NEW LAWSUIT: Police Should Stop Arresting Innocent People Just for Being on a Business’s Property

The next time you're in Grand Rapids, Michigan and need to pull into a gas station to make a phone call, check your email, or take a look at your road map, you had better think twice. For years, the Grand Rapids Police Department has taken it upon themselves to determine who does and does not belong on the property of commercial businesses across the city – in many cases questioning, searching, and arresting innocent people for criminal trespass without warning and without the business owner's knowledge. Sound like a clear violation of the Bill of Rights? It is.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project filed a federal lawsuit to challenge this longstanding practice.

First, a play-by-play of just how the Grand Rapids police have been riding roughshod over the Bill of Rights:

  • Step One: The Grand Rapids police solicit business owners to sign a form letter stating their intent to prosecute all trespassers. More than 800 businesses have signed such letters just in the past several years.
  • Step Two: Since 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, Grand Rapids police officers take it upon themselves to determine who does and does not "belong" on the premises of a business that has signed a letter.
  • Step Three: In many cases, police arrest patrons of the business without even giving them a warning that they must leave. Arresting innocent people, including business patrons, for criminal trespassing is not only unconstitutional and degrading to those subject to arrest, it's also damaging to the very businesses police purport to help.

And second, a quick glimpse into the damage that this practice is doing to real people's lives. The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of two men, Gilbert Weber and Tyrone Hightower, who were arrested and jailed for trespassing in Grand Rapids although they were doing nothing wrong at the time.

  • Gilbert Weber: In June 2012, Weber, 46, stopped his car at a local BP gas station so he could stretch and relieve his chronic hip pain. Police approached Weber and questioned him about his presence at the gas station. Police then conducted a search of his car and administered a breathalyzer test, which he passed. Having failed to find any other basis to arrest Weber, the police arrested him for trespassing and he was jailed for three days until a friend bailed him out. At his hearing, it was revealed that at no time had the gas station clerk asked Weber to leave nor had the clerk complained to police. Instead, police arrested Weber based solely on the general Letter of Intent signed by the business owner. The charges against Weber were dismissed by a judge.
  • Tyrone Hightower: Hightower, 33, was arrested for trespassing in September 2011 when he and two friends pulled into the parking lot of Cheero's Sports Bar. It was raining at the time, so Hightower and a friend waited in the car while another friend held a spot for them in the long line to get in. As the men waited for their turn, police approached the car and arrested the pair. A police video of the encounter shows police citing the general Letter of Intent signed by the owner of Cheero's as the basis for the arrest. Hightower was jailed for several hours and later the charges were dropped by the prosecutor.

The ACLU lawsuit asks the court to order an immediate halt to this unconstitutional practice and declare that the City of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Police Department, through the use of general Letters of Intent, have violated Weber and Hightower's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrests.

Check our case page for more information and updates as the case progresses.

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Gerald Grace

Police state!

Vicki B.

Good freakin' GRIEF. I don't understand all of it. My friend's a police officer but they've never done THAT.
Last night at 2am, they arrested a guy who was acting exTREMEly suspicious, driving up to businesses that were closed and slowing down, then suddenly taking off out of the blue after he'd done this three or four times.
They performed a traffic stop on him and found burglary tools in his car, and his name came up as a person who'd burglarized houses and businesses in a neighboring town.
That seems more cut and dried than what I read HERE.
It seems like in the case of THIS article, the police are in "full-on control freak" mode.

Vicki B.

Those reasons - check your email, look at a road map, make a phone call - are TOTALLY STUPID reasons to get arrested for. What the hell probable cause is there in someone checking their road map.

And making those form letters - WTF? WHO the hell do these people think they ARE?
Criminy. I didn't think Kipling's poem 'Public Waste' has as much relevance today as when he wrote it more than 70 years ago - at least.

Walpole talks of "a man and his price."
List to a ditty queer --
The sale of a Deputy-Acting-Vice-
Bought like a bullock, hoof and hide,
By the Little Tin Gods on the Mountain Side.

By the Laws of the Family Circle 'tis written in letters of brass
That only a Colonel from Chatham can manage the Railways of State,
Because of the gold on his breeks, and the subjects wherein he must pass;
Because in all matters that deal not with Railways his knowledge is great.

Now Exeter Battleby Tring had laboured from boyhood to eld
On the Lines of the East and the West, and eke of the North and South;
Many Lines had he built and surveyed -- important the posts which he held;
And the Lords of the Iron Horse were dumb when he opened his mouth.

Black as the raven his garb, and his heresies jettier still --
Hinting that Railways required lifetimes of study and knowledge --
Never clanked sword by his side -- Vauban he knew not nor drill --
Nor was his name on the list of the men who had passed through the "College."

Wherefore the Little Tin Gods harried their little tin souls,
Seeing he came not from Chatham, jingled no spurs at his heels,
Knowing that, nevertheless, was he first on the Government rolls
For the billet of "Railway Instructor to Little Tin Gods on Wheels."

Letters not seldom they wrote him, "having the honour to state,"
It would be better for all men if he were laid on the shelf.
Much would accrue to his bank-book, an he consented to wait
Until the Little Tin Gods built him a berth for himself,

"Special, well paid, and exempt from the Law of the Fifty and Five,
Even to Ninety and Nine" -- these were the terms of the pact:
Thus did the Little Tin Gods (long may Their Highnesses thrive!)
Silence his mouth with rupees, keeping their Circle intact;

Appointing a Colonel from Chatham who managed the Bhamo State Line
(The wich was on mile and one furlong -- a guaranteed twenty-inch gauge),
So Exeter Battleby Tring consented his claims to resign,
And died, on four thousand a month, in the ninetieth year of his age!

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