Mich. community seeks answers on police shooting

August 21, 2012 - 7:43 PM

DETROIT (AP) — Police in Michigan repeatedly shot a mentally ill man in a parking lot as traffic passed in broad daylight. Weeks later, his family and others in Saginaw are still waiting for an explanation of why officers chose to use deadly force.

They have become angrier since the release of video that shows Milton Hall collapsing in a hail of gunfire on July 1. The video, taken on a witness's cellphone the day of the shooting and later obtained and aired by CNN, shows police confronting Hall in a parking lot of a shopping center and ordering him to drop a knife. It's not clear if he followed the order.

The confrontation happened during the day, and the video shows cars going by on a busy street as police open fire. Hall's mother said Tuesday that she won't watch it.

"It's very hard to understand," said Jewel Hall, of Rio Rancho, N.M. "It's barbaric, unbelievable."

The U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Michigan State Police are investigating the shooting in Saginaw, 100 miles north of Detroit. Six officers who were at the scene have been assigned to other police work while Hall's death is reviewed.

"The sooner this is done, the sooner we can address the conclusions. Unfortunately, we don't control that," said Phil Ludos, an assistant city manager who oversees public safety. "The longer this drags out, the longer the tensions and the questions."

Little information has been released so far, including how many times Hall was shot. The local medical examiner's office said an autopsy report has not yet been completed.

Debra Freid, a lawyer who represents Hall's family, said police were pursuing him based on a complaint that he had taken a cup of coffee from a convenience store. Freid said she plans to file a lawsuit against police. The video shows what appears to be several feet between Hall and the officers before shots were fired.

"They handled this event horribly," she said. "They controlled the location and the space between themselves and Milton. There was absolutely no indication of imminent threat."

Hall, 49, was a Saginaw native who spent some teen years in Albuquerque, N.M. He attended Knoxville College in Tennessee before transferring to the University of New Mexico. He didn't graduate.

Jewel Hall, a retired teacher, said her son received federal disability benefits because of a mental illness. She described him as "nomadic" and a "free spirit," who was well-known by police and others in Saginaw. She believed Hall had a small apartment, but others who tried to help with meals and personal needs said he appeared to be homeless.

"His disability became apparent in young adulthood as it impacted his ability to work," Jewel Hall said. "He was able to manage his own affairs for many years and longed to be free and independent as many people do."

The Rev. Judith Boli of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, who spoke at Hall's funeral, said he wasn't a dangerous man but his mental illness often made it impossible for him to participate in group settings at her church.

She said the Justice Department's investigation gives her confidence that the shooting will lead to something positive, perhaps more training for officers who deal with mentally ill people. But Boli said the lack of public information after seven weeks is unsettling.

"Let the facts come out," the pastor said. "One of the reasons the community is upset is because of too much secrecy. Knowledge heals."