Judge dismisses Detroit lawsuit against racial-justice demonstrators

March 11, 2021, 1:17 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Demonstrators gather in Southwest Detroit last summer. (Photo: Michael Lucido)

Anti-police brutality demonstrators in Detroit did not engage in what the city alleged was a "civil conspiracy to disturb the peace, engage in disorderly conduct, incite riots, destroy public property," and commit other "illegal acts."

That's the verdict from a federal judge, who on Wednesday dismissed the city's counterclaim against demonstrators who've sued to stop Detroit police from using batons, riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets against them.

The group, Detroit Will Breathe, gathered for demonstrations almost nightly last summer in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and clashed with officers on a handful of occasions.

The city responded to their suit with a throw-it-at-the-walll-and-see-what-sticks legal filing that, in addition to raising allegations like officer injuries and damage to public property, took aim at protesters for disrupting diners and saying "Chief Craig has to go" in an interview.

The counterclaim sought to require demonstrators to cover the cost of damage to police vehicles and the additional police resources. The move was condemned by several councilmembers in January, who called it an unprecedented and chilling response to a civil rights claim.

The Freep tells why U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelsen ruled the alleged behavior did not amount to a conspiracy:

“These unlawful actions are either misdemeanors or local-ordinance violations. Nowhere in the counterclaim does the City allege that any plaintiffs conspired to commit a tort that is actionable under Michigan law," Michelsen wrote, also concluding that the city failed to prove that it has “a private right of action against” DWB.

In her order, the only DWB action that drew scrutiny from the judge was when the group declared on Aug. 22 that it  was “occupying the intersection of Woodward and John R” and would not  “leave until the feds leave.” But even then, the judge wrote, “the City itself admits that the gathering began as a lawful assembly and the activity only became unlawful when DPD officers arrived, declared the gathering unlawful and ordered them to leave."

The Duggan administration in January won narrow approval to use up to $200,000 in taxpayer funding for the case. City attorney Lawrence Garcia said the counterclaim's dismissal would not impact that cost estimate.

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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