Janet Wilson: Motorist shot 5 times by Dearborn police
Janet Wilson had not been feeling well. The 31-year-old could have even been off her medications, a precarious thing for someone suffering from mental illness, as she reportedly was.
But when she jumped in her vehicle to flee some commotion at a Detroit area mall on January 26, 2016, little did she know that she would be chased by a Dearborn police officer and shot five times.
And now, Wilson's family has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Dearborn, alleging wrongful death. They claim that the officer who pulled the fatal trigger, James Wade, had been disciplined several times for excessive force, including "overly aggressive and inappropriate tactics," according to the Detroit Free Press.
Police have said that Wilson tried to hit two officers with her SUV; a mall employee said she berated a security guard by cursing at him. In any case, how did Wilson end up dead?
According to Mlive.com, it all began when Wilson entered a store and began "yelling angrily about her being a 'light skin' woman."
Documents obtained by Mlive portray a woman dangerously in need of help.
"I approached her and asked how she was doing and if she was looking for anything in particular," the store employee told police, according to information culled from court documents, Mlive reports. "She told me ... I didn't need to know about her business.
"I politely responded that this was my store and I was doing my job, but if she did not want me to do my job, she did not have to stay in the store. She then threw the white Gucci frames down on the ground ... and began to yell at me."
Soon Wilson had an officer in front of her and one behind her. She was trapped.
Several versions of what happened next have been told. One is that Wilson pressed the gas and accelerated toward an officer. That's when he opened fire, striking her three times in the chest and twice in the arm. Other versions say the woman did not rev the engine at all.
"I remember one officer at her right front fender, the other at her back left door," a witness said according to police documents, Mlive reports. "The officer on her side was trying to open her door, but it was locked. She starts to flee the scene in her vehicle and then I see the officer at her front right fire three shots at her.
"Then the officer looks at me, which I'm guessing is to see of any rounds hit me."
Of paramount importance now is whether the officers were justified in opening fire on Wilson.
This passage from Mlive, of a court proceeding surrounding the case, is telling:
"I do not feel like either officer was in danger," the AAA worker told Michigan State Police Sgt. Joseph White on Jan. 29. "It did not seem like the officer who shot was in front of her car or its path."
State police: "Was the officer who shot ever standing in front of the lady's car?"
Witness: "Possibly, before she was moving."
State police: "Was he in front of her car when she started moving forward?"
Wilson's death was immediately ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, but not without enormous pushback from law enforcement.
Michigan State Police First Lt. Michael Shaw, according to the Detroit Free Press, said Wilson was indeed armed. "Armed with a three-ton vehicle."
"Armed or unarmed, what does that mean exactly?" Shaw said, the Freep reports. "I think everyone wants it to be clear-cut, but more police officers are killed during the year with a vehicle than guns. ... So was she armed? Absolutely."
Police representatives are saying that the officer who shot Wilson feared for his life. A judge will decide in the near future.
Vince Colella, an attorney for the Wilson family, said that the timing of when the shots were fired is a key component to the case. "If there were shots fired into this vehicle before it started to advance towards this officer ... that would be excessive force," he told the Freep.
"I don't want you to turn a blind eye to this," Cassie Bass, a niece of Wilson, said, the Freep reports. "This should not happen. This cannot keep going on. An injustice for one is an injustice for all. Who's policing the police?"
"She didn't have a criminal record," Bass said, according to Mlive. "You're not going to sit here and slander my auntie's character."