Nonfatal police shootings in Detroit: First-of-its-kind investigation raises questions

Timothy Rives, 38, stands for a portrait near the location where he was shot by the Detroit police in 2021, in Detroit on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. "To tell me they didn't do nothing wrong is to tell me I don't have any rights as a human," said Rives.
Timothy Rives, 38, stands for a portrait near the location where he was shot by the Detroit police in 2021, in Detroit on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. "To tell me they didn't do nothing wrong is to tell me I don't have any rights as a human," said Rives.

Just before midnight in a Detroit ZIP code so dangerous it’s known as the 4820-die, a gray van was following Timothy Rives Jr.

The motorist from Center Line had attracted the vehicle’s attention when he said he accidentally swerved toward it on Seven Mile Road, while reaching for his fallen cellphone. At one point, Rives said the van swerved back, as if to hit him. When he turned down his mother’s side street, the van trailed behind.

Fearing he was the target of road rage, Rives stopped short of her home, told a woman with him to duck, and got out with his legally possessed gun.

Within moments, Rives was shot and injured by Detroit police. The gray van turned out not to be occupied by an angry driver, but three undercover officers. They shot more than a dozen times, hitting him twice.

Publicly, the department presented the July 2021 incident as a simple case of officer self-defense: Rives shot at the undercover cops first, after they identified themselves, a media statement said at the time.

But behind the scenes, whether police acted appropriately was far less clear: Rives — a 39-year-old youth football coach with a clean criminal record — was never charged with a crime. In an unusual move, the officers who said he shot at them declined to participate in his prosecution.

More than a third of people shot nonfatally by Detroit police in a recent seven-year period either were not charged with a crime or not convicted of the conduct officers said prompted them to open fire, a first-of-its-kind investigation by the Free Press found, raising questions about whether their shootings were justifiable.

In Rives’ case, he and bystanders countered cops’ claims, saying the undercover officers never announced who they were and that Rives never threatened them with a gun.

“I deserve to know they’re the police or I deserve to protect myself,” said Rives, who’s still piecing his life together more than two years after gunshot wounds to his leg and waist sidelined him from work and tore apart his family. “To tell me that they wasn’t wrong is to tell me that I don’t have rights as a human, ‘cause I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

Timothy Rives Jr., a Detroit police shooting survivor, coaches his son, "Little Tim," in practice for the Detroit Police Athletic League team, the Jaguars, on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.
Timothy Rives Jr., a Detroit police shooting survivor, coaches his son, "Little Tim," in practice for the Detroit Police Athletic League team, the Jaguars, on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.

He’s among 10 of 29 people shot by on-duty Detroit police officers from 2015 through 2021 who the Free Press found were not charged with or convicted of the violent crimes of which they’d been accused. A 30th case was pending in court.

No Detroit officers were criminally charged in the 10 shootings. No Detroit officers have been charged in any shootings since 2011, the Free Press found, a period in which they’ve shot more than 125 people fatally and nonfatally.

A closer look at the 10 shootings found:

  • Survivors unarmed or fleeing. At least two people shot were unarmed and five who allegedly had guns were running away from attempted stops for suspected nonviolent crimes. Another shot while fleeing was found not guilty of having a gun.

  • Missing police video. In five cases, shooting officers’ vehicle cameras or body cameras were not recording or they were not required to have them.

  • Departmental discipline was rare. All but one shooting was deemed in line with department policy. Two cops who were cleared were later involved in additional controversial shootings.

  • Shootings were costly. Three shootings resulted in civil lawsuit payouts totaling nearly $2.5 million, while another two suits are pending.

The Free Press findings “raise a serious red flag that too many law enforcement officers are routinely exceeding their authority to use deadly force,” said Julie Hurwitz, a civil rights attorney and Detroit Coalition for Police Transparency and Accountability member.

Hurwitz, in a 2018 lawsuit, represented a police shooting survivor acquitted of charges that he had a gun and pointed it at cops. The city recently settled the case for $2 million.

A lack of charges and convictions for those shot, Hurwitz said, suggests that what they’re accused of “is made up and is used as a justification for shooting them.”

Detroit Police Chief James White speaks at a news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Monday, May 15, 2023.
Detroit Police Chief James White speaks at a news conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Monday, May 15, 2023.

Detroit Police Chief James White, who has helmed the department since 2021, declined to be interviewed for this report or discuss the Free Press analysis. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy also declined to be interviewed, through a spokesperson.

In response to written questions, the department said it stood by findings that its officers acted appropriately.

“Whether or not charges are issued against a suspect in an officer-involved shooting is separate and apart from the question of whether the force used by the officer was justified,” it said.

The department also touted video upgrades made since 2015 and defended its investigations into officer shootings as thorough and fair.

City officials refused to release the names of police-shooting survivors, citing privacy.

The Free Press identified them through law enforcement records, court filings, news stories and information from defense attorneys. It then filed dozens of public records requests and reviewed thousands of pages of documents to learn more about the circumstances around their shootings.

Other law enforcement officials cautioned that those shot but not convicted of violent crimes may have posed a threat to officers but benefited from a lack of evidence to prove it.

“These are prosecutors’ decisions,” said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “Some prosecutor's offices are taking the tack of, ‘if there's no video … it makes it difficult to get convictions, so we’re just going to move on.’ That's the other wild card.”

Worthy, responding only to some written questions, said each case “is evaluated individually on the sufficiency of the evidence.”

With Rives, officers created an unnecessary danger by following him in an unmarked vehicle, said Lauren Bonds, executive director of the National Police Accountability Project.

“From start to finish, (the case) sounds pretty problematic,” she said after being briefed by the Free Press. “This person’s license plate was visible, they engaged in a traffic infraction … you could send them a traffic ticket. … The traffic violation wasn’t one that suggested he was putting anyone in imminent danger.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy holds a news conference at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy holds a news conference at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

David Thacher, a University of Michigan associate professor of public policy whose focus includes police reform, said police shootings that do not result in violent-crime convictions for survivors should be thoroughly reviewed by departments as part of a broader effort to identify organizational problems that put the public and officers themselves at risk. The department did not respond when asked whether it tracks such information.

Wrongful shootings tend to stem from policies and practices, Thacher said, rather than malicious actions by individual bad apples.

“Any smart department should be … looking for patterns (and) saying, ‘Look, this is the most common way in which … people end up getting shot,’ ” he said. “They have an obligation to think about, ‘What could we be doing to prevent these from happening?’ ”

Looking for patterns

Police killings have brought swift scrutiny of departments across the country, but police shootings that injure make fewer headlines and, broadly, are not tracked.

The Free Press review comes on the heels of a spike in shootings by on- and off-duty Detroit officers, who shot 37 people as violent crime rose between 2020 and 2022, compared with 22 in the three years before. In 2023, the number of shootings fell back in line with those earlier years.

Law enforcement and other government agencies generally do not track whether police-shooting survivors are ever charged with or convicted of the alleged conduct that resulted in their being shot. The dearth of available data makes it difficult to determine how Detroit compares with other police departments.

Of the 10 shooting survivors in the Free Press review, three were never charged with a crime; three were charged with nonviolent offenses; three were acquitted of violent charges or saw them dismissed for lack of evidence, and one pleaded violent charges down to nonviolent offenses.

The six accused of having guns and shot while running away were chased on foot and at least four were shot from behind. U.S. Supreme Court doctrine permits officers to shoot only those they reasonably believe to have committed a violent act or pose an imminent threat of it.

“It’s kind of commonsense you don’t shoot someone in the back just because they have a gun,” said former Detroit Assistant Police Chief Steve Dolunt, who spent three decades rising through the department. “You’re only supposed to shoot if you feel you or someone else is in imminent danger.”

In justifying shooting people who were running away, the officers said in five cases that they feared for their lives because the men had either pointed a gun at them or turned toward them while holding a gun. The allegations, however, were not proven in court and were in some cases refuted by witnesses.

Detroit police earlier this month shot in the leg a fleeing 16-year-old who the prosecutor's office said had his hand on a gun. The teen was charged with only weapons crimes while the actions of the officers involved remain under review.

The shootings in the Free Press review at times began with minor issues. Police said they were drawn to one man because they saw him walking with his hand in his pocket and to another man because he’d been standing in the street with a group of people holding cups. Both men fled on foot, and were subsequently chased and shot.

The officers mentioned in this report declined comment or did not respond to interview requests. The Detroit Police Officers Association, the union representing them, declined an interview request.

Reached by phone and told that the Free Press was writing about nonfatal shootings that did not result in charges or violent-crime convictions for those shot, DPOA Vice President Ronald Thomas said the union’s job is to “protect our members and this sounds like a no-win situation.”

“We’re not going to argue our cases in the media … so no need to even have a discussion.”

Cops unlikely to be charged

Strong legal protections for officers in the United States render it extremely unlikely they’ll be criminally charged in shootings, with less than 2% charged in those that result in death, according to research from Bowling Green State University.

One Detroit officer in the Free Press review wasn’t criminally charged in a shooting even the department deemed unjustifiable.

Officer Sequoia Turner’s 2015 shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old was the culmination of blunders by the then-rookie cop, who accidentally shot himself first.

Turner had been wrapping up a “shots fired” run that turned up no signs of gunplay and was driving with his pistol in his lap against department policy, the internal investigation found. Keith Davis was driving a car rented for his high school prom, when he “inadvertently” collided with the officer’s cruiser at an intersection while going 18 mph, the investigator wrote.

Turner said the teen swerved “directly” toward his cruiser as if to “ambush” him and, after the crash, reached “towards the floor of the car as if … for a weapon.”

But Turner’s partner would report he saw no reason for Turner to shoot, and the department investigator would blame the shooting on the officer’s decision to drive with his gun in his lap.

Keith Davis, 18, was shot by an officer after accidentally crashing into his cruiser at a low speed. The officer had been driving with his gun in his lap, against department policy, touching off a series of blunders that ended with Davis wounded in the chin.
Keith Davis, 18, was shot by an officer after accidentally crashing into his cruiser at a low speed. The officer had been driving with his gun in his lap, against department policy, touching off a series of blunders that ended with Davis wounded in the chin.

When the crash occurred, Turner “placed his finger on the trigger” and shot himself in the foot, according to the report. Then, saying he mistook the sound of his own gunfire for a threat from elsewhere, he shot twice through Davis’ windshield, hitting the teen in the chin and barely missing his passenger, a younger cousin. Both said their hands were up in surrender when Turner fired.

The officer’s actions, the internal investigation found, were “so egregious” that the department took the rare step of deeming the shooting unjustifiable. Turner was suspended for nine days and the city went on to pay $375,000 to settle a lawsuit over the shooting.

(The shooting received limited publicity, with the department initially claiming it believed the officer faced a threat from a possible separate shooter on the sidewalk.)

The officer “caused an unfortunate incident to occur … which could have proven to be fatal,” the internal investigator wrote. “This incident should have been nothing more than a mere traffic accident.”

Turner, however, was not criminally charged, with Worthy’s office citing insufficient evidence. The crash knocked the scout car’s camera out of place and audio was not recording.

Worthy did not elaborate on her office’s decision when asked by the Free Press.

The U.S. Supreme Court doctrine on police shootings is highly deferential to officers and provides a defense even if they’ve erred, experts say. Known as the “objectively reasonable” standard, it requires excessive-force allegations be judged from the perspective of a “reasonable officer” rather than with the “20/20 vision of hindsight.” Prosecutors can also be reluctant to charge police, experts say, given that their jobs rely on them.

The result is a system that often takes an officer’s word at face value, particularly in the absence of video, said Ekow Yankah, a University of Michigan law professor who teaches criminal law and policing.

It’s “unlikely officers who say they faced a threat will be criminally charged without concrete evidence showing otherwise,” he said.

Missing video

Five shootings the Free Press reviewed were missing police body- or scout car-camera footage, offering no help in determining what happened when survivor and officer accounts were at odds. In such instances, the Free Press found, prosecutors and internal investigators often deferred to police accounts.

Cops were believed even when a shooting officer had a history of lying and evidence suggested a different story.

After Mark Gaddis was shot by police in the backside in 2017, there were conflicting accounts of whether the 33-year-old autoworker had posed a threat.

Officers Stephen Kue and Justin Marroquin said they fired at Gaddis because he pointed a gun at them as he ran from an attempted stop for suspected illegal weapon possession. A gun was recovered several yards from where he was shot.

A forensics analysis, however, could not connect the weapon to Gaddis and two bystanders testified at trial that they never saw him with a gun — one said Gaddis' hands were empty when he was shot. Kue, meanwhile, has a documented history of lying, and was previously suspected by an internal investigator of staging a gun at a crime scene.

There was no video to help clarify what happened in Gaddis’ shooting. The scout car’s camera wasn’t working that night, the officers testified, and body cameras would not be issued departmentwide until the following year.

Without video, the prosecutor’s office took the word of the officers. Kue and Marroquin were found to have acted in self-defense, while Gaddis was charged with crimes that included assault with a dangerous weapon, for allegedly pointing a gun at cops.

He was facing more than 25 years in prison when, after a three-day trial, a jury acquitted him of all charges. In November, the city agreed to pay $2 million to settle a civil suit over the shooting.

The Free Press found two more shootings in its review missing scout car video and one missing body camera video after the department’s 2018 rollout of those cameras. The undercover officers who shot Rives were not required to have cameras at all.

The department has spent at least $16 million in the last decade equipping officers and vehicles with cameras. Officers are required to capture all citizen interactions that don’t raise privacy issues.

Officials would not answer questions about data the department says reflects compliance with its body-worn camera program. In the first four months of 2022, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, the department’s civilian oversight body, reported body-worn cameras did not capture 15% of citizen complaint incidents in which officers were equipped with the devices.

No officers were cited for misconduct for missing video in the shootings examined by the Free Press. Though technical issues were often blamed, people also played a role. For example, a lack of body camera video in a 2018 case was attributed to a possible glitch that prevented the shooting officer’s camera from activating automatically, even though it could have been activated manually.

"It's like an epidemic within the organization,” Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore said in a July 2023 Free Press report on missing body camera footage. “It's like an institutional betrayal — it's ignored and accepted.”

Former Detroit Police Officer Ricardo Moore stands in front of the Detroit Police headquarters in downtown Detroit on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.
Former Detroit Police Officer Ricardo Moore stands in front of the Detroit Police headquarters in downtown Detroit on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

In response to the oversight board’s criticism of the video problem, Chief White has said leniency must be afforded in some cases, given that cameras can malfunction and turning them on can be impractical in fast-moving situations. Newer-model cameras are being rolled out under an $11 million contract approved in 2021, he said.

Cop is believed despite judge’s dismissal

Even when video was available and suggested police were unjustified in shooting someone, it didn’t result in criminal or departmental repercussions.

When Officer George Alam shot Dominique Kirby in the back as Kirby fled an attempted stop for suspected drug dealing, Alam justified it with a common explanation: The young man pointed a gun at him as he ran away.

Like Gaddis’ shooting, the 2015 case suffered from conflicting witness accounts and a lack of scout car video, which had not been triggered to automatically record. Alam’s assertion that Kirby pointed a gun was supported by Alam’s partner, a witness, and a gun recovered near Kirby. But three witnesses and Kirby himself said he was not holding a gun before he was shot.

Nearby security camera footage played at a preliminary hearing prompted a judge to side with Kirby. Judge Kenneth King of 36th District Court dismissed an assault with a dangerous weapon charge, saying the video indicated Kirby never pointed a gun and left unclear whether he was holding one at all.

Though the decision cast doubt on the very reason Alam gave for shooting Kirby, the incident was deemed in line with department policy and the officer was not criminally charged. The prosecutor handling the case argued in court that the video was inconclusive and deemed Alam’s actions self-defense.

The city went on to pay $75,000 to settle Kirby’s lawsuit over the shooting.

Briefed on Gaddis’ and Kirby’s cases by the Free Press, former Miami-Dade County Assistant Prosecutor Melba Pearson, who also leads prosecutorial projects at Florida International University, questioned why they were charged with pointing weapons at officers. But she said she wasn’t necessarily surprised; prosecutors have a tendency to trust police.

“There is a natural deference,” she said. “You really don't want to believe that somebody that your tax dollars are going toward is coming to your office and lying.

“However,” she added, “you can't try a case just on good feelings. You’ve got to have evidence.”

Worthy did not elaborate on her office’s handling of the cases in her response to written questions, but said, “When there is no body camera video, all of the other evidence is evaluated to determine a charging decision.”

Reform advocates point to 'blue bias'

The department deemed every shooting in the Free Press review in line with policy, except the case of Davis, the unarmed teen.

Its misconduct reviews have a lower burden of proof than criminal cases and can result in officer discipline, retraining or even firing.

The department investigator who cleared Alam did not mention in her report that a judge had tossed the charge that Kirby pointed a gun. Upon reviewing the same footage as the judge, the investigator noted only that it showed Kirby running away with a bag in one hand.

Alam’s troubled past, meanwhile, did not factor into the department’s ruling in his case. By the time of the shooting, the officer had accumulated more than 61 citizen complaints in 11 years on the job. The internal investigator determined that because Alam’s statements were “consistent with the findings of the investigation,” his record “does not cause any credibility issues as it relates to this investigation.”

Asked in writing why Alam was cleared, the department told the Free Press the available video was poor. It said the investigation “revealed evidence that Officer Alam perceived” Kirby pointing a gun at him, adding that “the suspense, stress, and fatigue associated with foot pursuits can impact an officer’s perception” and that “the motion associated with running can make it difficult to correctly interpret what a suspect’s intentions are” if they’re holding a gun.

Officers Marroquin and Kue were also cleared, despite the evidence that contradicted their claims that Gaddis had a gun and pointed it at them. The investigator came to that conclusion despite Kue’s history of lying.

(Kue, now a sergeant, was removed from the streets after a 2021 media report revealed he’d been the subject of 85 citizen complaints in 12 years on the job.)

A department spokesman stood by the decision to clear the officers, saying the witnesses who said Gaddis didn’t have a gun were “not within eyesight” of the shooting. But the spokesman admitted the department did not have the trial transcript where those same witnesses testified to seeing the shooting.

Within two years of the 2017 incident, Marroquin and Kue each were involved in one additional nonfatal shooting.

In both cases, which were missing key video footage, the officers claimed the men they shot first turned toward them with guns in hand. The men were never convicted of violent crimes and the cops were cleared by prosecutors and internal investigators.

Reform advocates say investigations into officer wrongdoing often suffer from a “blue bias” that lets cops off the hook when they’re investigated by their own.

“There’s a pattern and trend where a police officer can grab any threat … and it grows legs and it garners the sympathy of the officers who have a responsibility to investigate if there was an improper use of deadly force,” said David Robinson, an ex-Detroit police officer who now brings excessive-force suits against the department as a civil rights attorney. “Planets have to be in alignment for a cop to get held accountable.”

The department defended its process, noting that Wayne County prosecutors also did not find any criminal wrongdoing in the cases the Free Press reviewed. That office’s determinations are based on investigations by the Homicide Task Force, where Detroit officers investigate shootings by their colleagues under the supervision of a Michigan State Police detective.

“By the time an investigation has been closed, at least three separate agencies have examined the facts and circumstances of the shooting,” the department said. “The department is confident that all aspects of this process are effective and that any dearth of policy violations illustrates the restraint shown by our members in times of crisis.”

Governments in other parts of the country, however, have taken additional steps to remove potential bias in police-shooting investigations.

Washington state recently created an independent office staffed mostly by civilians to review deadly cases for possible criminality. In California, the state attorney general’s office investigates police shootings that killed unarmed civilians. And in San Francisco, the district attorney’s office investigates all police shootings, rather than the police department itself.

Other cities prevent departments from determining whether shootings by their own colleagues violated policy. In New York and Chicago, those inquiries are handled by civilian oversight boards, rather than internally by the department, as in Detroit.

'I don’t deserve what happened to me'

Last summer, as he stood on the block where a hail of police gunfire upended his life two years earlier, Rives explained he’s not the type to get caught up in violence.

He wore a red T-shirt emblazoned with the Lear Corporation logo, the auto seat manufacturer where he has climbed the ranks over a decade to become a master builder. He had just wrapped a shift and was on his way to coach his son’s football practice. Incidentally, “Little Tim,” 13, plays quarterback on a Detroit Police Athletic League team that won a state championship title last fall.

Timothy Rives a Detroit police shooting victim and his son Timothy Rives during practice the Jaguars PAL team football practice Thursday, Oct. 12 2023.
Timothy Rives a Detroit police shooting victim and his son Timothy Rives during practice the Jaguars PAL team football practice Thursday, Oct. 12 2023.

“I don’t get in trouble,” Rives said. “I don’t deserve what happened to me.”

Until now, Rives’ account of the shooting had not been publicized.

The undercover officers were on drag racing detail when they followed him for swerving that night in July 2021. After Rives parked near his mother’s house, he says he got out with his gun in hand.

Video from a Michigan State Police helicopter showed some of what happened next. Rives exits and walks in the street toward the officers’ unmarked van. Police jump out and start shooting within about three seconds while Rives dashes into the nearest house for cover.

Officers said Rives shot first, after they announced they were police and put on department-issued vests. But they declined to participate in his criminal investigation, a move Rives’ attorney sees as a sign they lied to cover up a bad shooting.

Worthy’s office cited the lack of police cooperation in declining to bring charges against Rives. The department did not elaborate on why the officers did not participate — calling their decision personal and citing the “stress and trauma officers undergo in the course of an officer-involved shooting.” The officers could not be reached for comment.

The lone recovered shell casing from Rives’ gun was found on the porch of the home he ran to — yards from the street where police claimed he shot at them.

Rives insists he never fired his gun. He and two witnesses on the porch said cops never announced who they were and that he never threatened them with a weapon at all. The officers’ police vests were not visible, his attorneys have argued, as they jumped out in the dark behind their van’s headlights.

The father and youth football coach has mulled the ways he believes the shooting could have been avoided. The officers could have anticipated the potential danger of confronting someone while they were in plainclothes in an unmarked vehicle on a darkened street. They could have waited for the marked scout car they’d called to stop him before jumping out and shooting “like they were Rambo.”

Timothy Rives, 38, shows a bullet scar from being shot by the Detroit police in 2021, while standing in his Detroit neighborhood on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. "To tell me they didn't do nothing wrong is to tell me I don't have any rights as a human," said Rives.
Timothy Rives, 38, shows a bullet scar from being shot by the Detroit police in 2021, while standing in his Detroit neighborhood on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. "To tell me they didn't do nothing wrong is to tell me I don't have any rights as a human," said Rives.

The department’s investigatory report found no problem with the officers' response. It did not probe whether officers actually did announce themselves, nor did it explore their refusal to cooperate.

In reviewing the disputed incident, the internal investigator sided with officers, writing that Rives likely knew they were police and that he posed an immediate threat: He “raised the handgun in his right hand, pointed it at the officers, and fired shots.”

For Rives, the consequences linger.

He says he still suffers pain and muscle spasms. Unable to stand for long periods early on, he lost nearly five months’ pay. Bills backed up and strained his marriage. He’s now living at his mother’s.

The fallout extends to his son. After the shooting, when the pair found a high school football game cordoned off by officers responding to a teen with a gun, Little Tim “broke down and had a fit. … It’s from him knowing that the police shot me.”

He was crying, Rives said, “‘Come on Dad, let’s go, let’s go.’”

This story was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Violet Ikonomova is an investigative reporter at the Free Press covering government and police accountability. Contact her at

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: One-third of Detroit police shootings in Free Press review raise questions