Flint Police Mass Arrests at Dance Club Unconstitutional
Detroit — Today, a Genesee Circuit Court judge reversed a district court decision and ruled that Flint Police violated the constitutional rights of 94 men and women who were arrested during a police raid at club What’s Next.
Even though the arresting officers did not find any illegal drugs or contraband on the club goers, each of those arrested were charged with “frequenting a drug house,” a misdemeanor offense.
“The ordinance under which the arrests were made is in place to protect Flint citizens from actual drug houses. It was never intended to be randomly deployed by the police against law-abiding citizens who go out to clubs to hear music and socialize,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Judge Joseph Farah’s decision vindicates the constitutional rights of our clients and sends a strong message to police departments across the country.”
In today’s decision, Judge Farah concludes that the “District Court erred in finding probable cause to arrest these defendants.”
“To allow to stand the arrests of these 94 defendants,” the decision reads, “would be to allow lumping together people who had been at the club for five minutes or five hours, people who never stopped dancing with those who sat next to a drug deal, people who sat at a table facing the wall with those in the middle of the mischief, and charge those dissimilarly present individuals with equal awareness and knowledge of wrongdoing.”
The ACLU argued in court that the arrests violated the defendants’ First Amendment rights to association, expression and speech as well as there Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Judge Farah's opinion correctly concludes that the police had no business arresting any of them,” said Ken Mogill, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Michigan who argued the case with Elizabeth Jacobs. “This is a gratifying victory for each of those law-abiding, wrongly arrested individuals and for the rule of law in our community."
According to the ACLU brief, a police report filed by Flint Police Sgt. William Meyer, dated March 29, 2005, admits to a police dragnet and acting without regard to the particular circumstances of any individual’s presence in the club. The raid resulted in 117 arrests; of those, 23 people were arrested for drug or paraphernalia offenses, however, Judge Farah said there was no evidence to lead police to believe that all 94 defendants were aware of drug use at the club. The ACLU defended only those charged with “frequenting a drug house.”
Also working on the appeal were Gregory Gibbs, Jeanmarie Miller, Glenn Simmington, Dean Yeotis, Chris Pianto, Mathew Abel, Daniel Bremer, Michael Segesta and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director, Michael J. Steinberg.
To read the Genesee Circuit Court decision, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/FlintPolice.pdf
To read the ACLU brief on Appeal, go to: http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/pdf/briefs/flintraidappealbrief.pdf