Jeffrey Zeigler, a retired Detroit firefighter who was injured on duty, is accused of shooting at Brennan Walker, a Rochester Hills, Michigan teenager, when the youth knocked on his door to ask for directions.
The case has become the latest flash point for racial profiling concerns in the United States. Rochester Hills is a suburb of Detroit. Walker says he was trying to get directions for school when the man, identified by police as Zeigler, 53, is accused of shooting at the boy – and missing him. Walker is only 14-years-old. Zeigler is white, and Walker is black.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Walker Says He Became Lost While Walking to School & Knocked on Zeigler’s Door
Brennan Walker has spoken out in the Detroit-area news media about the incident. According to the Associated Press, the youth alleges that he knocked on the homeowner’s door “to get directions to school” around 8:20 a.m. on April 12, 2018. A woman in the home is accused of calling 911 and alleging that “her husband had chased a black male who tried to break in.”
Brennan Walker had missed his school bus because he woke up late and decided to walk to Rochester High School, according to the AP, which reported that Walker says he lost his way in the Christian Hills subdivision and ended up knocking on Zeigler’s door.
“I got to the house, and I knocked on the lady’s door,” he told WJBK-TV.
Walker told the television station that the woman demanded to know “why are you trying to break into my house?” Walker continued to WJBK: “I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High and she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs and he grabbed the gun. I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.”
“She didn’t really give me a chance to speak a lot, and I was trying to tell her that I go to Rochester High and I was looking for directions,” Brennan told The New York Times. “A few moments later the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the shotgun.”
2. Ziegler, a Retired Firefighter Injured on Duty, Was Previously Accused in a Road Rage Shooting
According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, Ziegler “was arraigned on assault with intent to murder and felony firearm.” Zeigler is being held in the local jail, which gives his age as 53. He told the court he was not currently employed. He said he was last employed in 2014. “That was the day I was injured at a house fire rescuing three kids,” he told the court.
He is no stranger to gun charges. In 2004, police in Warren, Michigan arrested Zeigler on accusations that he shot “at a car in a road rage incident on I-696,” Fox 2 Detroit reported. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in that case, according to the television station.
There was also a call for family trouble to the Zeigler home in February, Fox 2 Detroit reported. At the arraignment, a plea of not guilty was entered by the court of Zeigler’s behalf.
He is married and has two children, the judge was told by pretrial services. He had lived at his current address for 14 years. He has 20 years residency in Oakland County. He’s retired from the Detroit Fire Department, where he was a lieutenant. He worked there for 25 years. His wife indicated she had never had any concerns with her husband drinking. He was not considered a risk of flight.
The prosecutor said she had concerns for the safety of the public due to the underlying circumstances. “I have concerns about the veracity of the defendant,” the prosecutor told the court. She asked that Zeigler not be allowed to return to Rochester Hills so the victim couldn’t run into the defendant even by happenstance.
3. The Sheriff Expressed Anger Over This ‘Disturbing Event’ & the NAACP Said Americans are ‘Too Blinded By Our Color’
Oakland County, Michigan Sheriff Michael Bouchard released a statement expressing anger over what happened to Walker. “I feel so bad for this mom and young man and am incredibly angry at this disturbing event in our county, state and country. We will seek all applicable charges. There is no world where this is acceptable,” he said.
“It’s disgusting, it’s disturbing, and it’s unacceptable on every level,” the sheriff told The New York Times, adding that security footage captured the incident and showed that Zeigler was “not terribly weapons-competent.”
The prosecutor in the case said in court that the video matches the version of events told by Walker but not Zeigler, according to The Associated Press.
Detroit Branch NAACP President Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony released a lengthy statement condemning the incident. “50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. diagnosed for the nation its most dangerous and deadly spiritual ulcer. Yet today, there are still too many in our communities who have failed to heed his prescription to see our character because they are too blinded by our color,” he wrote.
The statement continued: “According to young Mr. Walker, after he knocked on the door for directions, he stepped back, a lady came to the door and started yelling, “Why are you trying to break into my house?” He indicated he was simply asking for directions. Herein lies the assumption. He is a black youth, at a white door, in a suburban neighborhood, therefore he must be trying to break in. Immediate reaction: grab your gun, shoot first, ask questions later.”
4. Zeigler Says His Wife Started Screaming & Crying But the Teen’s Mother Is Furious
Brennan’s father is currently deployed in Syria, his mother, Lisa Wright, told Fox 2 Detroit.
“One of the things that stands out, that probably angers me the most is, while I was watching the tape, you can hear the wife say, ‘Why did “these people” choose my house?'” Wright alleged to the television station. “Who are, ‘these people?’ And that set me off…We should not have to live in a society where we have to fend for ourselves. If I have a question, I should be able to turn to my village and knock on a door and ask a question.”
In court, Zeigler gave a brief window into his views on the incident, saying, according to video of his arraignment, “There’s a lot more to the story than what’s being told and I believe that will come out in court. I was in bed yesterday morning and my wife came screaming and crying …” However, he did not say more at that time because the court informed him that the purpose of the hearing was merely an arraignment.
Although he was given $50,000 bond and told not to go back to his house, according to AP, Zeigler told the judge, “I’d really like to stay in my home and keep my family together,” Zeigler told the judge. “I promise to have no contact with the gentleman.”
5. The Shooting Reminds Some of Another in Dearborn, Michigan
Some people are drawing a comparison between the Walker incident and the fatal shooting of Renisha McBride in 2013. That shooting also occurred in suburban Detroit. McBride, 19, had knocked on homeowner Theodore Wafer’s door. In that case, though, McBride was killed.
“Wafer killed McBride with a shotgun on Nov. 2, 2013, when she knocked on his Dearborn Heights door after getting into a car accident. He said he shot McBride, who had been drinking prior to her accident, because he feared for his life when he heard loud banging on his door very early in the morning,” NBC News reported.
Wafer, 57, of Dearborn Heights was convicted of second-degree murder, manslaughter and using a firearm in a felony, although he argued he was exercising self defense, according to the Detroit Free Press.
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