Prosecutor: GRPD justified in shooting man, 19

James Spivey in an undated courtesy photo (Jan. 14, 2014)
James Spivey in an undated courtesy photo (Jan. 14, 2014)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County Prosecutor has ruled that a Grand Rapids police officer was justified in shooting a 19-year-old who was carrying a BB gun that officers thought was an actual firearm.

James Spivey was shot on the afternoon of Jan. 14 at Clearpoint Valley Townhomes. GRPD was called to the scene at the complex in the 4100 block of N. Castle Ridge Dr. after a Family Outreach counselor called 911, worried that Spivey would harm himself.

He had told her that he “could not take it anymore,” and that he would “take out” anyone who came to help him, according to the Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth’s report on the shooting.

Officers called for medical units to come to the scene before they even arrived because there was a chance Spivey could harm himself. When Officers Benjamin Hawkins, Joshua Mollan and Justin Kribs arrived at Spivey’s townhome, Hawkins and Kribs went to the front door and Mollan stayed outside to “maintain a perimeter.”

“It should be noted that all three officers were in “full uniform” and, as such, were clearly identifiable as police officers,” the prosecutor wrote.

Hawkins said he could hear a man talking to himself and a small dog barking when he knocked on Spivey’s door, the prosecutor said. Spivey answered the officers’ calls through a closed window and said he didn’t plan to hurt himself and hadn’t “made any attempts today,” according to the prosecutor’s report. He would not provide a direct answer about whether he had a gun.

The officers eventually coaxed Spivey into opening his door and show them his arms. He showed them the left one without resistance, but at first declined to show them his right arm because he was holding his dog. After getting him to show them his right arm, the officers saw a bruise and some cuts that looked to have been made relatively recently.

That, they said, is when Spivey became “aggressive,” trying to quickly shut the door. One of the officers used his foot to keep it open. Spivey started to “talk quickly” and “cry,” the officers told the prosecutor. They became concerned he would do himself harm.

They told Spivey they wanted to come into the townhome to make sure he would not hurt himself. He then fled up the stairs to the second floor.

The officers then took cover because they could not see Spivey and didn’t know whether he was armed. Hawkins drew his gun. Spivey as clearly agitated, the officers said, “yelling and screaming,” and cursing that them to get out.

Hawkins then ordered Spivey to come downstairs with his hands up. Spivey replied with “incoherent” statements, the prosecutor’s report said, and continued to cry.

“I’ve been doing good,” he said. “I had been doing so good.”

Hawkins told Spivey he did not want him to hurt himself.

“I am not promising anything,” Spivey said, according to the officers.

The officers then heard Spivey running down the stairs toward a landing. When he rounded a corner onto the landing, Hawkins saw that Spivey was holding what appeared to be a black handgun. Hawkins shouted that Spivey had a gun.

By this point, all three officers were in the townhome. They retreated toward the front door and “took refuge in a small half-bathroom near the front door,” the proseuctor said. Kribs drew his gun and knelt at the door to cover the hallway. The officers heard Spivey continue to come down the stairs. They could not make it through the bathroom window quickly.

Kribs ordered Spivey to drop the gun. He did not.

When Spivey “rounded the corner” toward the officers, Kribs fired three shots. Spivey fell back and out of Kribs’ line of vision.

Hawkins shouted to Spivey, but Spivey did not respond. Because the officers still couldn’t see him, they determined he was still a threat, the prosecutor’s report said. They opened the bathroom window, pushed out the screen and climbed out.

The officers continued to yell to Spivey after taking cover behind a parked car. Eventually, Kribs saw Spivey’s gun thrown through the front door.

Mollan ordered Spivey to crawl toward the door, but Spivey said he couldn’t. Mollan approached the door, told Spivey to put his hands up, looked into the house and saw Spivey laying on the ground with his hands in the air. They had blood on them. Spivey confirmed he had thrown away the gun.

Mollan then saw Spivey had been shot in the abdomen and left arm. He told Spivey that help was on the way.

Mollan asked about the gun again, at which point Spivey said it was a BB gun. He said he had the BB gun because he “just wanted to leave.”

Spivey was taken to the hospital, where he remained for nearly a month.

Spivey’s weapon turned out to be a Crossman Model C11 BB gun, powered by carbon dioxide. The orange tip that distinguishes it as a BB gun had been removed.

The Family Outreach counselor, Shelley Seasly, told detectives after the shooting that Spivey has bipolar disorder and depression. She said when he called Family Outreach around noon, he was transferred to her because his normal psychiatrist and therapist were unavailable and she was familiar with him. She said Spivey was crying and wanted her to contact his mother, who had recently checked herself into a mental care facility.

He kept hanging up on her, Seasly said. They spoke several times over the course of about 45 minutes. He became more agitated and she suggested he go to the hospital. He declined because “he couldn’t leave his dog home alone.” She said she would send someone to check on him.

“Don’t send anyone because everyone will f****** die,” she said Spivey told her, and then hung up. She called 911 right away.

Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth ruled that the officers had sufficient reason to be concerned for their safety based on what they knew about Spivey, his demeanor and his failure to drop the BB gun when ordered to do so. The law requires that in cases of self-defense, officers need to have “honest and reasonable” concern that they are in danger. But they do not need to be correct in that belief, the prosecutor said.

Therefore, the prosecutor determined, Kribs was justified in shooting Spivey.

Additionally, the prosecutor said, the officers were justified in entering Spivey’s home without a warrant or consent because there was sufficient evidence to indicate he would harm himself and they were not seeking evidence.

The prosecutor said that Spivey could be charged with felonious assault, but that he has decided not to issue that charge because of Spivey’s mental condition and because the BB gun was not loaded and was not a threat to the officers’ lives. Furthermore, he said, “the mental health system, not the criminal justice system, is best suited to address Mr. Spivey’s multitude of problems.”

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