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Lawsuit alleges racial bias in police incident

City offers police reforms, diversity policies

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 19, 2020

 A Sterling Heights police officer takes Logan Davis to the ground last year. In June, Davis filed suit against the officer and the city, citing among other things, “illegal and excessive force” based on the plaintiff’s race.

A Sterling Heights police officer takes Logan Davis to the ground last year. In June, Davis filed suit against the officer and the city, citing among other things, “illegal and excessive force” based on the plaintiff’s race.

Dashcam footage provided by the Sterling Heights Police Department

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Weeks after a series of lethal police interactions with black people intensified scrutiny on law enforcement, a black plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Sterling Heights and a police officer, alleging mistreatment and wrongful arrest last year.

The plaintiff, Logan Davis, filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan June 8 against a Sterling Heights police officer individually, as well as the city of Sterling Heights.

The suit states that the incident happened on or about April 25, 2019. It says that after working a shift at Firehouse Subs in the 36000 block of Van Dyke Avenue, Davis stood outside in his work uniform, waiting for a ride home.

The suit accuses the officer of “recognizing (the) Plaintiff as an African American” and making an unlawful stop. It says Davis gave police his name and a reason for being there, explaining he had finished work while still in uniform and was waiting for a ride. But the officer persisted in trying to make Davis show ID after Davis refused, the suit says.

“Individual Defendant subsequently placed Plaintiff under arrest, slammed Plaintiff to the ground, placed Plaintiff in a chokehold, and placed his forearm and elbow on Plaintiff’s throat, all of which constituted illegal and excessive force and was based on Plaintiff’s race,” the lawsuit says.

The suit accuses the officer of acting in bad faith, adding that “no reasonable suspicion existed for further investigation.”

The suit also accuses the officer of wrongful arrest and handcuffing, as well as misconduct, including “fabrication of evidence.”

In addition, the suit accuses the city of covering up or hiding evidence of officers’ wrongdoing. And it accuses the officer of violating Davis’ First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, as well as Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which guarantees equal public services regardless of race and national origin, among other demographics.

The suit cites harm to Davis as economic, physical, social and emotional in nature. The plaintiff seeks over $75,000 in damages, along with interest, attorney’s fees, other costs, and exemplary and/or punitive damages.

Davis’ attorney, David Robinson, said federal statute protects his client’s civil rights against “unreasonable seizure.”

When asked if he’s seen a history of cases involving this issue in the SHPD or other police departments, Robinson replied, “We will have an opportunity to determine that in the course of a federal lawsuit.”

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” the attorney added. “I used to be a police officer, for about 13 years, a lawyer for 34 years. The numbers sort of bear out the fact that black men have been targeted by white police officers for years.”

Robinson added that there also seems to be a relationship between police misconduct and its victims being of lower socioeconomic status, though he said his client is middle-class.


The police respond
Sterling Heights officials said that they became aware of the lawsuit June 9. According to the police, an officer saw a person standing under an awning in a Van Dyke shopping plaza after the stores had closed. Police said some plazas had had break-ins over the prior months.

Police said Davis refused to give his ID upon multiple requests. Then the officer tried arresting him for allegedly loitering, and more officers came and helped get him into a cop car.

“At the time of the incident, the arrested individual did not complain of any injuries,” the city’s statement reads.

Police released dashcam video of the incident. The video shows the officer asking for Davis’ ID, adding at one point, “When I request that you identify yourself, I have a lawful reason to stop you. You have to identify yourself.”

He later repeatedly orders Davis to put his hands behind his back. The officer, after telling Davis that he is resisting arrest, pins him to the ground.

Sterling Heights’ loitering ordinance forbids people from loitering in a way “not usual for law-abiding individuals, under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.”

The ordinance said “alarm or immediate concern” may be determined based on whether the person flees when police appear, “refuses to identify himself or herself,” or tries to conceal themselves or an object.

Under the ordinance’s subsection B, police are supposed to give the person a chance, when practical, to allay concern by asking the person to identify themselves and “explain his or her presence and conduct.”

“No person shall be convicted of an offense under this section if the police officer did not comply with the procedure outlined in subsection (B) or if it appears at trial that the explanation given by the person is true and, if believed by the police officer at the time, would have dispelled the alarm or immediate concern,” the ordinance says.

Police said they later realized that Davis was a worker at a plaza business, and the chief urged police to drop all charges. In a prepared statement, Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski said his department takes “community policing, public safety and earning the public trust very seriously.”

“The department and city immediately launched a thorough investigation of this incident when it happened more than a year ago,” he said. “Foremost, we are thankful there were no physical injuries associated with this incident.

“After that detailed review, we are confident it was an isolated incident, and we took several action steps to help address and resolve the situation as swiftly as possible, including dropping the charges and apologizing, as well as disciplinary action for the officer and additional de-escalation training.”

Dwojakowski said the police are committed to “continuous improvement,” positive race relations, and fulfilling officers’ oaths to “uphold and protect our constitution and community and act with integrity and character.”

The city said the involved officer had had a strong 15-year work history at the department with no previous complaints or discipline. The city said the Police Department hasn’t had complaints similar to this incident, either.

The city listed what officials have done to reach out to the community and be accountable to it. They say police have done recruiting outreach to various cultural demographics over the past few years, which led to the hiring of “three African American, two Chaldean/Arab, one Asian, two Albanian and one Hispanic/Latino officers.”

The city said the SHPD has since trained officers on how to best enforce the city’s loitering laws. It also is reviewing best practices and going through accreditation. Police leadership recently completed Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police implicit bias training, and the department says it hopes to likewise educate all officers.

“SHPD trains officers annually in proper use of force and techniques to avoid injury, placing a priority on verbal de-escalation,” the city added.

City officials added that all city police cars have high-definition cameras. Police officers wear a body mic that records interactions, and the department issued a proposal to give officers body cams “in the next few months,” the statement said.

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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