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KDPS chief defends police tactic that demolished home

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety headquarters
Leona Larson

The Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety is defending its decision to demolish a home in the Edison neighborhood to encourage a gunman to surrender. Instead of surrendering, police say the man, who was in a 16-hour standoff with Kalamazoo officers, died by suicide.

In a news conference on Thursday, November 11, the department described the tactic, called “porting,” as using machinery to force open doors and windows, and knockdown walls, so a suspect can be easily located without sending in officers and putting them in harm’s way.

Alex Rawles, 35, of Kalamazoo was armed with an assault rifle when he barricaded himself on the second floor of a home on Washington Avenue. Rawles didn't live there but knew the tenant’s boyfriend and had been sleeping at the home for several days when police came to arrest him on Monday, November 8. He was wanted for for the attempted murder of an ex-girlfriend’s sister.

“Our community has experienced multiple tragedies in the last week,” said Public Safety Chief Vernon Coakley. He apologized for the delay in addressing public questions and criticism about the incident. “A woman was shot multiple times, a man lost his life, and a family lost their home and belongings as many officers were fired upon.”

KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley at a Nov. 11, 2021 news conference.
Credit Leona Larson
KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley explains police actions at a news conference Thursday. The assault weapon shown on the screens with Coakley was the one used by the gunman who died at the scene.

Coakley said the "porting" tactic has been used before and was only employed by police after several hours of negotiations, and after more than 50 non-lethal chemical agents failed to draw the gunman out. Officers also flew a drone through a first-floor hole to see what the shooter was doing on the floor above.

“This was necessary, because attempting to enter the home was likely to result in the death of law enforcement officers,” Coakley said.

When Rawles responded with more gunfire, officers took more drastic measures and began removing the first-floor support structure of the house.

“The top priority of law enforcement is to keep the community safe,” Coakley said. “We are always concerned about the people around us. My second priority is the safety of my team and all officers on the scene. I will not send my officers into a hell of gunfire. While this unfortunate damage was caused to this home, we prioritize lives before property."

At about 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Rawles fired on officers again, and Coakley said that for the first-time in the standoff, officers returned fire and wounded him. Soon after, Rawles took his own life.

Coakley has asked the Michigan State Police to conduct an independent investigation into the officer involved shooting and said the home could not be salvaged.

“That damage made the structure unsafe for anyone to enter, thus leading to its further destruction after Mr. Rawles' remains were recovered. Ultimately this entire structure had to be demolished."

Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson, who also spoke at the news conference, seemed to still be coming to terms with what happened. When asked about the "porting" tactic after the news conference was over, he said he was “shocked and horrified” to watch it happen.

“In all my time that I’ve been involved with the city, I have not witnessed this tactic before; I don’t think any of us have seen it,” Anderson said. “It’s difficult for me, impossible I would say, to put myself in the moment of saying, 'Why was that decision made there, then, at that time?'”

Coakley said the tenant and another adult, along with two children, were safely removed from the home at the start of the standoff.  He also said the tenant and the landlord who owned the home would be compensated at fair market value for their losses as a result of the police action.

KDPS said it began working to find temporary housing for the tenant and her family during the standoff, and that the department is continuing to help them find permanent home.

“We are making sure that they have a place to live and we are working with many in the community to do everything we can to replace the things that they lost," Coakley said.

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