Branding officers who reigned bullets on her mentally ill and disabled son in the form of as many as 46 shots in as few as five seconds “a firing squad dressed in police uniforms,” the grief-stricken yet demonstratively angst mother of Milton Hall is demanding answers as to why Saginaw law enforcement leaped at being so forcefully excessive in encountering her clearly overmatched son.
So brutal and callous was the July 1 slaying of Hall, 49, amateur video footage of which has been obtained by CNN News, that civil rights investigators from the Justice Department moved late Friday to commence conducting a federal probe of the shooting, including the incendiary issue of if Hall’s constitutional rights may have somehow been grossly violated.
"I can confirm the Justice Department now has an open investigation into the shooting," said Mitchell Rivard, spokesman for Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. The Michigan State Police and Saginaw county prosecutor are also now spearheading joint investigations.
At first glance, footage captured by a passing motorist on his cell phone displays a knife-holding Hall arguing with as many as six officers for nearly five minutes, all the while innocently though nervously pacing back-and-forth in a commercial strip parking lot clearly visible to most passersby.
According to Saginaw Police Chief Gerald Cliff, who has since described Hall as someone known to officers “to be an assaultive person” and “someone with a long history of contacts with law enforcement,” cops arrived on the scene after being summoned by Hall following a brief dispute with a nearby convenience store clerk that commenced after he was accused of stealing a cup of coffee.
“I’m Milton Hall and I’m pissed off,” police claim Hall shouted in his 911 call, just before insisting they only opened fire on him following a tense standoff during which he repeatedly refused to drop his knife.
“At some point in time, he was threatening to assault police,” claimed County prosecutor Michael Thomas, in seemingly justifying the officers’ apparently over-the-top actions. Authorities were also quick to point out that when officers ordered him to surrender his weapon, Hall shouted “I ain’t putting s—t down.”
On the video, Hall can be further heard screaming, “Let him go; let the motherf—ing dogs go,” a clear reaction to a canine unit officers had also escorted to the scene. At one point, the witness who recorded at least part of the incident recalled Hall crouching down into a “Karate stance.”
“They did not have to kill him,” Hall's mother, Jewel, told CNN in further indicting a police force that would also seem to need to answer the burning question of why the force remains just over 30 percent minority staffed. Jewel added the knife her son has been demonized as wielding was a plastic knife he more than likely picked up while in the convenience store.
"He had not done anything,” added Jewel Hall, described in a San Francisco Chronicle article as a longtime community activist stemming from her outspoken and critical views of the New Mexico police department. In Albuquerque, officers are notorious for their alleged mistreatment of minorities, including a seemingly nefarious pattern of 17 police related shooting deaths in just the last 24 months.
“I’m stunned that six human beings would stand in front of one human being and fire 46 shots,” she added. “I just don’t understand that… it’s a lot of pain in that because it only takes one shot, so the question is why?"
A lifelong resident of Saginaw, 61-year-old Kelly Abner personally knew Milton Hall, so much so that she still remains perplexed and appalled over the conditions that ultimately came to at least somewhat signal his demise.
“I knew Milton from when I worked as a security guard,” she told a local Web site. “There are a lot of mentally ill, homeless people… they don’t have facilities to care for them. So they are turned out on the streets, and they have to fend for themselves. The police should not have killed Milton… he was scared. We can’t accept this. There have to be more mediators.”
While conceding that his cousin had been previously jailed for such minor offenses as vagrancy and the like, Mike Washington stressed “he was not violent” and was known by many to suffer from mental depravities, a recollection feverishly shared by the more than 100 or so family members, friends and other supporters who convened early Friday in his remembrance and to demand justice.
“They shot Milton because he was black,” said Troy Jackson. “It was wrong… it was cowardly. God will take care of them. Police are supposed to protect people, not shoot people to get their jollies.”
Fueling angers all the more are reports police now insist none of the high tech video or audio equipment fundamentally utilized by officers that would have captured the entire sequence of the night’s events was working at the time of the incident.
ABC News 12 reports police now contend neither the car equipment nor the lapel microphones which readily and easily record all nearby conversations and sounds that all officers are systematically equipped with, were functionally properly.
“None of them work?” snapped Jewel Hall. “So that’s the question I have and the community has it, what’s taking so long? Why is this not being transparent?”
Weighed in Matthew Frey, a current candidate for county prosecutor “if the homicide is ruled justifiable and I am elected I will review the case. I am extremely upset over what I saw.”
As someone who has already actually held local office, former Saginaw Mayor and one-time police chief Gary Loster also seems dumbfounded. “Could he have been talked down? Was it imminent? Was he a threat immediately to the officers or himself,” Loster openly pondered.
“Some officials have indicated the community has not been outraged,” he added. “I can tell you they’re very outraged to the point where there is no trust in the government or the police department.”
The Hall slaying marks the fourth at the hands of Saginaw police this year, at least two which have involved young, black males. On March 23, two state troopers shot and killed 24-year-old Keontae Amerson during what began as a routine traffic stop. On April 10, Saginaw police shot and killed 18-year-old Andre Jones, whom they accused of attempting to break into a home.
The six officers involved in the Hall shooting were put on leave for a short time while the case was initially investigated, according to ABC News 12, uncertain of if they have since been reinstated.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.