GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is filing charges of discrimination against the Grand Rapids Police Department for an incident that happened in 2018.
The charges are based on just two of 21 separate complaints filed after MDCR held two public listening sessions in Grand Rapids following the death of Patrick Lyoya where people talked about their negative experiences with GRPD, said John Johnson Jr., the executive director of the MDCR. Two other charges were filed against the department in July.
Wednesday’s charges against GRPD stem from August 26, 2018, when GRPD officers were called to the area of Griggs Street SE and Alto Avenue for young teens with a gun based on a 911 call. Johnson emphasized that the caller said “toy gun” multiple times.
“It’s important to note that one there was no initial crime reported. There’s nothing illegal about two children walking near train tracks with what the 911 caller identified repeatedly as a toy gun,” Johnson said.
Officers found three Black minors, who “fit the description that the caller had gave,” GRPD Officer Joshua Cudney told News 8 in August 2018, speaking for the department.
The minors were 11-year-old twins and a 17-year-old. The twins were handcuffed on the side of the street then placed in a cruiser after the handcuffs were taken off, Cudney said.
Johnson said the boys complied with all orders the officers gave.
“Despite their compliance, the boys were held at gun point by multiple officers including one using a high-powered rifle. Each of the three were searched and handcuffed before ultimately being released into the custody of the grandparent who was called to the scene by concerned people in the neighborhood,” he said.
Johnson alleges that although the boys told police they were minors and provided contact information for a parent, Grand Rapids police continued to detain and question them “for around 20 minutes without contacting their parent or guardian” after finding no weapons or illegal contraband.
GRPD bodycam video of the incident was released shortly after. Police said they acted appropriately.
“Any time you respond to a gun call, it’s a high-risk dynamic situation. It’s very easy to tell the age of an individual after the fact,” said then-Chief David Rahinsky in 2018.
Department investigators did not agree.
“The Grand Rapids Police Department was unable to show evidence of any white children who were similarly held at gunpoint, handcuffed, searched, placed in a squad car and questioned in response to a 911 call and no allegation of a crime,” Johnson said. “The Grand Rapids Police Department provided no evidence that they treat individuals of another race the same in similar circumstances.”
The charges against GRPD are being filed Wednesday. A judge will determine if the evidence shows discrimination and what, if any penalties would be imposed in response. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will also conduct its own hearing to make a final decision, which could include corrective action and ordering monetary damages, Johnson said.
A city spokesperson released a comment in response to the announcement of charges.
“We are aware of today’s announcement by the MDCR. We have not yet been served with the charges. We’ll be reviewing the charges and responding appropriately.”
The Michigan Civil Rights Department said Wednesday night that Grand Rapids police by far has the highest number of complaints of any law enforcement agency in the state. Twenty-one cases are currently under investigation. The second highest is Detroit police, with eight, and then Michigan State Police, with six. There are 119 total cases statewide, per MCRD.
Earlier this year, the department filed two different discrimination charges against GRPD. The first was for the 2017 case of Honestie Hodges, an 11-year-old Black girl. Police had been looking for a stabbing suspect, who was Honestie’s aunt. Officers went into their home, and body camera video showed police holding Honestie at gunpoint, telling her to walk backwards to officers, who handcuffed her and placed her in a cruiser.
The second complaint was for a 2020 incident, in which a Grand Rapids woman, Melissa Hughes, was pulled over for an expired plate. The civil rights department says even though Hughes complied with all requests, the officer had his hand on his gun.
Although there are 21 active complaints against GRPD, the civil rights department wants to emphasize they are individual incidents.
“We take individual complaints and investigate them individually,” Johnson said. “This is not a pattern and practice charge. This is a charge based upon the individuals who have filed them. And we’ll continue to investigate each individual complaint thoroughly.”
Editor’s Note: The Michigan Department of Civil Rights initially said it was investigating 28 complaints but later issued a correction saying the department is investigating 21 complaints.
— Byron Tollefson contributed to this report.