Man who shot at black teen asking for directions is guilty of assault
A 14-year-old boy missed the school bus one Thursday morning in April. He started to walk to school, got lost and knocked on the door of a home in a Detroit suburb to get directions.
A minute later, a white man came out of the doorway with a shotgun, aimed and fired it at the teenager, who is black.
The encounter in Rochester Hills, Michigan, which was captured on a surveillance video, was part of the evidence jurors saw this week before convicting the man, Jeffrey Zeigler, 53, on Friday.
He was convicted of one count of felony assault with the intent to commit great bodily harm, which was a lesser charge than the assault with intent to murder that he initially faced. He was also convicted of one count of using a firearm while committing that felony.
Zeigler, a retired firefighter, faces up to 12 years in prison when he is sentenced in about two weeks, said Paul Walton, chief assistant prosecutor in Oakland County.
Rob Morad, Zeigler’s lawyer, said his client was “remorseful.”
“He certainly wishes it didn’t happen,” Morad said Saturday. “He wishes he didn’t go outside that day.”
The encounter on April 12 once again generated scrutiny over how benign, everyday interactions can turn into potentially deadly situations for black people.
It is also another prominent case of a black teenager being shot at outside a home in the Detroit area. Theodore P. Wafer was convicted of murder in 2014 for shooting and killing Renisha Mcbride, 19, on his porch. Wafer said he was jolted awake by her knocking on his door at about 4:30 a.m.
Morad said that April encounter happened so quickly that Zeigler did not have time to consider the boy’s race. “He just reacted and that was that,” Morad said.
The surveillance video, which does not have any sound, shows the boy, Brennan Walker, approaching the doorway at Zeigler’s home. Brennan had slept through his alarm and thought he would make the 90-minute trek to Rochester High School on foot. Within an hour of waking up and heading out, Brennan had gotten lost.
In the video, Brennan is wearing a backpack and a hat. A few chairs with cushions are outside the house. He gets close to the door before he turns around and looks like he might walk away. Then he approaches the door again and pauses.
Brennan told The New York Times in April that he had tried another home before Zeigler’s. He said after approaching Zeigler’s residence, a woman began yelling as if he were trying to break into the house.
“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 said. “A few moments later the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the shotgun.”
The video shows Brennan stepping backward and sprinting. Zeigler points the shotgun, and there is a flash near the muzzle. He testified that he was trying to fire a warning shot, television station Fox 2 reported.
Attempts to reach Zeigler’s wife and Brennan and his family on Saturday were unsuccessful. In an interview with Fox 2, Brennan’s mother, Lisa Wright, said she had previously taken his phone away as a punishment, which is why he could not use it to get directions.
Wright said neighbors should be able to ask each other for directions without fear.
“I shouldn’t be fearful of a child, let alone a skin tone,” she said. “This is a decent neighborhood. If anything, why would I knock on your door to rob you? Why would I have a conversation with you to rob you? It’s ridiculous. Ignorance is everywhere.”