Prosecutor's Decision to Clear Agent Who Killed Kellom Underscores Need for Police Reform

At a highly publicized press conference last month, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (pictured above) cleared federal immigration agent Mitchell Quinn in the killing of 20-year-old Terrance Kellom, an American citizen whom Quinn had been authorized to arrest on a fugitive warrant. Quinn claimed Kellom attacked him with a hammer—a story that Kellom’s father has passionately disputed. 

But despite Worthy’s questionable decision to exonerate Quinn, the rising tide of police violence nationally, especially against people of color, demands that we re-examine the ready use of lethal force by law enforcement, both in Detroit and in this country as a whole. This situation cries out for change.

Attempting to decouple this case from the high-profile police shootings of black men that have sparked renewed social-justice movements across the country, Prosecutor Worthy gave a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement even as she sought to affirm law-enforcement’s version of his death. 

“There are severe problems in this country with African American men being beaten, maimed and assaulted by police… We cannot hide from that truth in this country. I will never hide from that truth,” Worthy said. Although the facts seem very much in controversy, Worthy went on to say, “Yes, black lives matter, but you know what else matters, credible facts matter.”

But Kellom’s case isn’t just about “facts.” It’s also about the lessons we need to learn.

Regardless of Worthy’s findings, rampant police abuse and the ready resort to deadly force need to be remedied. Clearly we are not approaching these kind of law enforcement killings properly.

There has been much police violence in Michigan in recent years in communities of color, including the slaying of seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones by a SWAT officer in Detroit; the horrifying firing squad killing of Milton Hall by cops in Saginaw; the slaying of Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor by an officer with a gun (when his partner only saw to use a taser) and the wanton beating of motorist Floyd Dent in Inkster during a routine traffic stop.

Now, with Worthy’s decision placing it back in the spotlight, the Terrance Kellom case raises many immediate questions- necessitating that we as a society collectively learn lessons.

Why was ICE, whose mission is to enforce immigration laws, involved at all in non-immigration law enforcement? And why is deadly force used by law enforcement, so readily authorized? Kellom allegedly had a hammer. Should we not think that Quinn, backed by several other armed officers, could have figured out a better way to disarm Kellom? Is it ludicrous to think that Quinn might’ve been able to take down Kellom with non-lethal weapons? 

It’s become quite commonplace for officers who kill to claim that they were in fear for their lives. But are we too easily accepting of this excuse, especially in the face of evidence that is less than clear-cut? 

The ACLU of Michigan has joined in a joint letter addressed to parties including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and sent to Prosecutor Worthy as well.

The joint letter demands that the Detroit Fugitive Apprehension Team (DFAT) be taken off the street until the task force is no longer a threat to the neighborhood in which they operate.

The letter also calls for a thorough investigation of the April 28th Kellom slaying, pointing out that the Federal agent who killed Kellom had previously been charged with criminal assault against his ex-wife, and sued for false arrest and assault as a Detroit policeman.

The Kellom case cannot be looked at in isolation. The nationwide epidemic of police killings calls out for transparency and accountability.

The ACLU of Michigan’s joint letter insists on:

  1. mandatory use of body cameras by all task forces working in Detroit

  2. psychological and substance abuse screening for all officers

  3. substitution of “deadly force protocols,” with a measured standard oriented toward “preservation of life,” permitting use of lethal force only as a measure of last resort.

The Terrance Kellom case cries out for an end to law enforcement’s knee-jerk willingness to the use of lethal force--making it abundantly clear, this epidemic of police violence must be remedied.

The quick dependence by police and law enforcement on deadly force protocols no longer makes sense. Irrespective of Prosecutor Worthy’s findings, these ACLU letter recommendations go to the heart of the matter. 

These ACLU recommendations precisely speak to the change that is needed—and needed now.

By Carl Bookstein, volunteer at the ACLU of Michigan