Detroit Agrees to Drop Charges in Unconstitutional Raid of Art Gallery

September 22, 2008

DETROIT— The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced today that the City of Detroit has dropped all charges against the nearly 116 patrons of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID) who were detained and cited by Detroit Police during the raid of a members-only gathering at the gallery.

In August, the ACLU of Michigan filed a brief in 36th District Court to dismiss the charges against Michael White while the other 115 cases were on hold pending the outcome of his case. This agreement affects all pending cases.

“The Detroit police went too far and it is to the credit of the City of Detroit that they have agreed to drop the charges against these young people who did nothing illegal,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “For years, we have been alarmed by masked police officers in commando outfits and guns drawn needlessly storming peaceful gatherings in Detroit. We encourage the city to take the next step to fix this unconstitutional ordinance and put an end to this practice once and for all.” 

On May 31, 2008, more than 100 young people gathered at the CAID, a nonprofit that has promoted art and art education in Detroit for 29 years, for Funk Night, a monthly member’s only event, which lasts from midnight to 5 a.m.

Shortly after 2 a.m. more than two dozen Detroit Police officers, dressed entirely in black, with their faces masked and guns drawn, stormed into the CAID and ordered all patrons to lie face down, including those who were outside on the back patio. Those who did not move fast enough or asked questions were kicked to the ground by officers. The officers then separated men and women and searched them all, issuing each a ticket for “loitering in a place of illegal occupation.” The officers also seized all the vehicles that were at the gallery under the Michigan nuisance abatement statute. In total, approximately 130 loitering citations were issued and 44 vehicles were seized.

Although the officers were identified as police in small writing on their hats and jackets, many patrons reported not being able to see the writing and therefore, were initially terrified that the police were actually armed robbers.

According to the ACLU, the ordinance that the police cited when ticketing CAID patrons is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, violating patrons' rights to freedom of expression and association because it fails adequately to define what conduct violates the ordinance. In addition, the arrests violated the patrons' Fourth Amendment rights because the police did not have probable cause to believe that any individual patron was violating the ordinance at the time of their arrest.

The ACLU clients are represented by Moss, ACLU Cooperating Attorney Kenneth Mogill and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.

 To read the brief in support of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/caidmotiontodismiss.pdf

 To read the order of dismissal, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/caiddismissalorder.pdf

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