This is an incredibly challenging area of law, which requires specialized legal knowledge. Over the years, conservative courts have made police misconduct cases even more difficult: police officers are entitled to assert “qualified immunity” as a defense; government defendants are entitled to an “interlocutory appeal” before trial; governmental agencies are not necessarily liable for the wrongdoing of their employees, as private businesses usually are. GHPC attorneys have extensive experience in this area of practice and have been highly successful in navigating these legal barriers.
We have presented summaries of just a few of our police misconduct cases below:
State Created Danger-
- Nelson v. Oakland County, et al.: Since October 2011, Lyniece Nelson has suffered horribly because her 19 year old daughter, Shelly Hilliard (legal name “Henry” – a transgender woman), was viciously dismembered and her body parts strewn around the City, including burning her torso, by a drug dealer—all because the police disclosed Shelly’s identity as a confidential informant who participated in busting this drug dealer. Shelly’s life and death are the subject of a recent documentary film titled “Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice – Mapping a Detroit Story” by dream hampton and Natasha T. Miller. See trailer for the film here.
In April 2013, we filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Shelly’s mom against Oakland County, the City of Madison Heights, and two individual police officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers created the risk that Shelly would be injured by disclosing her identity to her eventual killer (the legal theory is called “state created danger”). In early 2015, the claims against Madison Heights and one officer were resolved. U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy denied the Defendant police officer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the a reasonable jury could conclude that the NET officer violated Shelly’s right to due process and that the right was clearly established under similar circumstances. The Court also denied summary to Oakland County because the County failed to properly train its officers to protect the identities of informants. The Defendant’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the district court, and the case is currently on appeal in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Read the district court’s opinion here: Nelson O & O denying Defs’ MSJ 10-29-15
False Arrest Cases-
- Sauger & West v. City of Toledo, et al.: Two photo-journalists were covering a neo-Nazi rally and counter-protest in Toledo, Ohio. When Toledo police officers started to abuse anti-Nazi counterdemonstrators, the photographers tried to photograph this police abuse, including many shots of mounted officers riding their horses into the crowds of people. As a result, they were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and failure to disperse. One was acquitted by a jury and the other convicted, but the conviction was eventually reversed by an appellate court. The civil case settled for both money damages and institutional changes within the Toledo Police Department.
–National Press Photographers Association article, “Photographers Settle Arrest Lawsuit With Toledo Police.”
–Press Release regarding this case 6/2/10 (pdf)
- Cuppetelli & Mendoza v. City of Detroit, et al.: In 2010, two local artists were enjoying an evening downtown. They were leaving a lounge on Griswold and looking at fake store facades that had been installed on the street for the filming of Transformers 3. They snapped a photo or two, and private security guards called from up the street that photos were not permitted. Mr. Mendoza verbally objected that they were on a public street, but they put their camera away and continued toward their car. Within seconds, a Detroit Police officer knocked Ms. Cuppetelli to ground and punched Mr. Mendoza in the face. The officer placed both under arrest and noted in his report that he was protecting the copyright interest of the movie company. Both plaintiffs were processed and eventually bonded out of jail. They appeared in court and were told that charges had not been filed. They brought suit against the City of Detroit, three police officers, Paramount Pictures, and two studio employees for violation of their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments. The matter was resolved.
Malicious Prosecution & Wrongful Conviction Cases-
- Swift v. City of Detroit, et al.: In 1982 Walter Swift was charged, tried and convicted for rape, a crime that he did not commit. He served 26 years in prison and was finally released in 2008, when his conviction was set aside with assistance from the Innocence Project. The Detroit police officers never disclosed to Mr. Swift, his lawyer or the prosecutor that the rape victim had identified seven other suspects before she identified Walter Swift. Only Walter Swift was picked up and even then neither of Detroit officers who were in charge of his case thought that he was the perpetrator of the crime. Further, serological evidence showed that stains left on the sheet and the victim’s robe were definitely deposited by someone other than Walter Swift. The report containing this exculpatory information was also never disclosed to either Walter Swift, his lawyer or the prosecutor. Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. was co-counsel in this case with the New York City law firm of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP. This case was settled.
–Metro Times article, “Swift’s justice” – 11/19/09
- Sykes & Urquhart v. Anderson, et al.: Two young women were the victims of an armed robbery at a Sprint store in Detroit were they worked. Despite clear surveillance videotape that showed that two unidentified men forced their way into the store and left after forcing one of the women to give them a bag from the store’s safe, Detroit police officers came to a conclusion that it was an “inside job” and that the two young victims were in fact criminals. They were tried, convicted and each imprisoned for several months. Eventually the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the convictions, finding that there was absolutely “no evidence” linking the two women to the crime. The women then sued the police officers alleging that they had lied about evidence and concealed exculpatory evidence from the women, their lawyers and the prosecutor. A federal jury awarded the women over $1 million each. Julie Hurwitz tried the case with co-counsel Tom Loeb of Farmington Hills. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s finding of liability, as well as the jury award and the attorney fee awards. The parties eventually settled all outstanding issues for over $3.5 million.
– Lawyer’s Weekly article, “Trumped: Officers’ influence can lead to malicious prosecution claim“
Excessive Force/Police Brutality Cases-
- Lee v. Washtenaw County, et al.: Plaintiff was beaten and kicked by Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputies while he was handcuffed and, at one point, hogtied. He was held for five days and released with no charges ever filed against him. During this time, his brother was killed by the same deputies. Three of the deputies involved were charged with criminal federal rights violations; one pled guilty. The civil case was settled for an undisclosed 7 figure sum.
-NLG newsletter, In The Struggle, article “Ypsilanti Family Settles Lawsuit with Washtenaw County: Legal Triumph Following Family Tragedy.” – April 2010
- Mitchell v. City of Warren, et al.: Robert Mitchell, a 16 year old boy, was a passenger who panicked and ran, after the car he was in was stopped by Warren police officers for having an expired license plate tab. Officers chased the boy into an abandoned house in Detroit, where the officer then grabbed him and tasered him at very close range directly in his chest. The taser deployment killed him immediately. At the time of the incident, Taser International, the company that manufactures the well known electronic control devices, encouraged its customers to aim at “center mass” and subsequently issued a warning, advising officers to avoid deploying the device into a person’s chest. The boy’s family filed claims against the officer who deployed the taser, as well as other officers present and the City of Warren. Claims against the City of Warren and its officers have been resolved. Product liability claims against Taser International are pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Other Unreasonable Searches & Seizures-
- Mobley et al. v. City of Detroit, et al.: During an event at a local art gallery, Detroit Police raided the building, manhandled the patrons, detained everyone for several hours, ticketed everyone with criminal citations for “loitering in a place of illegal occupation,” and impounded all cars under the nuisance abatement statute, including one patron who had parked a friend’s house about a mile away. The issue is whether, simply because a person is present where allegedly illegal sales of alcohol are made, they are legally presumed to know that to be the case. Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C., as cooperating counsel for the ACLU Fund of Michigan, filed suit seeking to get the Detroit ordinance and nuisance abatement statement declared to be unconstitutional as applied here and to achieve a serious change in police policy and practice.
The City of Detroit amended its ordinance and a federal judge held that the police actions violated the Fourth Amendment. The case was featured on HBO’s Last Week Tonight (see 7:40-8:40) and eventually settled.
–ACLU of Michigan Press Release – 2/18/10
–Metro Times article, “ACLU: Saving our asses” – 3/3/10
- Marmelshtein v. City of Southfield, et al.: Police executed a search warrant on the home of an elderly couple who share their home with three grown sons. Police suspected drug activity due to an alleged complaint by a neighbor regarding a high volume of traffic at the house; the police conducted a “trash pull,” which resulted in a finding of traces of marijuana. Despite a lack in any evidence suggesting that anyone in the home was potentially armed or violent, police used two flash bang incendiary devices and beat the elderly husband, a refugee from the former Soviet Union. The subsequent search of the home yielded virtually nothing, except for a miniscule amount of marijuana in a son’s sock drawer. The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs* at the summary judgment stage, holding that there are genuine issues of material fact that defendants had violated the plaintiffs’ clearly established constitutional rights. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld in part and reversed in part the trial court’s decision. The case was settled.
Discrimination & Equal Protection Cases-
- Ryan v. City of Canton, et al.: Katie Williams was a Detroit Police officer, married to another Detroit Police officer. Their marriage was falling apart and he assaulted her at their Canton home. When Canton police investigated, they discovered that the husband had written a suicide note. They placed a statewide internet alert notice out on the husband, describing him as endangered, armed and to be approached with caution. However, the officers did not seek to arrest the suspect, did not offer the victim any services, and treated her differently than other victims of domestic violence. Two days later, the husband shot and killed his estranged wife. Her estate has sued Canton Police officers for violation of equal protection, in that the officers treat the victims of officer domestic abuse far more adversely than it treats the victims of non-police officer domestic violence. This case is pending in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.