ACLU Defends Flint Dance Club Patrons After Mass Arrests and Searches

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan will ask a Flint judge to dismiss charges against 93 young men and women who were arrested, strip searched and/or cavity searched by the police last March at a Flint dance club.  Although all the ACLU clients were drug free, they were arrested because some other patrons in the bar possessed drugs.

"Our clients, like thousands of people across the country, went to a licensed and legal club on a Saturday night to listen to music, dance and socialize," said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director.  "The mass arrests and searches are both shocking and unconstitutional, not to mention offensive to anyone with a sense of privacy or their rights."

On March 20, undercover officers from the Genesee County Sheriff's Department and the Flint Police Department, entered Club What's Next, a Flint dance club, to investigate possible drug activity.  While the undercover officers reportedly bought drugs from certain individuals in the bar, nobody represented by the ACLU possessed drugs or drug paraphernalia.  Nonetheless, a team of police officers raided the club and charged all patrons who did not possess drugs with a misdemeanor for "frequenting a drug house."

"Had the officers in this case merely unconstitutionally arrested all persons present at the club, their conduct would have been sufficiently outrageous to require dismissal of these cases.  Unfortunately, however, the dragnet arrests were merely the first humiliation these people were compelled to endure," said Ken Mogill, the ACLU cooperating attorney leading the 10 person legal team. 

During the raid, the dance club patrons were handcuffed and divided into two groups - males and females.   Most men were taken into a men's bathroom and searched, sometimes two at a time, and told to raise their shirts, drop their pants and underwear, and to bend over and cough.  Some were told to put a finger into their anus.  Those who were still handcuffed had their pants and underwear pulled down to around their knees by officers. One man was reportedly stripped on the side of the road after he had left the club.

Women were taken into a women's bathroom and searched, at times in the presence of others.  Some were told to lift their shirts and bras in front of eight male officers.  An officer commented to one woman about the size of her breasts and asked if they were "real."  Several women have reported that they were subjected to cavity searches.  One woman reported that the officer did not change the latex glove in between searching her vagina and anus. 

"If a person is guilty of a crime for enjoying music at a legal venue where strangers are in possession of drugs, then the police could arrest every law-abiding person attending almost any concert in the United States," said Gregory Gibbs, ACLU-Flint Branch president and one of the attorneys in the case.  "Such a policy would have a tremendous chilling effect on free expression." 
 
In addition to requesting the court to dismiss the charges, the ACLU is asking for a hearing on the claims of the outrageous police conduct involved in these arrests, and to direct the arresting agencies to return to all records of each arrest, including arrest and description case, photographs and photographic negatives and any other records in this incident to each its clients. 

This case is the latest of several incidents involving law enforcement misconduct that the ACLU is investigating.  Most recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Saginaw County Jail for the egregious conditions where pre-trial detainees are forced to strip and are held naked in a segregated cell.  Last year, the ACLU successfully resolved a class action filed on behalf of approximately 250 women who alleged privacy violations in the Livingston County Jail. The county agreed to implement policies to correct the longstanding privacy violations.

The hearing on the ACLU motion to dismiss the charges will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday will be held before 68th District Court Chief Judge Ramona M. Roberts, 630 South Saginaw Street in Flint.

In addition to Mogill and Gibbs, other ACLU volunteer lawyers on the case include: Elizabeth Jacobs, Jeanmarie Miller, Glenn Simmington, Dean Yeotis, Chris Pianto, Matthew Abel and Michael Segesta.

To read the ACLU Motion to Dismiss, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/flintraidmotiontodismiss.pdf

To read the ACLU Brief in Support of the Motion to Dismiss, go to: www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/flintraidbriefinsupportofmotiontodismiss.pdf

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