Terrance Kellom, a young black man who was killed during an arrest in Detroit last month, was shot in the back, the attorney for Kellom’s family claimed Friday -- a claim that appears to contradict a federal officer's earlier allegation that the shooting was justified because Kellom had charged at him with a hammer.
Mitchell Quinn, a special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, shot Kellom the afternoon of April 27 during a raid at Kellom’s home in Detroit, according to Quinn's lawyer and others. Several officers on a multi-agency fugitive apprehension task force were serving an arrest warrant for Kellom, 20, who had previously been charged in several crimes and was wanted as a suspect in an armed robbery of a pizza delivery person.
Attorney Karri Mitchell, who is representing Kellom’s family, initially said at a press conference Friday that he did not want to give details of the shooting so as not to jeopardize the investigation. But he later claimed that Kellom was shot multiple times, and at least one of those shots hit him in the back.
“He was shot in the back,” Mitchell said. “I actually saw the body myself with my own eyes.”
In addition to seeing Kellom's body in person, Mitchell claimed he saw photos of the body that showed an entrance wound in Kellom’s back. He declined to say where the other gunshot wounds were located or how many times Kellom had been shot in total.
"I believe that [Quinn’s] version of the events is not accurate and he should be charged," said Mitchell. "Simple as that."
Mitchell’s claim appears to contradict the account given by Quinn, who is also black.
David Griem, Quinn’s attorney, said it’s unlikely that his client shot Kellom in the back in the process of defending himself. Kellom was allegedly coming at Quinn from about two feet away and threatening him with a hammer when Quinn fired the first shot, Griem told The Huffington Post. The attorney claimed that Quinn then backed up, hoping Kellom would stop approaching either because of the shot or because he was being verbally ordered to halt. But Kellom allegedly continued toward the agent, who then tripped over something in the hallway.
“He’s falling backward as Mr. Kellom is coming toward him and he fires several more shots. He doesn’t know if he hit him, and if he hit him, he doesn’t know where he hit him,” said Griem. “Is it possible that as he was falling down, Mr. Kellom may have turned? Is it possible that one of those shots wasn’t face to face? It’s possible. I doubt it.”
“When a police officer is confronted in a hallway by an individual threatening him with a hammer, who has had prior contact with the police for crimes such as armed robbery, home invasion and carjacking," Griem continued, "I think that Mitchell Quinn went by the book and did everything that was appropriate... and I think the evidence will show that.”
Detroit police Chief James Craig has also claimed that Kellom came at Quinn with a hammer, according to earlier reports.
Kevin Kellom, Terrance’s father, witnessed his son’s shooting and objects to the police accounts. He claims Terrance had cooperated with the officers trying to arrest him and was empty-handed when he was shot.
Kellom’s autopsy, unlike in most cases, has not been released to the public. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s office blocked the release out of concern that making the autopsy public would compromise the investigation, spokeswoman Maria Miller said earlier. The prosecutor's office is conducting an independent investigation into Kellom’s death, having received on Wednesday the results of an initial investigation by the Detroit Police Department Homicide Task Force and the Michigan State Police.
“While the investigation is pending we will not comment on any aspect of the matter,” Miller wrote in a Friday email to HuffPost in response to a question about Mitchell’s claims.
“Evidently [Prosecutor Kym Worthy] had a reason to seal the autopsy report, and we would want to respect that and let her do her investigation,” Mitchell said at Friday's press conference.
When asked why he thought the autopsy was not released, Mitchell said: "It would just probably create an outrage, because... how do you get shot in the back if I was coming at you with a hammer? It's unexplainable."
He said he believed the case hinges on the “integrity” of the other officers present during the raid, of whom he estimates there were between five and 15.
“If the other officers would have corroborated what [Quinn] indicated had occurred, this would be an open-and-shut case,” Mitchell said. “So there must be something more to it.”
The case has sparked several protests in Detroit and concern from groups over the involvement of ICE in a police raid. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan called for the suspension of the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team in light of the shooting, asking whether it's effective to bring federal officers into local raids and whether ICE officers are trained for such occasions.
Little information has been released about the shooting so far. Miller said Friday that the prosecutor's office is working on its separate investigation, but she would not give an estimate as to when it might be completed. The Kelloms have security cameras in the home that may have documented the shooting, but the family has not yet gotten access to the footage, Mitchell said. Kevin Kellom told WXYZ that officers removed surveillance video from the home.
Quinn, a former Detroit police officer, has been the subject of official scrutiny before. According to the Detroit Free Press, he was charged with assault in 2008 for allegedly pointing a gun at the head of his then-wife. The case was later dismissed, but Quinn was suspended from the city police and took a job at ICE instead. In 2000, Quinn and another officer were also named in an excessive force lawsuit that the city settled for about $20,000, according to the Free Press.
A Detroit Police Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the case as a whole, and said she would not answer questions about the number or location of the shots because of the ongoing investigation.