Sheriff: Officers justified in shooting that left man dead

Police believe suspect shot K-9; ballistics report incomplete

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published November 28, 2018

 Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham talks about where the suspect and police officers were during the officer-involved shooting Nov. 4.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham talks about where the suspect and police officers were during the officer-involved shooting Nov. 4.

Photo by Kristyne Demske

 Wickersham and St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox discuss the results of the investigation into the use of deadly force in the officer-involved shooting outside Lakeland Manor.

Wickersham and St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox discuss the results of the investigation into the use of deadly force in the officer-involved shooting outside Lakeland Manor.

Photo by Kristyne Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office has concluded that five St. Clair Shores police officers involved in a shooting outside of Lakeland Manor in November were justified in their use of deadly force.

With a goal of determining the justification of actions taken by St. Clair Shores police officers the night of Nov. 4 during a shootout that left a Detroit man and police K-9 Axe dead, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office reviewed surveillance video from inside and outside the banquet hall and police dash cameras, as well as interviewed witnesses.

Because the shooting involved St. Clair Shores police officers, the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office was called in immediately after the shooting to conduct an investigation as to the legal justification of the officers’ shooting.

Now, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said, the investigation into whether the officers’ actions were justified has concluded.

“Deadly force used by the members of the St. Clair Shores Police Department was justified, and our investigation is closed,” he said.

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 around what she described as a “long gun” and also said could have been a Beretta or a Glock. She told police that she had 70 people inside the hall for a baby shower.

When St. Clair Shores police arrived, according to Wickersham, they found that a large crowd had formed outside the south entrance of the hall, which included the black man wearing a white shirt with a red collar who the caller had identified as the suspect.

Although police gave the man several verbal commands to stop, the man, later identified as Theoddeus Gray, 29, of Detroit, ran northbound along Harper Avenue, then pulled out an FN 5.7 handgun and fired a shot at police officers and K-9 Axe. According to Wickersham, 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. Axe also died as a result of the shooting.

Wickersham said that his department received information from an FBI agent that Gray was expecting a fight. The investigation determined that Gray wasn’t the only party guest with a weapon, and a fully loaded AK-47 was recovered from the west parking lot area of Lakeland Manor. Wickersham said he could not release if there were any fingerprints on the AK-47, as it was still part of an ongoing investigation. He said more charges could stem from the incident as the investigation continues.

During the shooting, five St. Clair Shores police officers fired 48 shots. Gray fired one round, but it was later discovered that his gun had jammed. It was loaded with a magazine of 20 more rounds of armor-piercing bullets, Wickersham said. The Sheriff Office’s investigation determined that the gun had been stolen from a 24-year-old man in Columbus, Ohio, who said he had no connection to Gray, but had not reported the gun stolen before deputies contacted him.

Gray was struck six times in the shooting: once each in the head, in the left back, in the left forearm, the left thigh, the right thigh and the right foot. He had no puncture wounds from K-9 Axe.

The necropsy on K-9 Axe found that there were bullet fragments in the dog, in his lower left front leg and inside right shoulder blade, but the ballistic report has not been completed, so Wickersham said it was not yet determined where the bullet that killed the dog came from.

Wickersham said the department has reached out to the family of Gray and their attorney for their input on the incident, but has not received any response in regard to it inquiries.

The family has retained A. Vince Colella, of Moss and Colella in Southfield, to represent the family in the matter and conduct his own investigation into the shooting. Colella could not be reached for comment by press time.

Wickersham said that in the video released to the press, a bullet is shown being shot by Gray and hitting the ground in the direction of officers and K-9 Axe. Whether that bullet hit Axe or not is not part of his investigation, he said.

“The suspect is struck, (and) he continues to the northwest corner of the auto parts store. (He is) given numerous requests to drop the weapon,” Wickersham said. “He had 20 more rounds to fire at law enforcement.

“The officers didn’t react because the dog was shot; the officers reacted because they were being fired upon.”

With the high-capacity magazine of the gun that the suspect was carrying and the fact that other members of the party were also carrying weapons, Wickersham said, “There was going to be a shootout in St. Clair Shores that Sunday night.”

St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox said that the five officers involved in the shooting have been on paid administrative leave during the course of the investigation and will be returning to full duty in the near future. Now that the investigation into the use of deadly force has concluded, the officers will still undergo psychological evaluation to determine that they are ready to return to work.

Woodcox declined to identify the officers because of threats that have been made against them and the department due to the shooting. However, he did say that one of the officers has 20 years of experience with the department, and the other officers have about five years each with the department.

When questioned as to whether Axe had a protective vest or why he was not wearing one at the time of the shooting, Woodcox said there isn’t always time to get the vest on the dog and that because of the armor-piercing bullets used by Gray, Axe may not have been protected with the vest anyway.

“K-9s don’t typically wear their vest eight hours a day on patrol,” he said, adding that a vest would typically be put on the dog if there was time when he was heading into a dangerous situation. “There was no time to get the vest onto Axe.”

Woodcox said that all St. Clair Shores police officers will be debriefed on the incident and how it was handled; the results of the investigation will also be used in police training, he said.

“Officers acted 100 percent appropriately. They did an amazing job,” he said.

He said that from his viewing of the video of the incident, Gray shot Axe.

“To me, it’s clear that Mr. Gray fired in the direction of officers and Axe,” he said. “It sure appears as if Gray’s bullet shot Axe.”

The video shows Axe and officers chasing Gray north on Harper. Another portion of the video then shows Axe running away from Gray.

Wickersham said that in the video that shows Axe returning to the vicinity of Lakeland Manor, he has allegedly already been shot.

The ballistic report may be able to identify which weapon’s bullet hit Axe, but there have been ballistic reports that could not identify a weapon, Wickersham said. Woodcox said that regardless of the ballistic report, there will be no legal ramifications for any police officers.