On the one-year anniversary of his death, the family of Michael Adams gathered Monday to demand justice for the 19-year-old after he was killed by a Detroit police officer. His death is the subject of a $20 million lawsuit, which follows an autopsy report that found Adams had been shot several times in the back.
“That badge you officers carry came with an oath, an honor to serve and to protect. Not to kill, hide and lie,” said Crystal Curtis, Adams’ mother. “Why do they still walk free 12 months later after my son’s death?”
Curtis was joined by her attorney, David Robinson, who contends Adams was unarmed and fleeing officers when he was fatally shot in August 2021. The shooting occurred near the Factory ZERO Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center after a vehicle containing Adams crashed into an unmarked police car holding two plainclothes police officers who were monitoring drag racing and drifting nearby.
The Detroit Police Department declined to share footage of the incident following Adams’ death. Body-worn camera video was also unavailable due to the undercover nature of the officers involved. However, Robinson was able to obtain security footage from a warehouse close to the incident, which shows an officer firing four times and Adams running away from the crash.
“As he’s shooting at Michael, he’s shooting also into a crowd of onlookers who were there as spectators for that event that night,” said Robinson, adding that an unidentified bystander, who wasn’t involved in the incident, was struck by an officer’s bullet.
The circumstances surrounding Adams’ death is disputed by law enforcement. In his initial report of the shooting, Detroit Police Chief James White claimed the officer who discharged his weapon was responding to a threat.
“He sees our suspect who is reaching for something at this point, he yells police. The suspect removes a weapon, produces the weapon. He says drop it. And at that time, the officer uses fatal force,” White said.
But Robinson said Adams’ body was found far away from the firearm recovered at the scene.
“Michael’s DNA was not on that gun,” says Robinson. “He could not be a threat if he’s running away from the police officer.”
The officer-involved shooting underscores recent enforcement actions to monitor drag racing and drifting in Detroit. In one of his first major directives as the city’s newly minted police chief, White authorized 4,000 hours in overtime to patrol illegal driving shows and activities in the summer of 2021. This year, Detroit police officers were fired upon by street racers. Two teenagers are now facing attempted murder charges.
DPD did address specific issues raised by Robinson but offered a written statement in response to the allegations.
“An independent investigation is underway by Michigan State Police and the case is with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. At this time, it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending lawsuit.”
Remembering Michael Adams
More than 50 family members and friends gathered with posters and T-shirts that remember the teenager as “Forever 19.”
Omri Singleton remembers his older brother as a “gentle giant” who didn’t shy away from playing dress-up with his little sisters.
“Mikey wouldn’t hurt nobody,” says the 13-year-old. “To the police officers that pinned this on him, that suspect him of being some type of criminal – he was a family person. He loved to have fun.”
Adams leaves behind 11 siblings. Many gathered in tears, holding each other as attorneys described the moments that led to their brother’s death. Renee Simmons described the multifaceted relationship she had with her nephew.
“He kept my secrets like a brother, loved me unconditionally like a son, accepted my humanly flaws like a nephew, and seen me for who I truly was like a best friend,” says Simmons.
Simmons was one of the first family members to be informed of Adams’ death. She says the lack of criminal prosecution of the officers involved has rocked her faith in law enforcement.
“How do we get blamed for the lack of trust in the justice system when the justice system continues to allow officers to get away with murder?”
Curtis shared similar sentiments, after her brief interactions with DPD in the days following her son’s death.
“It just turned into an interrogation,” says Curtis. “They never gave me any answers. They never explained to me what happened. The only thing they said was that my son shot at the officer and the officer had to shoot him.”
For Curtis, and many of her family members, justice for Michael Adams means consequences for the officers involved. And it means changing the broader narrative about who her son was in the final moments of his life.
“Because his character and image is all we have left.”
Photo credit: Russ McNamara/WDET