DETROIT (AP) — A man charged with fatally shooting six people in southwestern Michigan interspersed with his stints as an Uber driver told investigators he was being controlled by the ride-hailing app through his cellphone, police said Monday.
According to a police report, Jason Dalton told authorities after the Feb. 20 shootings in and around Kalamazoo that “it feels like it is coming from the phone itself” and told of something “like an artificial presence,” the report said.
Dalton told officers that when you “plug into” the Uber app, “you can actually feel the presence on you.” He said the difference between the night of the shootings and others was that an icon on the Uber app that is normally red “had changed to black.”
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He told investigators he “doesn’t want to come across as a crazy person,” and added he was sad for the people who were killed as well as for his family members, who “are going to have to hear all of this,” according to the report.
The details about Dalton’s comments are in documents released by the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and Kalamazoo County sheriff’s office in response to public records requests by The Associated Press and others.
Dalton, who has been ordered to undergo a mental competency exam, is charged with murder and attempted murder in the shootings outside an apartment complex, a restaurant and at a car lot. Two people survived. Investigators say Dalton didn’t know the victims.
His attorney, Eusebio Solis, did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment on his client’s behalf.
When police asked what was going through his mind, the report said, Dalton told investigators that “if we only knew, it would blow our mind.” When he opened the Uber app, he explained, “a devil head popped up on his screen and when he pressed the button on the app, that is when all the problems started.”
Dalton said the “devil figure … would give you an assignment and it would literally take over your whole body,” according to the report. He added that at some point with the Uber app, “you don’t have to drive at all, the car just goes,” and added “he was seeing himself from outside of his body.”
When police pulled him over, the report said, he didn’t shoot because the app went from black to red and “he felt like he was no longer being guided.”
Dalton’s wife had told investigators he warned her the night of the shootings that they “couldn’t go back to work anymore and the kids could not go back to school” — and she’d understand everything by watching TV news, police reports said. At that time, the first shooting had already occurred.
When Carole Dalton asked him what he meant, Dalton replied that “she would see what he was talking about on the news and that it probably wouldn’t say his name, but as soon as she saw it on the news she would know it was him,” the report said.
Dalton later told police he doesn’t remember telling anyone to watch the news.
He also told police he couldn’t recall how many people he had picked up that day as part of his work with Uber, what happened before the shootings at a Cracker Barrel restaurant or how many incidents there were.
Uber security chief Joe Sullivan said last month that Dalton cleared a background check and was approved to be a driver on Jan. 25. He had given slightly more than 100 rides and had a rating of 4.73 stars out of a possible five. Until Feb. 20, Sullivan said, Uber had no reason to believe anything was amiss and that “no background check would have flagged and anticipated this situation.”
Police dispatchers received a call from a man who said he and friends received a ride from Dalton around 10 p.m. on the evening of the shootings.
The man told police Dalton had difficulty connecting to the Uber site. Three witnesses described Dalton as “friendly and never appeared agitated at all during their encounter,” the report said. The man told police he was never charged for the fare but he was charged a cancellation fee by Uber because it appeared he never accepted the fare.
Another man told police he sought an Uber driver to take him from a brewery to his hotel because he “did not feel it was safe to be walking while there was an active shooter.” The man said one of his fellow passengers asked Dalton if he was the shooter and he said no, adding, “I’m just tired.”
The man told police he joked with Dalton “because he never would have imagined that an Uber driver would actually be the suspect in the shootings.”
The ride was just after midnight and shortly before Dalton was apprehended.