Man shot with canister by officer seeking legal action

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids Police Department internal investigation found the officer who fired a flashbang at a man on the night of the downtown riot used unreasonable force.

“Officer (Phillip) Reinink realized immediately following his actions that he had made a mistake,” said Chief Eric Payne during the press conference Tuesday morning. “A mistake we all regret — under the pressure caused by the hostile environment unruly crowds and the type of cause that none of the officers in our department have ever seen.”

A video of the incident shows a man who has been identified as Sean Hart being sprayed with mace and then Reinink, firing a canister, nearly point-blank, at him.

“My client never assaulted him (the officer), never threatened him, never got anywhere near him. All he had in his hand was a cigarette. So unless he was afraid of getting a cigarette burn from about 15 feet away, there was no justification for using the pepper spray,” said Ven Johnson, an attorney who is representing Hart in a civil suit.

James Howard, de-escalation expert and former police officer, previously said to News 8 firing the canister was unnecessary and mace was sufficient.

Payne stands behind the officer’s decision to fire a canister in addition to the spray. But Payne says the wrong canister was used, unintentionally.

“This incident occurred two hours after unlawful assembly had been declared,” Payne said.

Reinink recognized he had fired the wrong canister and noted it in his report of the incident.

Reinink told investigators he thought his launcher was loaded with a muzzle blast canister, a nonlethal round that is designed to be fired at close range. Instead, the canister was a flashbang that is meant for long-range and puts out a projectile that can be lethal. The prosecutor provided photos showing the canisters look similar — both are silver and have blue lettering.

Top: A flashbang canister. Bottom: A muzzle blast canister. (Courtesy Kent County Prosecutor’s Office)

“You got to know what’s in your gun, and you really did know what’s in your gun,” said Johnson.

After an Internal Affairs Unit investigation, Payne said Reinink was suspended two days without pay. Reinink has already served the suspension.

Payne said the department also changed its procedures but didn’t provide any additional information.

Johnson says the punishment doesn’t fit the actions.

“For two days without pay because someone you could have killed and they lucky for you didn’t die. No, I don’t think that adequate at all,” he said.

Late last month, Kent County Prosecutor’s Office declined to bring charges against Reinink.

While the prosecutor noted that might be cause for a reckless or careless discharge of a firearm charge, he said that’s superseded by a law stating everyone who helps end a riot “shall be held guiltless and fully justified in law.”

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