Man who shot at black teen ask­ing for di­rec­tions is guilty of as­sault

The Citizens' Voice - - NATION - BY MIHIR ZAVERI

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.”

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