Family's home demolished during standoff; police defend actions

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Police demolished a Michigan house during a standoff with a man who barricaded himself inside earlier this week, temporarily leaving the residents – a family of seven – homeless.

On Thursday, Kalamazoo Dept. of Public Safety (KDPS) officials outlined what led up to the home’s destruction and defended their decision to ultimately level the house.

Officials said the subject of the standoff, 35-year-old Alex Rawls, repeatedly fired at police officers Monday before killing himself. Investigators said that Rawls didn’t live there but the family knew him and had been allowing him to sleep on the couch.

Rawls was wanted for a Nov. 1 shooting that injured his ex-girlfriend’s sister, Kalamazoo police said. Rawls is believed to have shot her five times, then fired 17 shots into a nearby home. He also allegedly later threatened to again shoot the victim, her family and police.

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An undated booking photo of Alex Rawls.
An undated booking photo of Alex Rawls.

A warrant for his arrest, including for attempted murder, was issued Nov. 3. Police said they learned Monday that Rawls had been staying at the house on Washington Avenue near Division Street.

Police went there to arrest him. The standoff began around 10:45 a.m. after police called for him over a loudspeaker but he didn’t come out. KDPS said negotiators tried to get Rawls to give himself up, including getting family to urge him to surrender.

Around noon, police said, Rawls fired several shots at officers. KDPS described his weapon as an assault rifle.

KDPS said that throughout the afternoon and early evening, officers deployed “non-lethal agents” in the house in attempt to get Rawls to come out. At 6:10 p.m., officers started opening the doors and windows of the house. At 6:35 p.m., Rawls fired another round of shots.

Police then started tearing down the walls of the house, a tactic that KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley said during a Thursday press conference is meant to allow officers get their eyes on the suspect. He said SWAT removed first-floor support structures, creating an opening to the second floor, where Rawls was.

Around 9:40 p.m., police say, Rawls started shooting again.

KDPS said it continued to try to negotiate with Rawls, use “non-lethal agents” and tear down the house for more than five more hours. Over the course of the 16-hour standoff, some 50 sets of chemical agents were used, Coakley said.

At 2:53 a.m., KDPS says, Rawls fired more shots at officers and an armored truck. At 2:56 a.m., a KDPS officer and a Kalamazoo County sheriff’s deputy returned fire. Rawls was hit, but apparently not fatally.

Coakley said officers then saw Rawls turn his gun on himself. Around 3 a.m., they entered the home and found Rawls dead.

No officers were shot over the course of the standoff, but a sheriff’s deputy was injured when a gunshot hit a window and he was hit by shattering glass. Sheriff Richard Fuller said that officer was not seriously hurt, was treated and was sent home to recover.

The KDPS officer and deputy who fired shots in the standoff are on paid leave while Michigan State Police investigate the use of force, which is standard procedure.

Landlord Gary Apps, who owned the house, and a neighbor, said Wednesday that Rawls did not live at the home, but according to investigators, the woman who lived there told them Rawls, a friend of her boyfriend’s, had been sleeping on the couch since Nov. 2, the day after the shooting.

Apps said he was never alerted the house was going to be torn down. He said he discovered it when he saw on the 11 o’clock news that part of the house had been pushed in.

“I thought it was a little severe, but I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my call,” he said. “It wouldn’t have made a difference, but they still didn’t check with me.”

At his press conference, Coakley said the damage to the first-floor supports meant the house was unsafe and had to be torn down entirely.

He said every decision was made with the intent of protecting lives.

“Everything done by law enforcement was to avoid the outcome of further injury or loss of life,” he said. “The top priority of law enforcement is to keep the community safe; 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 hail of gunfire. While it’s unfortunate that damage was caused to this home, we prioritize lives before property. Property is always secondary to human life.”

Coakley said the homeowner will receive a fair market value payment for the property. The family that was living in the house has been moved into another home by a landlord. Coakley said that family would also receive fair market value for her destroyed belongings. Mayor David Anderson said the city was committing to helping the family move into new housing and ensuring they have everything they need.

—News 8’s David Horak contributed to this report.

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