Washington (CNN) -- Civil rights investigators for the Justice Department on Friday opened a federal probe into the controversial shooting death of a Saginaw, Michigan, man whose family says he had a history of mental illness.
"I can confirm the Justice Department now has an open investigation into the Saginaw shooting," said Mitchell Rivard, spokesman for Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division.
He spoke just one day after the Justice Department declined to comment on the case.
Prosecutors and state police have already begun an investigation into the shooting death of Milton Hill.
Hill had been had been arguing with officers in a parking lot next to a shuttered Chinese restaurant when he was shot, in full view of passing motorists and while he was holding some sort of knife. Saginaw County Prosecutor Michael Thomas said that the squad of police confronting him opened fire "because apparently, at this point in time, he was threatening to assault police."
Saginaw Police Chief Gerald Cliff said Hall was "known to be an assaultive person" with "a long history" of contacts with law enforcement, "not only with police from our department, but with the county."
Hall's cousin, Mike Washington, acknowledged Hall had been jailed for minor offenses like vagrancy in the past, but, "He was not violent." And Hall's mother is growing impatient with the probe and questions why police opened fire so furiously on her son, whom she said was mentally ill.
The July 1 shooting happened in a parking lot on West Genesee Avenue, a busy commercial strip on the north side of Saginaw. In a video purchased by CNN, shot by a motorist from across the street, the 49-year-old Hall is seen arguing with a half-dozen officers. For more than three minutes he walks back and forth, and at one time appears to crouch in a "karate stance," according to the man who captured the scene.
Police said Hall had just had a run-in with a convenience store clerk. On the video, he tells police, "My name is Milton Hall, I just called 911. My name is Milton, and I'm p---ed off." When an officer tells him to put the knife down, he responds, "I ain't putting s--t down." He appears unimpressed by a police dog, telling officers, "Let him go. Let the motherf---ing dog go."
Finally, he turns to the left of the frame, where another officer had moved out of view a short time earlier. It's then that the police open fire with a reported 46 shots in a five-second hail of bullets.