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AG: Michigan Police Officer Charged After Shooting Passenger In Fleeing Vehicle

(CNN) -- A Lowell, Michigan, police officer was arraigned Tuesday on assault, misconduct and weapons charges after he fired at a fleeing vehicle last year, wounding a passenger in the head, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

In a statement announcing the charges against Officer Jason Diaz in Lowell, Nessel adressed another police involved shooting, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge Shelby Township Police Officer Jason Zuk in the 2018 fatal shooting of a man with mental health issues in a separate case.

Nessel said the two separate public integrity investigations were part of her office's "special attention on officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths."

Diaz, a 40-year-old resident of the Michigan city of Wyoming, pleaded not guilty at arraignment Tuesday on a felony count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder; a count of misconduct in office by a public official; and a count of weapons, careless discharge causing injury, according to the attorney general's office.

The three charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 17 years in prison upon conviction, Nessel said.

The officer's actions after a high-speed chase through Kent and Ionia counties on August 29, 2020, violated both the law and the Lowell Police Department's use of force policy, according to the attorney general.

The attorney general's office said it was not releasing the passenger's name or any other information about the shooting.

Diaz was arraigned before Magistrate David Wirth in Ionia County 64-A District Court, where bond was set at $5,000, according to the attorney general. Diaz bonded out on Tuesday afternoon, according to his attorney.

David Willis, labor services director for the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, said in a statement that the charges against Diaz "arose out of the lawful performance of his duties."

"Officer Diaz will be vigorously defended by Attorney Curtis and the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council -- in order to show the public that Officer Diaz acted in the lawful self-defense of himself and those who he swore to protect," the union statement said.

"He acted in accordance with the law -- as well as -- his Department policies -- and his training. Officer Diaz was in fact cleared by his department after an internal investigation was concluded and resumed active patrol duties several weeks ago."

Diaz resigned Monday night after learning about the charges against him, said his union-appointed lawyer, Marc Curtis, who declined comment beyond the union statement.

"Officer Jason Diaz, like thousands of other officers, go to work every day in Michigan to protect the public and stop crime," the union said. "The work they do is hard and requires them to make split second decisions, whereas others get the luxury to second guess them for months and even years."

The statement continued, "In this time of intense law enforcement scrutiny, the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council will ensure that the true facts of this incident become fully known and understood by both the public and the Courts."

CNN has reached out to the Lowell Police Department for comment.

Separately, Nessel said in her statement that there was insufficient evidence to charge Officer Zuk with a crime in a police involved shooting on November 3, 2018.

James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, said Zuk has retired from the police force and has no comment at this time.

"We are pleased at the decision. We anticipated this outcome," said Tignanelli, adding that Zuk had been cleared in internal and State Police investigations.

"It's a tough time for officers to do their jobs," he added.

Shelby Township Police Chief Robert Shelide declined comment.

In November 2018, Zuk responded to a call for backup after another officer located a car that was reported stolen one day earlier, the attorney general's statement said.

The driver was Kanwarbir Malhi, a 25-year-old resident of Shelby Township, who was behind the wheel of his mother's 2005 Honda, according to a document from the attorney general's office requesting to close the case file.

An officer had seen Malhi driving the Honda in the parking lot of the apartment complex where his family lived, the AG's statement said.

The statement said Malhi parked and did not comply with verbal commands from police to show his hands. Malhi told police he had a weapon and did not comply with additional commands to show his hands and leave the Honda, the statement said.

Malhi stepped out of the car after about 10 minutes and "made a sudden movement toward the front of his body," the statement said. Zuk fired a single shot from a shotgun, striking Malhi in the chest and neck.

Malhi, who was unarmed, was pronounced dead at a hospital, the statement said.

Nessel's office said in a statement a review of the video footage, testimony and other evidence showed that Zuk "acted under an honest and reasonable belief that he and other officers were in danger and no criminal charges will be filed."

"I have watched the footage over and over again," Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast wrote last month in a request for approval to close the case file. "After Malhi exits the vehicle, as multiple officers were loudly yelling for him to 'put his hands up' or 'put his hands where the officers could see them,' rather than comply, Malhi makes a quick movement towards the center area of his body."

The AG's office said that Malhi suffered from mental illness since about the age of 15 and, according to one family member, struggled with opioid addiction.

Malhi's brother, Karanjit, said he has read the decision and won't have a comment until he speaks with the rest of his family.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

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