Disabled activist claims Detroit police gave him a rough ride after arrest

Disabled activist claims Detroit police gave him a rough ride after arrest

June 2, 2017
By Gus Burns

(read the article on mLive)

A man who uses a wheelchair and was arrested while protesting Detroit water shutoffs in 2014 claims he’s the victim of a rough ride in a police vehicle.

S. Baxter Jones, 61, filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, June 1 against the city of Detroit and several officers claiming violations of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, other civil rights violations and use of excessive force.

Jones, with a gravelly, soft and strained voice, his motions slow and deliberate, sat strapped into his wheelchair before supporters, reporters and his attorneys of the Goodman & Hurwitz law firm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit on Friday and spoke about his arrest.

Jones’ lawsuit claims Detroit police forced him into a paddy wagon not equipped for transporting people who use wheelchairs.

Several police officers, without the assistance of a hydraulic lift, manually picked up Jones with his wheelchair, pushing his head down “in order to force him into the van,” the lawsuit says.

Jones, a water rights activist, claims there was no seatbelt or other device to brace his wheelchair, only a “plainclothes intern” who wedged his foot beneath a wheel to keep it from rolling.

“Throughout the entire time that the van was in motion on its way to the police detention center, the chair itself was never stable or properly secured, and was rocking, bumping, jostling, and moving around, causing physical injury, pain, and anxiety,” claims the federal complaint filed by attorney Kathryn James.

As a result of Jones’ wheelchair “not being properly secured during the ride, (he) suffered significant physical injury to his neck and his hand/fingers due to the painful angle his neck was forced into, as well as his attempts to brace himself during the ride to the detention center,” the lawsuit reads.

Attorney Julie Hurwitz said Jones, whose initial injuries stem from a 2005 car crash in which he was hit from behind, has had to undergo two years of medical treatment because his spinal injury was aggravated by the transport.

He was also forced to wear a neck brace, she said.

While Hurwitz said it’s too early to say whether the injuries were caused by negligence, incompetence or malice, there are similarities to the rough ride blamed in the controversial death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray Jr., who died after being taken to jail by Baltimore police on April 12, 2015 in a case that garnered national attention.

Jones was among nine protesters arrested by Detroit police in June 2014 after they blocked gates at a property owned by Homrich, a contractor the city hired to shut off water to thousands of Detroit residents with delinquent accounts.

Supporters refer to them as the Homrich 9. Eight of the protesters were charged with disorderly conduct, all but Baxter, according to Hurwitz.

Those cases are still unresolved in Wayne County’s 36th District Court.

The shutoffs prompted activists to march and rally, claiming that cutting off access to water to residents behind on bills was a violation of their human rights.

This isn’t the first time Jones has been at the center of a civil rights controversy.

Before the water shutoffs in Detroit, Jones in 2013 gained public attention while fighting the foreclosure of his home in Jackson County.

He lost the fight and his home to Fannie Mae and embarked on a 160-dayhunger strike protest in 2015.

In addition to damages for emotional and physical anguish sought by Jones’ lawsuit against Detroit, his attorneys are asking a federal judge to order the city and police department to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by appointing a compliance officer, training police and purchasing vehicles appropriate for transporting prisoners with wheelchairs.

Hurwitz said, based on her firm’s efforts to contact an ADA compliance officer with the city, the position doesn’t exist.

Jones filed a formal complaint with the city’s Human Rights Division in October 2014, according to his attorneys, but the department never replied.

Detroit police didn’t immediately provide a response to the claims Friday afternoon.

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