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ACLU Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Detroit Police Department

Hostile work environment includes discrimination, retaliation against African-American officers, says 11-year veteran of city police force

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Detroit, the Detroit Police Department (DPD), Detroit Police Chief James Craig and several DPD executives and officers.

Johnny Strickland, an 11-year veteran of the Detroit police force, is the plaintiff in the legal action. The lawsuit charges the Detroit Police Department and its command officers with allowing a racially hostile work environment.

“This is a police department where racial discrimination is widespread and white supervisory officers discriminate against black subordinates,” said Strickland. “It is a police department where white supervisors retaliate against black subordinates who complain. I filed this lawsuit because discrimination and retaliation were directed at me, and I don’t want any other officers to have to suffer in the way that I did.”

“I am concerned about more than just the welfare of my fellow officers of color,” said Strickland. “If I, as a veteran police officer, can so easily become the victim of police misconduct, then the ordinary black person doesn’t have a chance.”

“The leadership of the Detroit Police Department cannot claim they are unaware of the racially hostile work environment that Johnny Strickland and other officers experience on a daily basis” said Mark Fancher, racial justice attorney at the ACLU of Michigan. “Police Chief James Craig commissioned a report on this very issue, which found ‘a growing racial problem’ based on repeated and systemic incidents of racial harassment and intimidation.”

The report of the Detroit Police Department’s Committee on Race and Equality (CORE) was publicly released on January 12, 2017.Instead of acting to investigate and remedy a hostile work environment, Chief Craig publicly disparaged the report and at least temporarily suspended the work of the committee.

Ten days later, Johnny Strickland was attacked, harassed and humiliated by white police officers, his colleagues in the Detroit Police Department.As described in the lawsuit filed today:

While off duty, Strickland inadvertently entered a crime scene under investigation. He identified himself as a police officer and was then subject to insults, profanity and ridicule by white police officers.

Strickland was “unlawfully placed… in handcuffs and detained… with malicious intent and without cause or justification.” The handcuffs were tightened “with malicious intent to a degree that they caused physical injury.”

While he was unlawfully detained, Strickland’s private vehicle was searched “in the absence of probable cause or a search warrant,” leaving the vehicle “in disarray and soiled by mud.”

Strickland was warned not to report the incident by a white officer, who stated: “This goes nowhere from tonight.” 

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident,” said Fancher. “Johnny Strickland is coming forward – despite the threat of retaliation – because he knows that what happened to him is just one example of a pattern of discrimination and harassment that was identified by the Police Department’s own Committee on Race and Equality. He wants these illegal practices to stop.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, seeks a declaratory judgement against the illegal racially hostile work environment that currently exists at the Detroit Police Department; an order preventing such illegal acts in the future, and compensatory and punitive damages.

In addition to Fancher and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg, Strickland is being represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorney Leonard Mungo.

A copy of the complaint filed today is available here.

“If I, as a veteran police officer, can so easily become the victim of police misconduct, then the ordinary black person doesn’t have a chance.”

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