September 15, 2015

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan announced a federal lawsuit today against the City of Detroit on behalf of an army veteran who was subjected to an illegal cavity search by police at a Southwest Detroit gas station.

In June 2006, Elvis Ware, 35, was seated in his car at a local gas station when he was approached by two Detroit police officers, Michael Parish and Michael Osman. Parish approached Ware’s car and forcibly removed him, handcuffed him and began an intrusive search. During the search, Parish shoved his bare hand down Ware’s pants and squeezed his genitals and then attempted to stick a bare finger into Ware’s anus. Following the body cavity search and a search of his car, the police released him. 

“Mr. Ware served in the military to advance human rights abroad,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “It is ironic and a travesty of justice that when he returned to the United States, police officers denied him his most basic human rights by cavity searching him in the street for no reason.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Numerous victims and community members have testified before the Detroit City Council that Officers Parish and Osman have frequently stopped African American men for traffic violations and conducted side of the road strip and body cavity searches without warrants, probable cause or any reasonable suspicion. In some cases, criminal charges have been dismissed because the evidence was obtained as a result of these illegal searches. Although the city and the police department are aware of these incidents, they have ignored the complaints and allowed the officers’ to continue to patrol the streets of Detroit.

“We trust police officers in our community to be the guardians of justice,” said Melissa El, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney. “And when they falter, we should trust their superiors to step in and make sure that the laws are being followed.”

The ACLU of Michigan’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that the City of Detroit and the two officers violated Ware’s constitutional rights. Ware also accused the city and officers of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and an excessive and unreasonable use of force. The ACLU has asked the courts to award unspecified damages for the officers’ recklessness and callous disregard of his federal constitutional rights.

“It is my responsibility to shine a light on police abuse and to make sure that this never happens again,” said Elvis Ware. “If by coming forward, I prevent just one person from having to go through the embarrassment and humiliation I experienced then I have succeeded.

Ware is represented by ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Kevin M. Carlson, Melissa El and Michael L. Pitt, along with ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.