain witness statements and, in some cases, disregarded critical information, resulting in the officers avoiding criminal responsibility.”

Spokesperson Barbara Fornasiero said that Colella and the family would not release any further comments other than those contained in the press release.

The release states that Colella found “disturbing discrepancies” between information he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from the department and what was presented at the Nov. 28 press conference. He said that the officers involved in the shooting should have been interviewed during the course of the investigation, not after its conclusion.

Colella also stated that he found it troubling that the results of the necropsy performed on Axe were not fully disclosed or explained to the public.

“It seems highly unlikely that the chief (Todd Woodcox, of the St. Clair Shores Police Department) would not have seen Axe’s necropsy report, as he said. It’s a key piece of forensic evidence in the case, showing that the bullet trajectory makes it impossible for Gray to have killed the dog,” Colella stated in the release. “Also perplexing is the fact that the public has never been told of the results of the forensic testing performed on the bullet fragment recovered from Axe’s body.”

Wickersham said, that “Our investigation was thorough and in compliance with the laws and procedures,” in an email statement Feb. 11.

St. Clair Shores City Attorney Robert Ihrie said that he could not comment on the suit.

“We don’t comment on pending litigation, as a general rule,” he said.

Call Staff Writer Kristyne E. Demske at (586) 498-1041.