WYOMING, MI – A Black Realtor has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Wyoming and police officers after he was held at gunpoint while showing a house.
Realtor Eric Brown is joined in the lawsuit by prospective buyer Roy Thorne and Thorne’s 15-year-old son.
All of them are Black.
“Had the Plaintiffs not been African American men, they would not have been held at gun point, and would not have been detained, and would not have been handcuffed,” attorney Ven Johnson wrote in the lawsuit.
Wyoming Department of Safety declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In an earlier statement, the department defended officers and denied that racial profiling played a role in the Aug. 1 incident.
It happened about a week after a squatter had illegally entered the house on Sharon Avenue SW. Police arrested a Black man.
On Aug. 1, a neighbor called 911 to report that the man had returned.
The 911 caller told dispatchers that “last week Saturday, the police came out. There was a young Black man that was squatting in a home that was for sale. I know they came and took him away and towed his car away. Well, he’s back there again. The car is sitting out front,” she said.
It wasn’t the squatter. It was Brown, showing the house to Thorne and his son.
Five patrol cars showed up. Police ordered the occupants of the house to come out with their hands up.
An officer had a gun drawn as others placed the three in handcuffs. The client and his son were briefly placed in patrol cars.
Police said that the handcuffing during an “emergency” was proper.
The three were shortly released and given an apology after police determined that Brown’s story of being a real-estate agent was true. He showed police how he used an electronic key to open a lock box to the house.
“After a thorough internal review of the actions of each of our public safety officers who responded to this incident, we have concluded race played no role in our officers’ treatment of the individuals who were briefly detained, and our officers responded appropriately,” Wyoming Department of Public Safety said in a statement after the incident received national attention.
“While it is unfortunate that innocent individuals were placed in handcuffs, our officers responded reasonably and according to department policy based on the information available to them at the time.”
The lawsuit said that an officer called the 911 caller. The officer then radioed others to treat the call as a burglary. An officer asked dispatchers to check the Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN, for a Chevrolet Malibu and Hyundai Genesis parked out front.
Police should have known that the alleged squatter was not the owner of the vehicles – he drove a Mercedes, the lawsuit said.
“As Mr. Thorn was first detained and handcuffed, he told the officers that the other man was a realtor who was showing them the house,” Johnson wrote in the lawsuit.
Brown also told police, while he was being handcuffed, that he was a Realtor. He was released from custody once he proved it.
The lawsuit said that when the teen was handcuffed, the officer said “that this was likely just a ‘big misunderstanding.’”
The lawsuit said that statement showed that even before the teen was handcuffed, there was “no reasonable suspicion” he had committed a crime. The teen, referred to by his initials, S.T., was handcuffed, searched and put in the back of a patrol car, the lawsuit said.
“Moments later, S.T. was released, but the fact remains that S.T. was detained at gunpoint, handcuffed, and searched by the defendant officers,” Johnson wrote in the lawsuit.
He said that most of the officers turned off their body-worn cameras after the incident but one left his recording as another explained “what happened to justify their actions,” he wrote.
“The speaking officer falsely claimed that he could not see the license plate of the vehicle, otherwise he would have known it was not the squatter. However, the license plate is clearly visible on multiple body cameras and could have easily been identified by simply looking at it,” the lawsuit said.
“This officer further explained that it was ‘the exact same car’ as the squatter’ – this too is false,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit noted that the first officer on the scene had identified the vehicles as a Genesis and Malibu and called in license plates.
“The only factor corroborated by the Defendants in their alleged investigation was the Plaintiffs’ race and gender. Neither Plaintiffs nor Plaintiffs’ cars matched the description of the alleged squatter,” the lawsuit said.
It said police detained “African American suspects at gunpoint and in handcuffs, despite it being unnecessary, in circumstances in which white suspects would not be held at gunpoint or in handcuffs … .”
The city “ratified the constitutional violations” through the investigation by supervisors who determined that “defendant officers complied with Defendant Wyoming’s policies, practices, and customs on the use of force and Fourth Amendment seizures.”
The lawsuit said police would not have held the plaintiffs at gunpoint or handcuffed them if they were white and that there was no information that the three “were threatening, violent, armed, or dangerous … .”
It said that the officers “have not detained a white or other non-black realtor and his clients at gun point for merely showing a house with a pre-made and approved appointment.”
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