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Detroit officer to stand trial after photojournalists were shot with pellets during a 2020 protest

A Detroit police corporal accused of shooting three photojournalists with rubber pellets while they covered protests against police brutality has been ordered to stand trial.

Daniel Debono is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 28 in Wayne County Circuit Court on felonious assault charges, the county prosecutor's office said Tuesday.

Shortly after midnight on May 31, 2020, in downtown Detroit, MLive.com photojournalist Nicole Hester and two independent photojournalists, Seth Herald and Matthew Hatcher, encountered Debono and two other officers.

Each of the photojournalists was wearing press credentials, identified themselves as news media and raised their hands as they asked to cross the street, Prosecutor Kym Worthy said at the time.

Debono, dressed in riot gear, struck all three with rubber pellets that inflicted bruises and other injuries.

The photojournalists were covering the protest in downtown Detroit, which was sparked by the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Most of the protesters at the time had already dispersed from the area where the photojournalists were shot.

Then-Detroit Police Chief James Craig suspended Debono.

A 36th District Court judge dismissed the case at the officer's preliminary examination in 2021, ruling that a state statute gave Debono immunity from prosecution. That was appealed by the prosecutor's office and a Wayne County Circuit Court judge reversed the lower court's decision which was appealed by the defense.

Last March, Michigan's Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court ruling and remanded the case back to U.S. District Court in Detroit. The appeals court determined the statute provides a legal defense at trial instead of immunity, the prosecutor's office said.

Debono's attorney Pam Szydlak said Tuesday night that police officers are “put in impossible situations.”

“It is hard to imagine any other profession where you are facing so many possibilities of being charged with a crime for your actions or your failure to act," she told The Associated Press in an email.

Debono was carrying out orders, she added.

“If he had failed to do as ordered, he would have been charged with neglect of duty and possible other crimes,” Szydlak said. "On this night numerous projectiles were being thrown at the officers, including, railroad spikes, mortars, bottles, rocks, bricks, bottles of urine, and bottles of bleach/ammonia, etc. An unlawful assembly had been declared on numerous occasions, but the complainants refused to leave.”

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Williams reported from West Bloomfield, Michigan.