Justice Department Announces Results of Investigation into the Death of Milton Hall
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the FBI announced today that they will not be pursuing federal criminal civil rights charges against the Saginaw Police Department (SPD) officers who shot and killed Milton Hall on July 1, 2012. After a thorough investigation, federal authorities have determined that this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to lead to a federal criminal prosecution of the police officers involved.
The Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI conducted an independent investigation that carefully considered all of the evidence. During the investigation, prosecutors thoroughly reviewed the criminal investigation previously conducted by the Michigan State Police in conjunction with the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office and the Michigan Attorney General’s Office. State authorities collected the physical evidence at the scene; photographed the scene; interviewed the two non-shooting SPD officers and dozens of eyewitnesses; acquired the patrol car dashcam and civilian videos of the incident; gathered the dispatch logs, 911 calls and other investigative materials related to the incident; obtained the involved officers’ police reports; and conducted a ballistics and autopsy examination. At the conclusion of the state investigation, the Saginaw County Prosecutor and the Michigan Attorney General declined to prosecute any of the SPD officers involved in the incident.
In addition to reviewing the evidence previously collected, FBI agents interviewed a number of witnesses who had not been interviewed during the state investigation, including individuals whose names were provided to prosecutors by Hall’s family.
To pursue prosecution under Section 242 in the U.S. Code, the applicable criminal civil rights statute, the government would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the SPD officers deprived Hall of his constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable use of force. The government would also have to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted willfully, that is, for the specific purpose of violating the law. Law enforcement actions based on fear, panic, misperception or even poor judgment do not constitute willful conduct prosecutable under the statute.
The evidence in this case shows that on July 1, 2012, SPD officers responded to the Riverview Plaza in Saginaw, Mich., after receiving a 911 call about a confrontation between a man, later identified as Hall, and a clerk at a Mobil gas station. An SPD sergeant was the first officer to arrive at the scene, where she located Hall in the plaza’s parking lot and saw that he was carrying a knife with an approximately three-inch blade. After encountering Hall and seeing that he was armed with a knife, the sergeant requested backup. When the second officer arrived, Hall approached that officer’s patrol car and jabbed the hood of the vehicle with a knife. The six remaining SPD officers on duty that day, including a K-9 officer and his dog, reported to the plaza, approached Hall and repeatedly ordered him to drop his knife. Hall did not comply with the officers’ commands, and verbally responded that he would not put the knife down. While the SPD officers came together on the scene, the K-9 officer and his dog approached and retreated from Hall several times. During this time, Hall was intermittently shifting his feet and getting into and out of a crouching stance. When Hall, with the knife still in his hand, moved toward the K-9 officer and his dog, six SPD officers fired at him and fatally wounded him.
Two SPD patrol car dashcams captured a video recording, with no audio, of much of the encounter between Hall and the SPD officers. The dashcams on the other SPD patrol cars were either not operational or not activated during this incident. Several civilians witnessed the incident and recorded portions of it on their cellular phones.
After the shooting, all of the SPD officers at the scene wrote reports. In these reports, the officers who discharged their weapons explained that they did so because they believed Hall posed an imminent threat to the officers’ safety.
A fter a careful review of all of the evidence, experienced prosecutors from the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan have determined that t he evidence in this case is insufficient to prove , beyond a reasonable doubt, that the SPD officers willfully shot Hall for an unlawful purpose, rather than for their stated purpose of preventing Hall from harming SPD staff. Even if the officers were mistaken in their assessment of the threat posed by Hall, this would not establish that the officers acted willfully, or with an unlawful intent, when using deadly force against Hall. Accordingly , this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to give rise to a federal criminal prosecution of the police officers involved.