Fatal Shooting in Royal Oak White Castle Drive Thru Deemed Justifiable

Fatal Shooting in Royal Oak White Castle Drive Thru Deemed Justifiable

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 1, 2018)

Royal Oak, MI- On April 10, 2018 a Royal Oak Police Officer fatally shot 28-year-old Antonio Gordon in the drive thu of White Castle Restaurant at 13 Mile and Coolidge Hwy near Woodward Avenue.  The shooting was investigated and ruled as justifiable.

The investigation was handled by the Genesee County Prosecutor’s Office, and the results were released Wednesday afternoon at a press conference at the Royal Oak Police headquarters. Surveillance video of the shooting was shown to members of the press, though the video did not redact the image and identity of the clerk who was working at the window.

The video showed the incident as described in the press release issued by Genessee County Prosecutor David Leyton, which states:

“On April 10. 2018, at approximately 5:55 pm, Royal Oak Police officer Keith Bierenga was on routine patrol on westbound 13 Mile Road near Benjamin Avenue, east of Coolidge Highway, when he observed a black BMW driving recklessly. The driver of the BMW was later identified as Antonio Gordon.

“After a short pursuit, Gordon’s vehicle came to a stop as traffic backed up from Coolidge Highway. As Officer Bierenga was standing at Gordon’s driver’s side window, Gordon abruptly fled in his vehicle travelling westbound on 13 Mile.  Officer Bierenga pursued the BMW but soon lost sight of it.  About a half an hour later, Officer Bierenga found the suspect BMW at the drive-thru window at the White Castle restaurant at 13 Mile and Coolidge.

“Officer Bierenga blocked the BMW with his patrol vehicle and approached Gordon with his service weapon drawn.  Gordon then quickly put his vehicle in reverse, smashing into the vehicle directly behind him, and then accelerated forward, narrowly missing Offier Bierenga who had to jump out of the way.  After then striking Officer Bierenga’s patrol vehicle, Gordon backed up and pulled forward again, speeding out of the parking lot. As Gordon was ramming his BMW out of the blockade, Officer Bierenga fired his service weapon, striking Gordon.

“Gordon crashed his vehicle about a half-mile away. Gordon was later pronounced dead.  The autopsy report indicates the cause of death as one gunshot wound to the chest and two to the arms.  The report also indicates Gordon’s bodily alcohol content was approximately three times the legal limit for driving and he tested positive for cannabinoids.”

Prosecutor Leyton deemed the shooting justifiable based on Michigan’s “Self Defense Act,” MCL 780.972, and Michigan law that allows for deadly force to be used when arresting officer is met with force or when deadly force is required to prevent the person being arrested from fleeing.

Letyon said “There is no question that this was a very tragic incident for all involved.  What started out as a routine traffic stop quickly escalated into a dangerous felony situation in which Mr. Gordon’s own actions on the road and at the White Castle parking lot put countless lives at risk, including the life of Officer Bierenga.”

According to the full report, “Officer Bierenga had provided the BMW’s license plate to dispatch at the time of the original traffic stop. Dispatch ran the license plate number and determined that the BMW was registered to a 70-year-old man.  Officer Bierenga had told dispatch the driver of the BMW was a 20-30 year old male.  Dispatch is able to cross check the address with other registered drivers and discovers that an 18 year old male, not Antonio Gordon, is registered to the same address where the BMW is registered. The individual has a firearm registered to him. This information is provided to Officer Bierenga by the dispatcher.”

It was later learned that Gordon was driving without a driver’s license and there was a warrant out for his arrest on a second-time drunk driving charge.

According to the report, the dash cam of the car only showed the corner of the White Castle building due to the angle of the vehicle.  The White Castle security video showed the incident and lines up with the account given in the report.

After being shot, Gordon drove off and Officer Bierenga got back in his patrol vehicle to pursue.

“The BMW appears to be driving erratically at approximately 60 miles per hour.  Near the intersection of Bembridge Road the BMW comes to an abrupt stop and the driver’s head can be seen dropping toward the driver’s door.  The brake is released and the vehicle accelerates across the centerline and into oncoming traffic where it strikes a blue mini-van stopped in the roadway,” the report states.

Officer Bierenga and other officers began to render aid.

Dash cam video was not shared with Officer Bierenga, and video from White Castle was obtained by search warrant by Oakland County Sheriff’s Department with a protective order in place so it could not be released to anyone else during the investigation.

Royal Oak Police Chief Chief Corrigan O’Donohue released the videos and a statement, as well as took questions from reporters.

“I would like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to the family of Mr. Gordon. Any loss of life is tragic, and I understand the deep pain Mr. Gordon’s family is experiencing,” Chief O’Donohue said.

He stated that “Officer Keith Bierenga is an 11-year veteran of the ROPD and has no history of use of force complaints…. Officer Bierenga was in an extremely confined space and had to attempt to take into custody an individual driving a 3,000 lb car.  This individual had demonstrated a complete disregard for the safety of anyone on the road or in the lot, including Officer Bierenga.  The encounter at the drive thu was over in a matter of seconds.”

Officer Bierenga had been working on administrative duty during the investigation.  According to O’Donohue, now that the initial investigation is complete, the ROPD will review the incident to see if there is anything to be learned.  Officer Bierenga is likely to return to patrol duty.  When asked if there are any lessons to be learned, O’Donohue said “The lesson learnd is, when you’re being pulled over, stop for police.”

The April 10 shooting was the first police involved shooting in over 20 years, according to Chief O’Donohue.  There was another fatal shooting after this, on May 14 when a 20-year-old assault suspect was shot after reportedly rushing towards an officer during an arrest. That incident is still under investigation.

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