In this George Floyd era, awareness of the nature and scope of police brutality has dramatically increased. Many responsible law enforcement professionals across the country have taken the cue and made good faith efforts to promote reforms, and to make their departments more transparent, accountable, and generally more responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.
The Taylor Police Department, here in Michigan, is not one of them.
For years this downriver police department has not only engaged with the public as though many members of the community and visitors are enemy combatants, but it has also provided no evidence that it aspires to change. The Taylor Police Department is out of control, and the ACLU of Michigan has asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to get involved. In a 14-page complaint describing its long history of police abuse, we are urging the federal agency to investigate the department.
We wouldn’t do this if the Taylor Police Department demonstrated the willingness and capacity to contain the misconduct of its officers. Although Taylor police leaders claim to have provided the officers with training, there is evidence that such has not effectively overcome a departmental culture that causes officers to treat many people they encounter (particularly people of African descent) as suspects who are immediately presumed to be uncooperative and who must face the violent, punitive wrath of cops gone wild.
Calvin Jones, who is of African descent, only wanted to know why he was being pulled over when stopped by a Taylor police officer for running a stop sign. Instead of receiving an answer to a reasonable question, he was brutally dragged from his car, beaten, and apparently put in a chokehold that left him face down on the ground, motionless.
After Cody Meredith, who is also Black, was accused of failing to use a turn signal, he was tasered and beaten so severely that he was treated in the hospital for a concussion and other injuries.
Even though Brendan Morgan pulled over within 30 seconds of seeing the flashing lights of a police car, he did not move fast enough to avoid having Taylor police officers summarily convict him of the imaginary crime of “contempt of cop,” a term that refers to an officer’s subjective, unreasonable belief that an individual has failed to promptly comply with a police order. One officer punched Mr. Morgan in the face while the young man sat in his car with his hands raised. He was then swarmed by police officers, pulled violently from his car, punched and kicked. With a knee pressed into his back and multiple officers pinning down his hands and legs, he was repeatedly stunned with an electronic taser. One officer then told him: “Welcome to Taylor.” In our complaint to the Department of Justice, the ACLU of Michigan referenced 20 instances of similar alleged and documented acts of extreme violence committed by Taylor police officers. Much of it appears to be racially driven.
As if to provide an exclamation point to this record, a case not involving excessive force provides a window into the mean-spirited soul of the department. Dale Bryant, an African American man who is a quadriplegic and has limited vision, purchased a purebred puppy with an expectation that the animal will one day become a service dog. Late one evening Mr. Bryant heard “King,” his five-month-old puppy, in distress. Mr. Bryant immediately went to King's aid and found him tangled in a line in his crate. Concerned for his puppy, Mr. Bryant called the police for assistance. Instead of lending a helping hand, the police took the puppy into custody and charged Mr. Bryant with animal cruelty. They cited him as well for not having given the dog rabies shots and failing to obtain a license, notwithstanding that the puppy was too young for the vaccination and could not be licensed without first being vaccinated. It was months before Mr. Bryant and King could be reunited.
Lots of victims have sued the Taylor police department, but we are left to wonder how many more might have instituted court challenges but could not do so because of the city’s practice of effectively blackmailing victims of excessive force by offering to drop all criminal charges in exchange for a signed document waiving all rights to pursue civil litigation against the city or any of its officers.
Because Taylor’s leaders have apparently been unable to resolve this crisis, the ACLU of Michigan is hopeful that Department of Justice intervention will spur fundamental changes in departmental culture, and through the diversification of personnel, increase the capacity of the department to not only deal with violent crime, but to also serve the community’s other needs such as mental health emergencies, drug crises, and community disputes.