Whenever a citizen dies at the hands of law enforcement, the public is owed a full accounting of why it was necessary to use lethal force. The federal government has yet to explain the decision by agents to shoot and kill Eric Mark-Matthew Allport outside a Madison Heights restaurant in October 2020.
Allport, 43, was not a sympathetic figure.
He lived next door to, and was friends with, Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were killed in an FBI siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. He later served an 11-year sentence for shooting at police officers and supported the anti-government Boogaloo movement.
That history may have something to do with the failure thus far to disclose the details of his death, which occurred during a daytime shoot-out in a Texas Roadhouse parking lot in Madison Heights. He was shot seven times, according to the autopsy.
The FBI describe Allport as an anti-government extremist known to have a cache of weapons, including an illegal machine gun, which the FBI said was found in his truck at the scene. He was wanted on an illegal possession charge at the time of the shooting.
An FBI agent was reportedly wounded during the exchange, and the implication is the agent was shot by Allport.
The bureau has acknowledged to The Detroit News that its review of the incident was completed last fall, but thus far has been unresponsive to requests for its release. It took The News more than a year just to obtain the autopsy, which also is a public document.
Several questions remain, including:
- Why was Allport confronted in broad daylight in the parking lot outside a post office and restaurant? Was any consideration given to the danger presented to bystanders? Why did they choose not to arrest him at his home or business?
- The confrontation came five days before federal agents rounded up the suspects in the kidnap plot against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and just a month before the 2020 election. Is there a connection? Was the intent to take a sympathizer off the street to minimize the risk of a violent response to the arrests?
- Did Allport shoot the wounded agent, or was the injury caused by friendly fire? An FBI spokeswoman, in a statement to The Detroit News, said Allport drew a handgun and fired at officers. Do civilian witnesses corroborate that account?
- What is the justification for withholding the official review?
The handling of this federal shooting differs markedly from the way the Justice Department reacted following the killing by law enforcement in 2009 of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, an imam at a mosque on Detroit's west side.
The government, then under intense community pressure, eventually disclosed the details of that investigation. The conclusion was that the imam was armed and threatening.
And already the Justice Department has released more about the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by a U.S. Capitol Police lieutenant during the insurrection on Jan. 6.
There's no such public outcry surrounding Allport's death. But there shouldn't have to be.
As we've learned over the past two years of intense scrutiny of police shootings, the character of the deceased is immaterial.
Secrecy works only to build suspicion. Nearly two years is too long.
"When you have law enforcement shootings, it's appropriate to demand greater transparency," Suffolk University Law School professor Michael Avery, past president of the nonprofit National Police Accountability Project, told The News. "What haven't we been told?"
That's the key question. The government's review might help answer it. It should be released immediately.
-- Detroit News, June 18