By Charlie LeDuff
In their hunt for a baby killer last week, Detroit police raided a west side home before dawn. A stun grenade was thrown into the house to disorient occupants. Then police breached the front door.
Seconds later, a 46-year-old man lying on the living room couch was dead.
The dead man, Abdullah Abdul Muhiman, was not the suspect in the killing of a five-year-old girl hours earlier. He was an innocent man who had the unfortunate luck to be sleeping on the couch. To make a bad scene worse, the suspected gunman the police were looking for was miles away.
And yet the police assault team and their superior officers were unaware of that fact, Deadline Detroit has learned. This utter collapse in police work, however, did not stop Chief of Police James E. Craig from announcing at a press conference just hours later, that Muhiman had gotten what he deserved.
"If you point a gun at officers, it doesn't matter whether you're a suspect in any other case," he said.
"The officers breached the door and made entry, the first officer through the door said 'get down, get down, get down."
According to Craig's version, Muhiman leveled an AR-15 pistol-grip semi-automatic at the officers from the sofa cushions. In response, the raid team's point man fired several shots, killing Muhiman. Craig said his review of body cam footage could not confirm the gun-pointing scenario, since it was too dark. A gun was recovered next to Muhiman's corpse, police say.
Muhiman's people are not buying it.
"The chief is a clown," said Jermaine Carey, a close friend of Muhiman. "Hours after the police kill Abdullah, Craig is holding up a picture of the supposed gun, putting out his criminal history, painting him as a criminal who was to blame for his own killing. But what did he do? Jump up from a couch with someone breaking in the house? What you expect him to do? He had nothing to do with anything."
Detroit police with direct knowledge of last weeks events call it a spectacular lapse in police tactics.
"What we normally do, is put surveillance on the house and wait for somebody to go to the liquor store in the morning," one official told me, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing disciplinary action for speaking candidly. "Once he comes out, you stop him, you put him in custody and you get the intel about who's in the house, who's got what weapon, and where they are. We do that, obviously, to avoid scenarios like this one."
Said another ranking cop: "The team got amped up. They wanted to get a baby-killer. They went too fast and now we have a total fuck-up. We have a man dead, and a good cop who was doing his job who now has to live with this."
A woman who is a suspected accomplice in the child-killing was arrested at the house during the raid. And the man suspected of actually shooting the child (he also shot the girl's mother 16 times) was arrested later in the afternoon, miles away, near the scene of the child's murder. Both have since been released from custody, due to lack of evidence.
A conversation I had with one of Chief Craig's right-hand men went like this:
Me: "Why didn't you have eyes on the house?"
Investigator: "We did."
Me: "Then why did you go in, with a guy on the couch and the gunman somewhere else?"
Investigator: "How are we supposed to know who's in the house?"
Me: "Because you had the house under surveillance."
Investigator: "Well, we arrested somebody didn't we?"
Me: "Yeah, but an innocent man is dead and the two suspects in the child's murder are walking around the streets."
Investigators: "Well, they're still suspects as we continue to put the case together."
Who’s to Blame?
Where is the accountability? Michigan State Police from Flint are now investigating. But if the details provided by the chief are correct, the officer who fired the shots cannot be blamed here. He was doing his job, following orders. Ultimately, responsibility lay with the man in charge and the culture he has incubated within the department.
Remember, Craig is the man who showed up on the cover of an NRA magazine encouraging Detroiters to purchase firearms to protect their homes.
It is also worth remembering that it is not uncommon for crime crews to pose as police officers before busting into homes.
It is also worth remembering that Muhiman's shooting death is the latest in a string of embarrassing, violent or deadly episodes in the police department in recent months, episodes that Craig has promised to provide answers to, but has failed to do so.
Remember, the police commander moonlighting as a security guard and beating a party goer into a coma; two undercover police units pointing guns at each other and fist fighting on a porch, and the death of an on-duty officer driving in excess of 100 miles an hour on city streets to name a few.
The use of force by police officers is a major issue in American life. In Detroit, it seems, not so much. But the public here, like anywhere else, deserves answers and justice demands them.
And it starts at the top.