Police: Armed man fatally shot by Benton Harbor officer

City leaders urge patience, unity as investigation into shooting is completed

Benton Harbor officer shooting
Michigan State Police on scene of an officer-involved shooting on Pavone Street in Benton Harbor. (Oct. 18, 2016)


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — A 28-year-old man was shot and killed by a Benton Harbor police officer early Tuesday after allegedly opening fire in the direction of residents and officers, police say.

24 Hour News 8 has learned the man who was shot was Darius Wimberly.

Darius Wimberly
An undated courtesy photo of Darius Wimberly.

The Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety says officers were called to a home on Pavone Street near Benton Harbor High School around 2:15 a.m. on a report that a man was being held at gunpoint by another man. When officers arrived at the home, they were told that no one from that home had called police but allowed officers to check the house anyway. They didn’t find anything.

The officers were leaving when a man emerged from the street and fired between four and five shots toward the residents of the house and the officers, police say.

“Officers felt as if they were being shot at. One officer describes having a bullet whiz by his head. The officers immediately run for cover,” Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis said.

One officer returned fire and hit the suspected shooter.

Wimberly was taken to Lakeland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy was conducted Tuesday.

No officers were injured.

DETERMINING THE TARGET

At a press conference Tuesday morning, McGinnis said police do not believe the shooting was meant to be an ambush on officers. Michigan State Police Detective 1st Lt. Chuck Christensen said it appears the suspected shooter was targeting someone inside the home.

Officers say Wimberly had two handguns on him at the time. The officer who shot him was armed with a rifle. The officer fired about double the amount of rounds as Wimberly, police said.

“The suspect, from our preliminary exam of things, it sounds that he fired at least four to five times. Officers returned fire. There was a lull. There was … two more shots fired by the suspect and then the officer returned fire again,” Christensen said. “So, total, we collected seven cartridges from the suspect weapon out there and one more cartridge that may have been from his second weapon that was used, possibly — we’ve got to wait for ballistics to come back on that. And the officer, we believe, fired 15 rounds out of a .223 carbine.”

It was not immediately clear how many of those shots struck Wimberly. Christensen said authorities were awaiting autopsy results to tell them that.

Benton Harbor officer shooting
Michigan State Police on scene of an officer-involved shooting on Pavone Street in Benton Harbor. (Oct. 18, 2016)

MSP has been called in to investigate the officer-involved shooting.

“One of the things which wouldn’t look very transparent if we were to investigate ourselves,” McGinnis explained. “For the purpose of transparency and for public trust, we feel it’s best to either have … the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department or the Michigan State Police come in and handle those investigations. It’s totally at this point taken out of our hands.”

The officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of MSP’s investigation. That’s standard procedure following an officer-involved shooting. Police did not release the officer’s name, but said he is a month away from his one-year anniversary on the force. He was originally a firefighter who cross-trained as a police officer, McGinnis said.

Prosecutors will investigate why the suspect was shooting at the house and whether the officer’s use of deadly force was justified. Benton Harbor DPS will also conduct an internal investigation to make sure all department policies and procedures were followed.

Police also said Wimberly had a criminal record, but did not provide further details.

>>WATCH: Police update case

‘WE HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE’

Three of the four officers at the scene were wearing body cameras. A friend of Wimberly was doubtful the video from those cameras would back up authorities’ account.

“The body camera probably wouldn’t show him shooting at them. I don’t think they have anything that shows him shooting at them. I just don’t,” Candice Smith said.

McGinnis said his department “believes in transparency” and is ready to release any video as soon as it gets the all-clear from MSP and the county prosecutor.

“We understand people will be hot. We understand people will have other opinions. I think we can agree to disagree peacefully. That’s why we thought it was important to get before you quickly and get facts out. We really have nothing to hide, as you’ll see as the investigation unfolds and information is released,” he said.

He asked skeptical community members to avoid judgement based on the past.

MAYOR: IMPORTANT TO ‘EXERCISE PATIENCE’

Around 30 people stood near the scene of the shooting Tuesday morning, some yelling “Black Lives Matter.”

“They gonna keep on killing us,” one neighbor yelled.

Wimberly was African-American. The officer involved in the situation is white.

City leaders want to make sure there isn’t a repeat of a 2003 riot, when residents set buildings on fire after a black man was killed during a police chase.

“We will not let this deter our city. We will not let this divide our city. We will not let this tear our city up. There are so many people who are in great anticipation that this will happen, but I have faith in our community that we will stand strong with this family, support them in the process to make sure that everything comes to their satisfaction and to the community’s satisfaction,” Pastor Maurice McAfee, who is the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said at a press conference late Tuesday afternoon.

>>WATCH: Community leaders react

Also during that press conference, Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad called for peace during the investigation.

“The family wants to see our streets peaceful and allow for this process to take place,” Muhammad said.

“Please to allow for the investigative process to take place without drawing premature conclusions. It’s very important that we exercise patience and restraint in this very tough time. Although frustration and anger is high, we don’t want for our anger to govern our behavior,” he added.

Muhammad asked everyone to respect the privacy of Wimberly’s family as they mourned.

Despite the concerns, there was no violence Tuesday.

Tuesday night, a candlelight vigil was held on the street where Wimberly was shot. There, surrounded by friends and family, Wimberly’s sister and cousin said they want justice, though they didn’t talk much about what happened.

Darius Wimberly, Benton Harbor, officer-involved shooting, candlelight vigil
A candlelight vigil for Darius Wimberly on Pavone Street.

“I don’t want to get anything misconstrued,” Lamaria Wimberly said. “Darius was a great man, a great brother.”

Wimberly’s cousin, Erica Barton, asked for prayers:

“Pray for us. Pray for peace. Pray for love. Pray for everyone in the city. Pray for change,” she said.

–24 Hour News 8’s Marvis Herring, Heather Walker and Sarah Hurwitz contributed to this report.