The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reconsider its decision to not prosecute the Saginaw police officers involved in the shooting death of Milton Hall.

On July 1, 2012, Saginaw police officers shot and killed Hall, a 49-year-old, mentally ill African American homeless man. During the standoff at a local shopping center, six officers discharged their weapons – 47 shots were fired, with eleven hitting Hall. The killing was video recorded, and footage shows that Hall was standing a significant distance away from officers and was armed with a three inch knife. Video footage shows that all shots were fired within a matter of seconds, and even after Hall collapsed, police continued to fire.

In a press release issued late last month, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and the FBI announced that Saginaw police officers who shot and killed Milton Hall won't face federal charges because “this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to lead to a federal criminal prosecution.”

To prosecute the officers, it is necessary to prove not only that Hall’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the use of excessive force, but also that the officers “willfully” set out to deprive him of those rights.

In its memo to U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade, the ACLU of Michigan disagrees with the DOJ’s conclusion that there is insufficient proof of the officers’ willfulness and cites Supreme Court precedent indicating that an officer “recklessly disregarding” a person’s rights can meet the “willfulness” standard regardless of the officer’s frame of mind.

The following can be attributed to Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice staff attorney:

“The fact that six armed police officers fired 47 bullets at a mentally impaired homeless man who held only a small knife a significant distance away from the officers amounts to a reckless disregard of Milton Hall’s right to be free from an unreasonable use of force. As a civilian, Mr. Hall had every right to expect that the police would protect his life, but instead, he was the target of what resembled in many ways a firing squad. Saginaw deserves justice not only for Milton Hall, but for the entire community that has been devastated by this inexplicable act of police violence.”