GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Police say a car stopped near a Grand Rapids Police Department cruiser and someone inside opened fire on the officer, prompting the officer to fire one shot in return.
No one was hit by any bullets and no one was hurt.
GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom said it happened around 3:15 a.m. Friday on Prospect Avenue SE near Highland Street. He said an officer in a marked cruiser saw an oncoming car without its headlights on. As the vehicles approached one another, the chief said, the other car stopped, a passenger leaned out of the window and started firing at the cruiser with a handgun.
“It was not a traffic stop situation, it wasn’t a use of force situation, it was just he began getting fired upon,” Winstrom said at a Friday morning news conference.
A doorbell camera in the neighborhood picked up the sounds of the shots. Eleven can be heard in quick succession.
He said “numerous” shots were fired — at least four and probably more.
The officer returned fire, shooting one time through his windshield.
“That was the only shot fired by a Grand Rapids police officer or any police officer,” the chief said.
An after-incident check of the officer’s gun confirmed the single shot.
Winstrom said two nearby vehicles were hit by the shooter’s gunfire, not by the officer’s.
The car took off when the officer shot back, Winstrom said. Another officer in another cruiser soon spotted it, after which there was what Winstrom called a “lengthy” chase that included going on the highway. Though the chase spanned “several miles,” Winstrom said, it ended not far from where it started in the area of Hall Street and Eastern Avenue.
At that point, Winstrom said, there was a foot chase. SWAT was called to the scene and a perimeter was set up. Police brought in a dog to track the suspects. One, an 18-year-old, was ultimately taken into custody. Winstrom did not know his name.
At least two more suspects were being sought.
A News 8 crew at the scene saw an empty car that had stopped in the middle of the road with its driver’s door open. That vehicle was later towed.
Winstrom said the car was a stolen Cadillac. Winstrom noted his concern about an increase in auto theft in the area.
“Often times, we see a stolen vehicle then used in a bigger crime. Whether they were targeting police officers or not, they’re driving around with most likely an illegally possessed handgun and they’re willing to do this sort of crime, so it’s a very dangerous situation,” Winstrom said. “These stolen vehicles, it’s a bigger problem than just auto theft.”
“The level of punishment isn’t really a good deterrence but the certainty of getting caught is,” Winstrom added, citing recent research by the National Institute of Justice. “If you commit a violent crime here (in Grand Rapids), you will be caught and you will be brought to justice.”
The shooting was the latest in what has been a violent late spring and early summer in Grand Rapids. There has been a surge in shootings and several recent homicides, including the April 4 shooting of Patrick Lyoya by former GRPD officer Christopher Schurr, who is now charged with second-degree murder in the case.
Winstrom says he was concerned about the so-called Ferguson effect, referencing the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown Jr. by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer. Winstrom said police officers in a community that has seen a controversial killing may back off enforcement measures.
But Winstrom said it has not happened in Grand Rapids. He praised his officers for getting a record number of illegal guns off the streets, as one example.
“They’re true to their oath. They’re really fulfilling their duties to the best of their abilities,” Winstrom said.
But the criminals may not get the message. The chief says cases like the Lyoya shooting may embolden those looking to cause trouble.
“It’s our job to make sure criminals know in Grand Rapids that we are doing our job and they will be held accountable,” Winstrom said.
The chief explained that GRPD is investigating the shooting at the officer, while Michigan State Police will investigate the officer’s use of force, which is standard procedure.
Winstrom said GRPD has the officer’s body camera video, but because he was seated in his cruiser when it happened, it won’t likely have much value. GRPD also has the dashboard camera video, but because the cruiser was parked for such a long time after the shooting with the camera running, it was taking a long time to download the video. Winstrom expected it to be viewable by his officers sometime before noon. He hoped to be able to release it to the public as early as Monday — though he said he had to talk to MSP and the county prosecutor first.
Winstrom said the officer, a seven-year veteran of GRPD, is on “critical incident leave” because he fired his weapon — that is also standard procedure. He will have to make a statement to GRPD about what happened. Winstrom said Friday morning he had not yet spoken with the officer but planned to check on him today and that he would make sure the officer got any mental health assistance he may need.
“(It’s) super, super stressful to be in an officer-involved shooting, to fire your gun, and to be shot at is extremely traumatizing,” Winstrom said. “So I definitely care about making sure that he gets treated right through this process.”