GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After seeing dashboard camera footage recorded when a Michigan State Police trooper shot and killed a man near Hamilton, a police expert said he wondered why the trooper didn’t try to calm the man down.
Virgil-Lee Taylor, 31, Zeeland was unarmed when he was shot and killed June 21 outside the Heath Township home where his daughter lives with her mother. The trooper had been called there on a report of a break-in.
The MSP dashcam video, released in compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, was sent to News 8 with distorted audio, blurred images and a missing section in the middle. MSP said it Tuesday that it was working to provide a better version.
The car was parked facing away from the spot where Taylor was shot, so little is visible, but a microphone picked up what happened.
The trooper, a veteran officer whose name has not been released, was not wearing a body camera. Few MSP troopers wear one, with the agency citing cost as a prohibitive factor as providing them to all.
James Howard, a former officer who spent 36 years in law enforcement, much of it training officers, says the dashcam video shows the trooper was confrontational from the beginning.
“It was too quick,” Howard said.
He said the trooper was also too close to Taylor and didn’t have any backup, which Howard said contributed to why the confrontation became physical.
“I have problems with it. I have problems right off the bat with not trying to talk this guy out. I mean, ‘Hey, can we talk about this,'” Howard said.
Rewinding back to the beginning of the video, Howard noticed a U.S. Army logo on the suspect’s license plate.
“I immediately noticed that there is an Army strong on his license tag, which means he has prior military, which in my mind means I should really try to talk this guy out. Because looking the video, he looked like a young scrappy guy and even in my prime, I’m going to try to talk someone out. That’s just number one,” Howard said.
Taylor’s family says he was not mentally well and needed help. They say he went to the house to try and talk to someone. Instead, he got into a physical fight with the trooper that ended with a single shot that took his life. Without bodycam footage, we will never see exactly what led up to that.
“Not having a camera, that’s a department rule, might be a money rule, but gosh, it’s going to save you a lot. This right here, there are going to be a lot of questions asked on this,” Howard said.
Taylor’s family sent News 8 this statement in response to the video:
“We want to stress that mental health, and emotional distress issues are a real problem. We should be taking every step to push for body cameras for training, mental health training, and de-escalation training mandated for every officer in our communities. This type of loss could have been prevented with this type of training. People are in emotional distress, and everyone needs compassion. Hopefully, our message is heard, and our son didn’t die in vain.”
The Taylor family has set up a GoFundMe account to help support his daughter.
A prosecutor will determine whether the trooper was justified in shooting Taylor.