ACLU of Michigan Announces Class Action Lawsuit Against City of Flint and Law Enforcement

Detroit — The American Civil Liberties of Michigan filed a class action lawsuit in Federal District Court today against the City of Flint, the Flint Police Department and Genesee County Sheriff Department on behalf of 40 innocent young men and women who were strip and/or cavity searched and wrongfully arrested during a 2005 raid of a licensed Flint nightclub. “These young people simply did what thousands like them do all over the country -- they went to a licensed and legal club to listen to music, dance and socialize,” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. “A judge has already agreed with us that the arrests were unlawful and we now seek to hold Flint and Genesee County accountable for their reckless disregard for the patrons’ rights and to ensure that these practices are abolished.”

On March 20, 2005, undercover officers from the sheriff’s department and the Flint Police Department entered Club What’s Next, a Flint dance club, to investigate possible drug activity. While the undercover officers reportedly bought drugs from certain individuals in the bar, nobody represented by the ACLU possessed drugs or drug paraphernalia. Nonetheless, a team of police officers raided the club and charged all 94 patrons who did not possess drugs with a misdemeanor for “frequenting a drug house.” In October a Genesee Circuit Court judge threw out the charges against the ACLU clients because the police did not have reason to believe that they had committed a crime.

During the raid, the dance club patrons were handcuffed and divided into two groups – females and males. Women were taken into a bathroom and searched, at times in the presence of others. Some were told to lift their shirts and bras in view of male officers. An officer commented to one woman about the size of her breasts and asked if they were “real.” Several people have reported that they were subjected to cavity searches. One woman reported that the officer did not change the latex glove in between searching her vagina and anus.

"It was a horrible and humiliating experience. The entire ordeal was terrifying beyond belief," said Jennifer Thompson, 20, of Dearborn who was cavity searched and wrongfully arrested for “frequenting a drug house.” “They treated me like a common criminal. I thought because they were police they could do this, but now I know I was violated and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Most men were taken into a men’s bathroom and searched and told to raise their shirts, drop their pants and underwear, and to bend over and cough. Some were told to put a finger into their anus. Those who were still handcuffed had their pants and underwear pulled down to around their knees by officers. One man was stripped on the side of the road after he had left the club.

“A strip-search should occur only under the most extreme circumstances, where the suspicion is well-informed and individualized and where the immediate safety of others is at stake,” said Maureen M. Crane, ACLU of Michigan Cooperating Attorney. “It is evident, by the police’s own admission, that none of these essential ingredients were present in this case.”

The ACLU of Michigan’s lawsuit asks the court to declare that the City of Flint, the Flint Police Department and the Genesee County Sheriff Department violated the club patrons’ constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure and freedom of association and assembly. The plaintiffs have also accused the law enforcement officers of assault and battery and false arrest and imprisonment. The ACLU clients are from across Michigan, Ohio, Arizona and Florida.

They have also asked the courts to order the city and law enforcement agencies to discontinue the use of similar tactics and require training and supervision of all officers to avoid such violations in the future.

The club patrons are represented by ACLU volunteer attorneys Crane, Michael L. Pitt, Peggy Goldberg Pitt, Kenneth M. Mogill, Elizabeth L. Jacobs, Gregory T. Gibbs and Jeanmarie Miller along with ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss and ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg.