St. Clair Shores, MI – The family of an alleged drug dealer who was fatally shot by police during a gunfight outside his baby shower has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the St. Clair Shores Police Department (SCSPD).
The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office determined that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified, MLive reported.
In the federal lawsuit, Gray’s family alleged that St. Clair Shores police executed him after he had already surrendered.
In addition to the SCSPD, the family is also suing the city and the five officers involved in the altercation, attorney Vince Colella said in a press release, according to MLive.
“The abbreviated three-week investigation was woefully inadequate to fully investigate the murder of this young man,” Colella said. “Through this lawsuit, it will become clear that investigators failed to collect evidence, obtain witness statements, and in some cases, disregarded critical information, resulting in the officers avoiding criminal responsibility.”
The lawsuit also alleged that Gray was unarmed when he was shot.
The handgun was found beneath his body, and a loaded AK-47 rifle was recovered near the banquet hall, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said during a press conference in December of 2018.
The fatal encounter occurred on Nov. 4, 2018, after Gray got into an argument with his pregnant girlfriend’s family at the banquet hall where the celebration was being held, the Detroit Free Press reported at the time.
According to investigators, Gray was agitated during the event, and expected that a fight or confrontation would take place, Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said during the press conference.
Multiple party guests were also in possession of weapons.
“There was gonna be a shoot-out in St. Clair Shores that night,” Sheriff Wickersham said.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., a Lakeland Manor Banquet Hall staff member called police to report that there was a man with a rifle outside the building.
About 70 people were inside the banquet hall at the time.
“Upon officer arrival, a male matching this description was observed standing outside the banquet hall," the St. Clair Shores Police Department said in an initial news release, according to the Detroit Free Press. "The male ignored several demands from officers and attempted to flee the scene on foot."
K9 Axe began chasing after the suspect, who was later identified as Gray, Sheriff Wickersham explained.
Gray then pulled his FN57 5.7mm handgun from his waistband, and fired at the officers once.
The officers took cover and returned fire, hitting Gray as he continued to run, the sheriff said.
Police repeatedly ordered the suspect to drop his weapon, but he raised his gun to fire at the officers yet again, according to Sheriff Wickersham.
The officers fired their weapons at the suspect, who ultimately collapsed to the ground.
Gray was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, WXYZ reported.
According to Sheriff Wickersham, officers shot more than 47 times and the gunman was hit a total of six times in both thighs, the head, the left side of his back, the left arm, and the right foot, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Investigators later determined that Gray’s weapon jammed after he fired the initial shot.
"If the gun didn't jam, he had 20 more rounds to fire at law enforcement," said the sheriff, who noted that Gray’s gun was the same type of weapon the department’s SWAT team uses.
K9 Ace, who was also fatally struck by gunfire during the encounter, was ultimately located by a side door at Lakeland Manor, Sheriff Wickersham said.
He was rushed to an animal hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
Sheriff Wickersham said it is unclear whose weapon fired the round that killed K9 Ace.
"[Gray’s family does] not believe that their son was armed at the time of the shooting, and no forensics or ballistics have been released concerning the dog that would link a gun or a bullet to any weapon that may have been in possession of Theoddeus," Colella told WJBK at the time.
According to The Detroit News, Gray was out on bond due to a federal drug case at the time of the shootout.
Just days prior to his death, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents executed search warrants at a hotel in Bismarck, North Dakota, and arrested Gray for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.
“He was found with an estimated 1,000 doses of oxycodone inside a prophylactic hidden inside a pillow,” Assistant Attorney General Julie Lawyer told The Detroit News. “He told agents he had come to North Dakota to sell drugs in the past and was owed $10,000 from individuals on the Fort Berthold reservation.”
Gray had also been trafficking drugs from Detroit to Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, police said.
On the day of the baby shower, Gray learned that a person he owed a drug debt to was heading to the banquet hall with three other people, investigators said.
Gray became upset due to the potential threat, grabbed his handgun, and went outside looking for them just before police arrived.
The federal drug case was ultimately dismissed in the wake of Gray’s death.
Sheriff Wickersham said the department sent letters to Gray’s family in an attempt to speak with them about the shooting investigation, but that they never replied, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Colella disputed the sheriff’s claim, and said the family has “nothing further to add to the investigation.”
“The onus is on the department to take those witness statements,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “It's not up to the family to do the investigation for them."
Colella said that the family resorted to filing the wrongful death lawsuit because it was the only way they figured they could ever get justice for Gray’s death, MLive reported.
“Litigation will shed light on these and numerous other troubling issues, and the public will know the truth as we show that the killing of Theoddeus Gray was unjustified, unconscionable and in blatant violation of his civil rights,” he declared.