For years, the Grand Rapids Police Department has solicited business owners to sign “Letters of Intent to Prosecute Trespassers.” 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. Instead, police officers use these generalized letters to decide for themselves who does not “belong” on premises that are generally open to the public. In many cases, the police arrest people who have done nothing wrong, including patrons of the business.
In 2013, the ACLU brought a federal lawsuit to challenge the use of these letters to make arrests without the individualized probable cause required by the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs include Jacob Manyong, who allegedly “trespassed” when his vehicle entered a business parking lot for several seconds as he pulled out of an adjacent public parking lot, and Kirk McConer, who was arrested for “trespassing” when he stopped to chat with a friend as he exited a store after buying a soda.
An expert commissioned by the ACLU to analyze trespass incidents in Grand Rapids found that African Americans are more than twice as likely to be arrested for trespassing than whites. In addition to the federal case, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the court brief in the Michigan Court of Appeals on behalf of Demetrius Maggit, who had been unlawfully arrested under the same policy.
In May 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU and held that the City’s use of the letters was unconstitutional. In June 2017 Grand Rapids announced that they would no longer use the letters as a basis for trespass arrests.
In the federal case, Judge Paul Maloney ruled in our favor in October 2018, holding the City liable for its unconstitutional policy of arresting innocent people for trespassing.
(Hightower v. City of Grand Rapids, People v. Maggit; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Miriam Aukerman and Michael J. Steinberg, and Legal Fellow Marc Allen; National ACLU Attorney Jason Williamson; Cooperating Attorneys Julia Kelley, Bryan Waldman, and David Moran of U-M Law School.)
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