Mother of slain Flint man questions why police shot her son in the back
FLINT, MI – Nine police bullets fired from behind ended Demetrice Presnall’s life.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says the shooting of the 22-year-old Flint man was justified and that Presnall aimed a handgun at two federal agents before he was shot.
His mother, Veronica Presnall, believes her son was unarmed and had his hands up when police behind him opened fire.
“I want the truth to come out,” said Veronica Presnall. “I want people to come out and say it.”
No one disputes that Demetrice Presnall was at the Evergreen Regency apartments in Flint about 10 p.m. June 4 when plainclothes police were on patrol in an area with a reputation for drugs and violence.
Everything else about the night, however, is a matter of dispute.
Police say plainclothes officers from the Flint Area Narcotics Group were patrolling the area when they saw three men begin to walk away from them as officers approached. Two of men, including Presnall, took off running and police started after them.
Two troopers chasing Presnall said they saw him pull out a gun and try to shoot at two federal agents wearing marked police tactical vests in front of him, but the gun jammed when he pulled the trigger, according to police reports.
The troopers chasing from behind fired about 20 shots from behind Presnall, hitting him 9 times with .40-caliber bullets.
An ATF agent who said he was in front of Presnall told investigators he got within 10 feet of Presnall and was about to tackle him when he saw Presnall extend his arm. The agent told investigators he never saw a gun but did hear a noise that sounded like “branches breaking” that he said could have been Presnall’s gun misfiring.
The agent said he saw Presnall turn toward the troopers behind him and then heard the shots. The agent moved away from the gunfire.
The other ATF agent in front of Presnall said in his interview with the lead investigator that he felt that the troopers saved he and the other agent’s life.
Veronica Presnall declined to say what exactly her son was doing at the apartment complex that night or if he was running from police.
She said witnesses at the complex told her son did not have a gun and had his hands up as a move of surrender when police shot him. She said she simply wants witnesses to come forward.
“When I came on scene, people were engaging themselves toward me,” she said, adding that everyone she talked to was consistent with their story. “They were distraught.”
She said she tried to get police to talk to the witnesses, but said police declined. Now she says those witnesses are fearful to come forward.
The police report indicated that police interviewed more than 10 people who were around the area at the time of the shooting that occurred on Devon Lane in the complex.
All but one said they did not see anything. The one who told police that they did see something was not being cooperative and was vague on details, according to the report. He said he was worried about people thinking he was “snitching.”
Set off Lippincott Boulevard near Dort Highway, Evergreen Regency has been long known as a violent place ridden with drug and gang activity. When a Flint Journal reporter went to the complex the day after the Presnall shooting, several people there declined to go on record to say what they saw.
A father of two sons ages 3 and 8 months, Presnall was near graduation from barber college and had plans to one day open his own barbershop.
His mother — whose name was tattooed on her son’s wrist — said he often attended church and enjoyed spending time with his children.
State records show he was also a parole absconder who at the time he was killed was serving 18 months on probation for a 2012 no contest plea to attempted assault with a deadly weapon.
The family has hired an attorney to possibly file a wrongful death suit in federal court.
“I think (police) overreacted,” said Presnall family attorney, Dan Romano. “It’s ridiculous.”
Leyton said he stands by his decision to rule the shooting justified. He said he and four of his top assistants looked into the report and came to the same conclusion that it was justified.
Leyton said the fact that shots were fired from behind doesn’t mean the shooting was not justified.
“They have a right to protect their fellow officers and that’s what they did,” Leyton said.
MSP spokesman Lt. Brian Cole said the case was investigated thoroughly so the prosecutor could make his decision.
“Anytime anything like that happens, it’s going to be investigated to fullest to make sure everything was done properly and in order,” said Cole.
Veronica Presnall said she has had many feelings since her son’s death.
“Empty, numb, disbelief, anger,” she said. “I hold on by the grace of God. I hold on to the love of my son.”
After looking at the police report, Ron Bretz, a professor at Cooley Law School, said the shooting appears justifiable.
“Frankly the bottom line is that appears to be if the police version is what happened, then it’s a clean shoot,” he said. “The family’s version sounds very, very different. The burden of proof on them is going to be very heavy on them to prove otherwise.”
Bretz said troopers were certainly within their right to shoot if they feared for the other officers’ lives. He said although it wouldn’t be the first time police altered their investigation to make it look good, everything in this case looks legit.
But Romano sees it much differently. He questions why MSP is investigating its own troopers involved in the shooting.
According to the police report, police recovered a 9mm Beretta with an extended ammo magazine and another ammo magazine from Presnall, who was handcuffed before he pronounced dead at the scene.
Romano said he questions how the troopers could have seen Presnall taking the gun out of the waistband when it was dark out and the ATF agents in front didn’t see it.
“There is absolutely no freaking way that they can see this,” he said.
He also doesn’t understand why police handcuffed Presnall and said that disturbed the original state of the body.
Leyton said the officers were trying to protect fellow law enforcement.
“Just because he was pointing the gun at someone else, doesn’t mean they couldn’t see the weapon and have the right to protect their officers,” Leyton said.
Veronica Presnall said she hopes she can foster a climate where people are comfortable with talking to police. Witnesses can call Romano at 248-750-0270. “I love my son,” she said. “I want to hold on to the truth in that love.”