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DETROIT - A federal judge yesterday ruled unconstitutional the 2008 Detroit police raid of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit in which 130 innocent CAID patrons were detained and their cars impounded. Police had no evidence that the patrons had broken the law and no illegal drugs or weapons were uncovered during the raid. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed the lawsuit in 2010 on behalf of nine patrons and four of their parents whose cars were confiscated during the raid.
"In a free country, the police may not conduct commando-style raids on innocent people and seize their property without justification," said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "We hope this case will put a stop to the Motor City shakedowns we've seen across the city - the practice of arresting innocent people, seizing their cars, and refusing to return them unless they pay a $900 ransom."
In a 32-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts ruled that the police violated the Fourth Amendment when they arrested everyone at the art gallery merely for being present and seized their cars without evidence that they had broken a law. In addition, Judge Roberts found that the police misconduct at the CAID was not an isolated incident, but was in fact part of "a widespread practice" and "custom" by the Detroit Police Department of unconstitutionally "detaining, searching, and prosecuting large groups of persons" and impounding their cars based on their mere presence at a raid location.
According to the opinion: ".Mere presence, in and of itself, is never sufficient to establish probable cause that a person knowingly and intentionally was in a place of illegal occupation. even assuming that police had probable cause to believe that some people present had committed an arrestable offense, they nonetheless lacked probable cause for detaining everyone who happened to be at the CAID."
On May 31, 2008, approximately 130 members of the CAID gathered for Funk Night, a well-publicized monthly event featuring music and dancing from midnight to 5 a.m. Shortly after 2 a.m., Detroit police officers, dressed entirely in black, with their faces masked and guns drawn, stormed into the CAID and ordered everyone present to lie face down. Many of the CAID's patrons were standing in the back yard and were forced to lie with their faces in the mud.
Those who asked questions, including a lawyer, or did not move fast enough were kicked to the ground by police officers. The officers then separated men and women and searched them all, issuing each a misdemeanor citation for "loitering in a place of illegal occupation." The officers also seized the cars of anyone who had driven to the CAID under Michigan's "nuisance abatement" statute. In total, approximately 130 loitering citations were issued and more than 40 vehicles were seized.
In August 2008, after ACLU filed court papers to dismiss the criminal cases against the CAID's patrons, the City of Detroit agreed to drop all charges. Nonetheless, the police refused to release most of the patrons' cars unless they paid $900 plus towing and storage fees. The ACLU filed suit in federal court in February 2010.
In addition to Korobkin, the CAID patrons are represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys William H. Goodman, Julie H. Hurwitz and Kathryn Bruner James, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg and ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney Sarah Mehta.
To read Judge Roberts' opinion, go to http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/CAIDRuling.pdf
To read the ACLU of Michigan's complaint, go to http://www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/CAIDComplaint.pdf