Detroit police officer David Krupinski pulled his trigger twice and watched the man crumple face-down onto the driveway, the garden rake he was holding clattering down with him.
What happened after Krupinski pulled the trigger that August afternoon in 2000 on the west side of Detroit is a blur, he said.
What happened in the seconds before is still being disputed.
Almost instantly, the shooting turned Krupinski into the face of a police force already besieged by complaints that its officers were too quick to kill, particularly when white officers encountered black suspects. But Krupinski, who is white, said in his first extended interview about the shooting that he did not learn why this shooting stood out among dozens of others until he turned on his television the next day: The man he had killed, Errol Shaw Sr., 39, was black, armed only with a rake, and was deaf and mute, unable to hear officers' commands.
Killings by police officers are a daily event in the United States; at least 400 are reported to the FBI each year, and the true total is almost certainly far higher. Shaw's death and its aftermath offer a vivid illustration of the damage and confusion that often follow. As officials continue to probe the death of an unarmed black teen that touched off a week of unrest in Ferguson, Mo., it is, if nothing else, a reminder that such shootings can cast very long shadows of anguish, mistrust and second-guessing.
Perhaps the longest of those shadows didn't lift until Monday, when a judge in Detroit agreed to end 11 years of federal oversight of the city's police department. Not long after Krupinski fired those two shots, the city's mayor took the unusual step of asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate his own police force. That probe found an alarming pattern of abuses, including a series of unjustified shootings.
Eleven years later, Detroit's force has become "another example that law enforcement agencies can change to better serve their communities when they commit to meaningful reform," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Monday. Among other things, its officers fire their weapons less than half as often as in the years before federal monitoring began.
But some mistrust remains.
"I don't know if you can say it's better," said Ron Scott, a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. "I think the use of force speaks for itself; it hasn't really changed in 10 years."
Krupinski said he still replays the events of that afternoon, wondering whether he could have done anything differently. "I have gone through the scenario hundreds of times, thousands of times, and every single time, there's nothing I would have done differently," he said.
His critics still recall the shooting, too — and still insist he belonged in jail.
TWO SHOTS, THEN QUESTIONS
Police had been called to Errol Shaw's house before. This time, they were responding to a report that Shaw was chasing his kids through the front yard with a butcher knife, a fact that the caller later said she embellished to make sure police arrived quickly.
Four officers found Shaw and his son standing on opposite sides of a Cadillac in the driveway of a modest home on Ferguson Street on the city's northwest side. Shaw glanced at the officers and quickly fled through a gate toward the back of the house.
He returned a few seconds later carrying a metal-tined garden rake on his shoulder, walking toward Krupinski, then 23, and another officer, Brandon Hunt. Both backed up and drew their weapons. Hurt backed up into the front of the Cadillac, leaving him nowhere to retreat. Both officers said they saw Shaw raise the rake over his head, as if he were about to swing it down on Hunt.
Krupinski fired twice in quick succession; one bullet struck Shaw's lower abdomen, the other went through his chest and lodged in his spine. He pitched forward face-down onto the driveway, where he died.
"They taught us to shoot to kill," Krupinski said. And he did.
CHARGES, CONFLICTING FACTS
People who witnessed the shooting — neighbors, other officers, even Shaw's parents, who were sitting on the porch — mostly agreed on that much. Whether he needed to shoot proved a harder question.
Shaw's parents promptly accused Krupinski of excessive force. Krupinski stayed quiet, something common after police shootings. Even years later, few officers who have been involved in the most contentious shootings are willing to discuss them publicly.
Krupinski said the moments after he pulled the trigger are a blur. Shaw's mother, Annie Shaw, asked him why he had killed her son. "To protect my partner," he replied. Minutes later, a supervisor took his gun and drove him downtown to be interviewed by homicide detectives.
That night, Krupinski stopped to visit his father, also a Detroit cop. "He asked me if I was all right, and I was. ... It hadn't fully hit me yet," Krupinski said.
That didn't happen until he turned on his television the next day. "I don't know when the actual 'I took a human life' part hit me, but you know, the whole craziness of it started, it was like everything was a million miles a minute," he said. "I couldn't understand why it was being so blown out of proportion, so high priority. I couldn't understand all the hype behind it."
City officials saw more than hype. The department suspended him without pay, and prosecutors took the unusual step of charging Krupinski with manslaughter. At the start of a two-week trial in 2001, the lead prosecutor, Mike Cox, told jurors that Krupinski made himself Shaw's "judge, jury and executioner" and suggested that he had fired for no better reason than he was having a bad day.
"I couldn't understand why," Annie Shaw said in court. She testified that she yelled to Krupinski and the other officers that her son was deaf. The officers testified that they never heard her say that. Shaw's family could not be reached.
Krupinski said it was surreal watching events that had unfolded so quickly being scrutinized in slow motion. "They dissect the whole scenario and everything from beginning to end," he said. "We didn't stand there for 10 minutes talking to that guy, and then I decided to shoot him. From the time I pulled up to the time shots were fired was 20 seconds at most," he said.
Jurors deliberated for 4½ hours before finding Krupinski not guilty.
"I just remember hearing the 'not,' and it felt like somebody lifted a house off me or something," Krupinski said.
The verdict cleared his name, but it hardly cleared the air. For some civil rights activists, it only deepened their mistrust. "We've not been able to get much justice out of the criminal-justice system," the Rev. Horace Sheffield complained to The Detroit Free Press. Scott was even more direct: The acquittal, he said at the time, "sends a message to the young and aggressive members of the police department that they can go out and do what amounts to an execution, and not pay for it."
The next year, a federal judge delivered an even stronger exoneration, clearing Krupinski of wrongdoing in a civil lawsuit. "In these circumstances," U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds wrote, "Officer Krupinski's use of deadly force was justified."
'I STARTED SECOND-GUESSING MYSELF'
Cleared, Krupinski went back to work.
The department transferred him to a new precinct, in Southwest Detroit, the same station where his father and older sister worked.
He lasted about a year.
"Eventually I kind of thought it was getting back to normalcy," he said. "But then I'm arresting people and going to court and I have defense attorneys bringing up my trial in a case that has nothing to do with that." So were some of the people he encountered on the street, who recognized him from TV or the newspapers.
"It just got to be too much, and then I started second-guessing myself. If the situation ever arises again, am I going to second-guess myself and get somebody killed?" he said.
That's not an unusual outcome for Detroit cops, said Mark Diaz, the head of the Detroit Police Officers Association. He said at least 15 officers leave the force every year because of post-traumatic stress. "The degree of damage that is done to the officer in a case like that is unmeasurable," Diaz said.
Krupinski quit in 2004 and found private security work.
"It doesn't seem that long ago on the one hand, and it seems like an eternity on the other. The whole time seems surreal," he said. "I don't think there's a day that goes by that I don't think about it."