Settlement Reached in Unconstitutional Strip and Cavity Search Lawsuit Against Flint and Genesee County, ACLU Announces

DETROIT – A federal judge today has approved a settlement agreement in the class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of more than 100 young men and women who were detained, charged with a crime, strip searched, and, in some cases, body cavity searched simply for being present at a licensed Flint dance club in 2005.

In the settlement, the Flint Police have agreed to institute new policies and training to prevent unconstitutional searches and arrests from happening again. Flint and Genesee County also agreed to pay the victims of the unconstitutional searches and arrests a total of $900,000.

“This has been a long journey for the innocent young people who have dealt with the emotional and physical toll of being strip searched and cavity searched by the very individuals who have taken an oath to serve and protect them,” said Michael L. Pitt, ACLU of Michigan cooperating attorney whose law firm Pitt McGehee Palmer Rivers & Golden led the effort on behalf of the ACLU. “We are confident that this settlement will send a strong message to all law enforcement in Michigan – police abuse comes at a cost; it is illegal and must not be tolerated.”

On March 20, 2005, undercover officers from the Flint Area Narcotics Group, also known as "FANG," entered Club What’s Next in Flint to investigate possible drug activity. While the undercover officers reportedly bought drugs from a few individuals in the bar, the vast majority of the 117 club patrons were not involved in any illegal conduct. Nonetheless, a team of officers charged all patrons who did not possess drugs with the crime of “frequenting a drug house.” In October 2007, a Genesee Circuit Court judge threw out the charges against the ACLU's clients because the police had no reason to believe that they had committed any crime.

“It is shocking that in the 21st century police would think it is okay to strip search and arrest Americans for merely being present at a licensed dance club,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Today, we are hopeful that through this settlement and the retraining of police officers we will see an end to such blatant disregard for the Constitution and human rights in Flint.”

During the raid, the dance club patrons were handcuffed and divided into two groups, females and males. Women were taken into a bathroom and searched by police officers, at times in the presence of others. Some were told to lift their shirts and bras in view of male officers. An officer commented to one woman about the size of her breasts and asked if they were “real.” Several people have reported that they were subjected to cavity searches. One woman reported that the officer did not change the latex glove in between searching her vagina and anus.

"I am happy that this horrible and humiliating experience is behind me. The entire ordeal was terrifying beyond belief,” said Jennifer Thompson, the lead plaintiff in the case. Thompson was strip searched, cavity searched, and unlawfully arrested. “I became a part of this lawsuit not only to have my voice heard, but also to help make sure that this doesn’t happen again. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time and my only wish today is that the lessons learned here will go beyond the City of Flint.”

Most men were taken into a men’s bathroom and told to raise their shirts, drop their pants and underwear, and to bend over and cough. Some were told to put a finger into their anus. Those who were still handcuffed had their pants and underwear pulled down to around their knees by police officers. One man was stripped on the side of the road after he had left the club.

In addition to Pitt and Moss, the plaintiffs were represented by ACLU cooperating attorneys Peggy Goldberg Pitt, Maureen M. Crane, Kenneth M. Mogill, Elizabeth Jacobs, Gregory T. Gibbs, Jeanmarie Miller, and Lauri R. Ellias along with ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney Dan Korobkin.

To read today’s order, click here.

To read the agreement on new policies and training, click here.

To read the complaint, click here.

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