Larry Edwards died for $39, and a lot of people want to know why.
A policeman's bullet killed Larry as he fled from the attempted robbery of a Broadway Ave. convenience store with companion Richard Bullock. Both youths were unarmed, and the police gunfire that slew Larry and wounded Richard has redrawn the old battle lines between police and the black community.
Police Chief Walter Krasny, a 37-year veteran of the force and widely touted as a likely Republican candidate for Washtenaw County Sheriff in November, claims his men were "acting within the scope of the law in the apprehension of a fleeing felon." He says they conformed with department firearms regulations.
But many among the predominantly black, and predominantly angry, crowd gathered at City Council February 12 were calling it murder, and demanding the suspension of Patrolmen Thomas Pressley and George Anderson.
"I just can't see a kid losing his life in a well-lit area, running away," stated Paul Wasson, spokesman for the newly-formed People United For Justice (PUJ). PUJ is attempting to arrange a bail fund for Richard Bullock, as well as to (in their own words) "fight the long hard battle for justice" in the case.
Although some questions remain unanswered, at this point a fairly clear picture has emerged of what happened at the Broadway Pump-and-Pantry in the early evening hours of February 8.
Robert Edwards, 18, told police that he, his brother Larry, 19, and 18-year-old Richard Bullock had been together in the early part of the evening, and that Larry and Richard had discussed a robbery of some sort. Robert did not know of either one having any kind of weapon.
Robert did not participate directly n the robbery attempt at Pump-and-Pantry. However, he told police he was nearby at 7:38 pm, when his brother Larry, apparently simulating a gun with a finger in his coat pocket, kept the sales clerk at bay while emptying cash register receipts into his pockets.
Sales clerk Samuel Poston, however, had managed to call police just before Larry showed his "gun." Dashing out of the store, Poston was in the parking lot when Officers Pressley and Anderson pulled up in front of the store and jumped out of their car with guns drawn.
At the moment the policemen arrived, Larry and Richard jumped out of the store through a window that they had broken to enter, and ran towards the alley behind Pump-and-Pantry and the neighboring Broadway Market.
The officers gave chase, yelling for the youths to halt. Patrolman Pressley fired a first shot with his .357 magnum revolver at Larry Edwards and missed. But just as Edwards reached the sidewalk along Moore St., he was simultaneously struck by a blast from Anderson's shotgun and a second slug from Pressley's gun. He fell with wounds of the head and neck, and died nine hours later in St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.
Meanwhile, Patrolman Anderson ran after Richard Bullock and brought him down with a second shotgun blast just as Bullock tried to cut through a yard near the intersection of Moore St. and Pontiac. Bullock was also taken to St. Joseph Hospital, treated for a minor wound from a single shotgun pellet, and turned over to County Jail. He is now in jail awaiting arraignment in Circuit Court on February 27, having been unable to post $25,000 bond set by District Judge Thomassen.
The Ann Arbor Police Department has a weapons policy, based on state law, which states that firearms may be used in a felony case if "all other reasonable immediate means to make the arrest have been attempted and have failed." The policy also requires that firearms be used only if the arrest cannot be made otherwise. It further stipulates that "mere suspicion that a fleeing person committed a felony" isn't enough to permit use of a gun.
Much of the dispute over Larry Edwards' death has centered around whether officers Pressley and Anderson violated these procedures or not.
"I think the shooting was plain wrong," Councilwoman Liz Keogh (Dem., 1st Ward) told the Sun. "The policy clearly states, 'when other means (of making an arrest) are exhausted' and they weren't."
Police Chief Walter Krasny, however, reached the opposite conclusion. He pointed out in his report to the City Administrator that Pressley and Anderson saw Bullock and Edwards jump through the broken store window, and thus had probable cause to believe they committed the crime, not mere suspicion. Krasny also claimed that the officers had exhausted all other means to arrest the youths before opening fire.
On this point, however, his boss, City Administrator Sylvester Murray, disagreed. "In my personal opinion," Murray stated in a memo to City Council, "because the area was compressed and relatively well lit, and because it was reasonable to assume that other units were following behind them, who could assist in a chase, the officers should have pursued the chase further before using firearms."
In this dispute, Mayor Albert Wheeler has played a new and uncomfortable role as middleman. As an NAACP activist, he had been accustomed to leading angry groups before City Council and to castigating city administrations for racial injustices and police abuses.
"Being a black man with years of experience in the area of human right sand social justice," Wheeler told the gathering at the Council meeting, "I can understand the concern, I will listen to it respectfully, and I will work with the Council and other public officials to institute new policies, procedures, and
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People United for Justice spokesman Paul Wasson]
[Image Caption: Police Chief Walter Krasney]
Were Police "out to get" Edwards and Bullock?
One question that remains unanswered about Larry Edwards' death is, "Did either or both policemen know Larry Edwards and Richard Bullock, and were the officers 'looking to get them'?"
A rumor has persisted that this was, in fact, the case.
"We have reason to believe there was contact between them before," PUJ spokesman Paul Wasson told the SUN. He declined to elaborate, stating that the information would come out later.
The Sun has learned, however, that Officer Pressley was the investigating officer in a burglary at Arrowwood Trails Apts. in which Richard Bullock was a prime suspect. The burglary took place on Sunday evening, January 25, near the home of the Bullock family. When Pressley arrived, he found a trail of footprints in the snow leading from the Bullock residence to the site of the burglary.
Pressley proceeded to interview Richard Bullock's mother, and was given the names of two of the Bullock sons, including Richard's.
Later police received reports that Bullock had tried to sell camera equipment that appeared to have been taken in the burglary. Another report to police connected a second youth, named only as "Larry," to good apparently stolen in the same burglary.
No indication has been found, however, that Pressley knew, or ever met, either Bullock or Edwards, or that he had any grudge against them. What remains is a doubt - one which might be empty, or which might crack the case wide open.
Did Larry Edwards Have to Die?
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programs designed to eliminate any real or perceived differences in city law enforcement practices [between treatment of blacks and whites]."
People United for Justice - many of whose leaders are former colleagues of the Mayor from his Model Cities days - has slammed Wheeler for failing to suspend the two policemen or set up an independent investigation of the shootings:
"The City Manager, Mayor, Chief of Police, the Council and the Courts have shaken the confidence of the entire community in what they call justice."
Whether City Council or the Mayor will take any further action on Edwards' death remains to be seen. What may come out of this incident, however, is a general revision of the City's weapons policy, to clarify - and also restrict - the circumstances under which police can fire their guns.
Councilwoman Kathy Kozachenko (Socialist Human Rights Party, 2nd Ward) has advocated complete disarmament of the police, while Councilwoman Keogh would allow police to shoot only when their own lives are directly threatened. However, it is unlikely that the other Democrats will support either plan, and several seem not to have made up their minds on what they want in a new gun policy.
One sad irony that emerges is that Council faced a similar situation last August, when police shot an unarmed juvenile fleeing from the scene of a burglary. (Interestingly, Officer Pressley was one of two policemen on the scene, but didn't fire his weapon.)
At that time, Council set up a committee to review city gun regulations and bring proposed revisions back to Council. This committee never got off the ground. Had it accomplished its task, Larry Edwards might be alive today.
David Goodman, a former SUN staff member, is a free-lance writer living in Ann Arbor.