Grand Rapids Police Arresting Innocent People for Trespassing

October 21, 2014

For years, the Grand Rapids Police Department has solicited business owners to sign “Letters of Intent to Prosecute Trespassers.” These letters do not articulate a business owner’s desire to keep a specific person off their property and are not directed at any particular person. Instead, police officers use these generalized letters to decide for themselves who does not “belong” on premises that are generally open to the public. In many cases, the police arrest people who have done nothing wrong, including patrons of the business.

In 2013 the ACLU brought a federal lawsuit to enjoin the practice of using these letters to make arrests without the individualized probable cause required by the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs include Jacob Manyong, who allegedly “trespassed” when his vehicle entered a business parking lot for several seconds as he pulled out of an adjacent public parking lot, and Kirk McConer, who was arrested for “trespassing” when he stopped to chat with a friend as he exited a store after buying a soda.

An expert commissioned by the ACLU to analyze trespass incidents in Grand Rapids found that African-Americans are more than twice as likely to be arrested for trespassing than whites.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment in October 2014 and we are awaiting a decision from Judge Paul Maloney.

(Hightower v. City of Grand Rapids; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Miriam Aukerman and Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Fellow Marc Allen, and Civil Liberties Fellow Joe Granzotto; National ACLU Attorney Jason Williamson; Cooperating Attorneys Bryan Waldman and Julia Kelley.)