ACLU Settles "Biking While Black" Case, Teens Finally Given Closure

May 30, 2006

DETROIT— Eight years after the “bicycling while black” lawsuit was filed in district court on behalf of black teenagers, it has finally been settled in an out of court agreement.

The $160,000 settlement comes after a federal court ruled that there was enough evidence of racial discrimination and illegal searches by the Eastpointe Police Department to take the case to a jury trial.

“This settlement is a very positive step forward for the City of Eastpointe, as well as for our clients,” said Kary Moss ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Racial profiling has been a long-standing problem in this country and it is critical that we address it within our own backyards. We hope that this agreement we are now announcing will serve as a model for other communities as well as a deterrent to the humiliating practice of racial profiling.”

Each of the youth involved in the case had been stopped by an Eastpointe police officer while riding their bikes. The legal challenge to the racial profiling practice began after a 1996 memorandum instructed officers to investigate any black youth riding through Eastpointe, a predominantly white city. The children represented were pulled over, questioned and searched. Some of the bikes were also confiscated and later auctioned off by the police department. Aside from being stopped, the bicyclists said police used racial slurs and told them to get their “black asses” back to the other side of 8 mile. Some bicyclists were even physically escorted across 8 Mile Road.

"Teenagers stopped from riding their bikes in Eastpointe had their constitutional rights violated,” said Charles Chomet, an attorney with the law firm of Kelman Loria who filed the case in 1998 and served as co-counsel to the ACLU. “I am pleased that at long last this injustice has been recognized.

Police logs and reports in Eastpointe, a suburb of Detroit, identified over 100 similar incidents between 1995 and 1998 in which black youth, ages 11-18, were detained. Eastpointe has denied that any of the stops were improper.

In June 2005, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision, which had ruled in favor of the officers. The appellate court indicated that the pat-down searches, hand-cuffs, the seizing of the bicycles and subsequent detention in the back seat of a police car are unreasonable and unconstitutional.

In the three-judge panel opinion, Judge Boyce F. Martin, Jr., wrote, “We are compelled to comment here, however, that we are both frustrated and concerned with what appears to be consistent disregard for basic Fourth Amendment principles by the Eastpointe Police Department and its officers, and an apparent misunderstanding by counsel as to the legal requirements for Terry stops. Counsel may shout ‘officer safety’ until blue-in-the-face, but the Fourth Amendment does not tolerate, nor has the Supreme Court or this Court ever condoned pat-down searches without some specific and articulable facts to warrant a reasonable officer in the belief that the person detained was armed and dangerous.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the department has also instituted racial diversity training for all officers.

“I am very happy that I can finally close the chapter on this part of my life. It was a really a tough time for me as a 13 year old and I just hope that no other child has to go through this,” said Marcus Simpson, one of the represented bicyclists. Marcus was 13 years old at the time his bike was seized by police and will soon graduate from Bowling Green State University.

ACLU attorneys involved in the case were volunteer attorney, Mark Finnegan, and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.

Click Here to read the Appeals Court decision.