GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Police Department officer who fired a flashbang at a man on the night of the downtown riot will not be charged with a crime, the county prosecutor has decided.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said officers breaking up riots are afforded “a large amount of immunity” under the law and that “knowing Officer (Phillip) Reinink would have this defense available to him under the law, we cannot charge him with a crime.”
In a Friday release (PDF), the prosecutor laid out the events of May 30 that led up to the canister being fired. Becker said that Sean Hart, who is not from Grand Rapids, was driving his SUV around downtown as a peaceful protest devolved into a riot. At one point, Hart found himself parked near the police line set up at the intersection of Fulton Street and Sheldon Avenue. There, he played the song “F— the police” loudly for a few minutes. Police told him to leave and an officer pointed a canister launcher at him. Hart admitted that made him angry.
Hart drove away, but soon came back and got out of his SUV. He walked toward the police line. The prosecutor says video shows him stopping about 10 feet away from the officers. Police told investigators that they recognized Hart as the man they had just told to leave. They again told him to leave. Hart then pointed at the officers and said something, though the release doesn’t specify what.
At that point, two officers came up to him. One pepper-sprayed him and Hart turned his back on the officers. Reinink then fired the flashbang at Hart at close range.
Someone captured video of the incident, which was posted online and within days had millions of views.
Hart got back in his SUV, revving the engine and then turning around and leaving.
He later told News 8 he suffered some bruising to his shoulder but wasn’t seriously hurt.
In considering charges against Reinink, Becker decided the officer had reason to believe there was danger. The situation that night was volatile; bottles and other things had already been thrown at officers. Video shows Hart turn his back after he was pepper-sprayed, at which point he took a drag of his cigarette. But officers couldn’t see what he was doing with his hands, Becker said, and didn’t know whether he was reaching for some sort of weapon. That’s why Reinink fired the canister, which he had been trained to do.
Also according to Becker, 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. The prosecutor provided photos showing the canisters look similar — both are silver and have blue lettering.
The prosecutor says Reinink recognized he had fired the wrong canister and noted it in his report of the incident.
While Becker 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.”
Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Payne noted that while the criminal investigation into Reinink had concluded, GRPD Internal Affairs was still looking into the incident.
“This incident is concerning to me and our department, which is why it is critically important for the Internal Affairs Unit (IA) to be deliberate in its investigation of Officer Reinink’s action that night,” Payne said in a statement.
Reinink was placed on leave while the incident was investigated. It was not immediately clear whether he would be back on the job following the prosecutor’s decision.
Hart will also not face charges in connection to the riot. Becker noted there is no evidence Hart was complicit in the destruction that night. He added that while playing the song at police may have been provoking, it’ wasn’t violent nor was it illegal, and that though Hart revved his SUV’s engine near the police line, he never made any move toward officers.