GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Melissa Hughes said she was stunned but hopeful when she learned the Michigan Department of Civil Rights had filed a discrimination charge against the Grand Rapids Police Department in her case.
“‘Oh my God, am I going to get justice against GRPD for what they did to me?'” she said she thought. “It was very overwhelming what they did and what they took away.”
She said she was notified with a call Wednesday morning, two days after the state watchdog held a press conference in metro Grand Rapids announcing the charges, but the MDCR says it told her on June 8 the charge was pending.
“I said, ‘Hold on, is this going to be out for the whole entire world to see?'” Hughes, who lives out of state, told News 8 in a Zoom call. “And he (an MDCR attorney) said, ‘Yes, you are a part of history.'”
Her last name was Mason on the evening of Jan. 25, 2020, when she was pulled over for an expired license plate tag on Hall Street SE near Eastern Avenue. It was already dark. She had just picked up her son and his friends from a pizza place and they were almost home.
She happened to be wearing a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt with her cousin’s name on the back. Darius Wimberly was shot and killed by a Benton Harbor police officer in 2016. Authorities said Wimberly was armed, that he opened fire first and that the officer acted in self-defense. Hughes disagreed with the Berrien County prosecutor’s decision that the officer was justified.
Hughes said when multiple GRPD cruisers showed up and she saw officers with their hands resting on their holstered guns, she was afraid.
“I was like, ‘All of this for what?’ I was like, ‘Black lives do matter,’ is what I stated. And the next thing I know, the officer came back and asked me to step out of my car,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Why?’ And he told me I was under arrest and he began to take me out of my car and he turned me around and he handcuffed and he began to walk me down the alley.”
Still in Hughes’ car were her son and his two friends, including Damiani Torres.
“I told the boys not to make no sudden movements,” Hughes said.
“Everyone in the car is scared, like, ‘What’s going on?’ That our mom and she’s in handcuffs,” Torres said Wednesday, showing News 8 where it happened. “We’re sitting there, 16, 17 years old, really scared and shocked. Like, what are we doing wrong?”
Hughes said she had never been in handcuffs before. She was scared not only for herself, she said, but also for her son.
“I’m about to watch my son die and there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing,” she recalled thinking. “I felt so helpless.”
Sitting in a police cruiser, crying, she asked the officer a few minutes later if she was under arrest.
“He said, ‘Because you stopped running your mouth, I guess we’ll let you go,'” Hughes said.
On Monday, as it announced the charges against GRPD, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a complaint document that referenced that statement by the officer.
Hughes’ case is among two in which the MDCR file discrimination charges. The other is the case of Honestie Hodges, who was handcuffed at gunpoint by officers. They were looking for a stabbing suspect — a 40-year-old white woman. Honestie was an 11-year-old Black girl. The MDCR said GRPD was unable to show evidence of white people being treated the way Honestie and Hughes were in similar circumstances.
“Just speak up when you feel like you’re being stepped on and abused,” Damiani Torres said. “Speak up, ’cause you’ll never lose your value no matter what happens.”
Hughes was cited for her expired tag and an expired driver’s license. She said she had forgotten because she had been out of town attending an aunt’s funeral. She said she promptly rectified both issues.