A major controversy involving the department occurred on February 8, 1976, as Officers George Anderson and Thomas Pressley responded to the Pump and Pantry, located at 1019 Broadway, in reference to a robbery in progress.
In the evening the store was open, but the doors were locked. Customers were served through a walk-up window. The clerk observed two subjects and thought they were acting suspiciously. The two attempted to get into the store and the clerk had time to call the police but only had time to say, “Robbery, Pump and Pantry.” One of the suspects then kicked out a window and the two entered the store. One of them had his hand in his pocket, indicating he had a gun.
One of the suspects heard the clerk phone the police and he called the police station, telling the operator, “I just made a call to you about a robbery at the Pump and Pantry. I'd like to say it's a false alarm.” The communications operator recognized the difference in the caller's voice and kept the patrol units enroute to the scene. As there was one other Pump and Pantry in the city, officers were in the progress of checking them both, when this call came in. The suspects then began taking the money while the clerk ran out of the store to a nearby phone and called the police again.
As the officers arrived at the store they observed the two suspects, Larry Edwards and Ricky Bullock, fleeing the building through the window that had been kicked in. Both officers ordered the suspects to stop, but they kept running.
Officer Pressley then fired two shots from his .357 service revolver, while Officer Anderson fired one round from a .12 gauge shotgun. One of the men fell to the ground, while the other kept running. Officer Anderson then fired another round from the shotgun and the other suspect went down.
Edwards was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he underwent unsuccessful surgery for wounds to his head and shoulders. He died early the next morning. Bullock was also taken to St. Joseph's, where he was admitted for non-life threatening wounds. No weapons were found on either suspect.
Chief Krasny stated it was the first time he could recall an officer ever fatally wounding a suspect in the act of committing a crime. He stated both Pressley and Anderson were “excellent officers.” Both officers were transferred to the investigative division while an internal investigation was conducted.
To some degree the controversy began the previous August when a burglary suspect was shot by officers as he was fleeing the scene of a burglary. At that time, Mayor Albert Wheeler appointed a special subcommittee, to look into the department's firearms policy, as there were questions then about the appropriateness of shooting a burglary suspect. This committee never made a report or any recommendations to council however.
The department's firearms policy allowed the use of a firearm “to effect an arrest in a felony case” but that weapons should only be used “when all other efforts have been unsuccessful.” I believe this last portion is what the critics seized upon, as “when all other efforts have been unsuccessful” leaves much open to interpretation. Critics also seized on the fact that the suspects did not have any weapons. Chief Krasny responded to this criticism stating, “When you say, ‘I'm being robbed’ (meaning the clerk) you assume a weapon is involved.” He also stated the communications operator noted the differences in the voices of when the clerk originally called and when the suspect called back trying to cancel the patrol units.
The city council met with Chief Krasny for over two hours to discuss the incident. After this meeting, Mayor Wheeler stated no firm conclusions were made by the council, but he indicated he was disturbed by the policy. He also voiced concerns over the police union's contract that governed what the city could and could not do with police personnel. He stated the policy seemed to indicate police should not use firearms on just the suspicion of a felony. The interpretation he received from Chief Krasny was different however, indicating it was permissible. Needless to say the mayor's comments were not the ringing endorsement the officers were looking for. The mayor did state, “Let me reassure the police department that I took an oath of office to support local and state laws and mandates to protect community peace.” Meaning that he would support the officers if the department's policies were followed.
A special session of city council was held on February 11, 1976, to discuss the incident. A march was organized by the “People United for Justice” (PUJ), to protest the shooting of the two suspects. A PUJ spokesman said one of their aims was to determine Bullock's condition, as he had been transferred from the hospital and was lodged in the county jail. He also stated they were raising money for Bullock's bond and defense. The group wanted the council to establish a public investigation of the incident, suspend Officer Pressley until the outcome of the investigation and examine alternatives to the use of armed force. The PUJ spokesman also stated, “This is black history week and it begins with the killing of one black man and the wounding of another. This is not the first time a black man was shot under cloudy circumstances.” Nearly 150 people marched on city hall to protest the shooting.
Many of these protestors gathered in the council chambers demanding the shooting and the department's firearm policy be investigated. After discussion, the council unanimously passed two resolutions proposed by Mayor Wheeler. The first directed City Administrator Sylvester Murray to conduct his own investigation into the shooting and determine if any action could or should be taken against the officers. The second directed Murray to examine the department's firearm policy and whether shooting a suspect for “mere suspicion” that a felony had been committed should be permissible.
One councilperson, Kathleen Kozachenko, proposed an amendment ordering the suspensions of the officers until the investigations were complete. This proposal was voted down however. Mayor Wheeler did not feel the council could suspend the officers, even if they wanted to, due to the union contract and city charter.
Mrs. Viola Edwards, mother of Larry Edwards, accused the police department of murdering her son. “The police know Larry on sight, they did not have to shoot him,” she stated. “If they wanted to just stop him, why did they shoot him in his head? I think it was murder and I'm gonna do something about it.” She would eventually file a lawsuit against the department and two years later receive $15,000.
Murray would later submit his decision, to council, on the department's firearm policy and made only minor changes to it. Murray's policy would allow the use of firearms “where there is probable cause to believe a felony has been committed” and when the officer believes “it is absolutely necessary to protect himself or other persons against death or serious injury.” Many in the community felt this did nothing to keep the situation from occurring again and wanted a more restrictive policy.
Two days later on February 19, 1976, Murray released his finding on the shooting itself. He found that the officers did in fact act properly and cleared them of any wrongdoing. Murray stated he made no attempt to assess any legal or criminal blame against the officers, only whether or not they followed departmental policy.
He did state, “In my personal opinion I feel the attempt to chase on foot was too limited. Because the area was compressed and relatively well-lighted and because it was reasonable to assume that other police units were following behind them, who could assist in the chase, the officers should have pursued the chase further before using firearms.” He did add that the officers had to make decisions in a matter of minutes and seconds and “I have had the luxury of many days of thought and reflection.”
This report was called superficial by the “People United for Justice.” They issued a release strongly critical of Murray's investigation and wanted an independent investigation by a human rights organization. Mayor Wheeler had also considered asking city council to seek an independent investigation, possibly by the Justice Department. He stated he had received information about the incident which contradicted the facts determined by Murray and the internal police investigation on the shooting. The officers again were placed in limbo, as they had been cleared by the internal police investigation of the incident and the City Administrator's report, yet faced still another possible investigation.
The Ann Arbor Police Officer's Association released a statement on February 24, which criticized city officials and the citizen's group PUJ. The association charged City Administrator Sylvester Murray with “second-guessing” and Mayor Wheeler with using “rumor and hearsay.”
Officer Dan Branson, President of the AAPOA, said the union had remained silent in response to urgings by community leaders for those involved to remain calm. “We expected others to do the same. Unfortunately our trust has been broken,” he stated.
The statement alleged that Mayor Wheeler “uses the newspaper to cast doubt on the investigation through the use of rumors and hearsay. He then mentions the possibility of calling for an independent investigation. What the mayor is doing is questioning not only the competence, but also the integrity of everybody associated with the investigation.”
A grand jury investigation was also suggested, but was ruled out by Prosecutor William Delhey. Delhey stated a grand jury investigation “doesn't seem appropriate at this time, but I wouldn't rule it out.” Grand juries are normally convened only to compel testimony from someone unwilling to talk with authorities and to grant immunity in certain circumstances. “Where have you got either of those situations in this case?” he stated. As far as he was concerned all involved had cooperated in the investigations.
On February 26, the probe took an unexpected turn as Prosecutor Delhey asked for assistance from the Michigan State Police, to complete yet another investigation of the shooting. The prosecutor had previously stated he felt the officers acted properly, but that those involved in the shooting or those that may have witnessed it, might feel more comfortable talking with an investigator from an outside agency.
The state police assigned Sgt. Kenneth Kraus to the prosecutor's office to assist in the investigation. It was believed there were two witnesses that might have observed the incident and could provide further detail. One of these witnesses gave Edwards medical attention at the scene and the mayor stated, “This information was not in the police report and there's a discrepancy on this. There were some serious allegations, some I still don't have answers for.” It was at this point that Chief Krasny decided to turn the investigation over to the prosecutor's office.
Another part of the controversy involved finding out who fired the lethal shot that killed Edwards. In the beginning it was felt that Officer Pressley fired the fatal projectile, but it was later thought that it was actually Officer Anderson. Delhey said the weight of the projectile recovered from Edwards head matched that of a shotgun slug and was considerably lighter than ammunition from a pistol.
On March 9, 1976, the prosecutor finally released his report which exonerated the officers of any wrongdoing. The report tried to clear up many rumors surrounding the shooting, one of which had the officers shooting the suspects from a distance of less than seven feet. The state police determined that both suspects were hit from a distance of over 100 feet. It was clear that the officers yelled repeated warnings at the suspects to stop and that the officers had reason to believe they were the felons involved. Prosecutor Delhy did state that while clearing the officers of any wrongdoing, “we are willing to accept any further information which might be checked out or which might produce additional facts.” Again, while this third investigation cleared the officers, the door was left open for further investigation if necessary.
By April the attorney representing Richard Bullock stated he would try to seek murder charges against the two officers. He also stated that no robbery occurred and Bullock and Edwards only wanted to use the bathroom at the Pump and Pantry, but became enraged when the clerk began shouting racial slurs at them. The attorney stated the clerk made up the robbery accusation “to cover up his own wrongful conduct”.
In early April, Councilwoman Kathleen Kozachenko introduced a resolution which directed the city administrator to dismiss Officers Anderson and Pressley for acting “hastily” in the shooting of Edwards and Bullock. The proposal fell to defeat on a 8 to 3 vote. While this vote failed, the mayor again supported the idea of an outside investigator. No matter how many investigations cleared the officers there was always a call for one more. Finally the matter was laid to rest, although many involved in the incident would bitterly dispute the findings of these investigations.