DETROIT WILL BREATHE FILES LAWSUIT AGAINST CITY OF DETROIT

Photo by Adam Dewey

AUGUST 31, 2020

Jack W. Schulz

Amanda M. Ghannam

Attorneys for Detroit Will Breathe

Detroit Will Breathe filed a lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the City of Detroit, Mayor Michael Duggan, Chief James Craig, and individual police officers David Hornshaw, Mariah Erard, Stephen Anouti, and Timothy Barr, who were observed attacking and arresting demonstrators at this summer’s protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

As is now public knowledge, on May 25, 2020, a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he lay handcuffed and pinned to the ground, calling out “I can’t breathe” and stating “Tell my kids I love them. I’m dead.” Detroiters joined thousands of demonstrators around the country in calling for justice. Detroit Will Breathe was formed in the streets of this struggle by Detroiters and those who can no longer tolerate injustice in response to the conditions of police brutality and systemic racism in this city and throughout the country. The organization prioritizes the needs of the oppressed and vehemently demands true equality and justice: fighting against police brutality and murder, mass evictions, federal agents, hyper surveillance, ICE terrorizing undocumented and immigrant communities, and more. It is the boldness of this movement and its resolve to hold the city, police department, police chief, politicians, and anyone else accountable for their role in mass devastation that has made it a target for Mayor Duggan, James Craig and the Detroit Police Department. Beginning May 29, 2020, Detroit Will Breathe along with other organizations has been marching and protesting almost daily for over three months.

Detroit police immediately responded with unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive violence, and have only escalated their brutality as the demonstrations continued. The demonstrations have been nothing but peaceful. But beginning May 29, 2020, DPD officers have brutally beaten, tackled, pepper-sprayed, and tear-gassed hundreds of demonstrators, bystanders, legal observers, street medics, and members of the press, including Lauryn Brennan, Olivia Puente, Graham Branch, Margaret Henige, and every other Plaintiff in the lawsuit. DPD officers fractured Iman Saleh’s hip. They shot Amy Nahabedian with rubber bullets. They deployed an LRAD sound cannon that caused lasting damage to Lauren Rosen’s hearing. They held Nakia Wallace in a chokehold. They detained Zachary Kolodziej, Lillian Ellis, and Tristan Taylor in dangerous and punitive conditions including overtightened zip ties, overcrowded buses in the midst of a global pandemic, and heated police vehicles. They ran over Jazten Bass with a police SUV. And they have arrested hundreds of demonstrators, many Plaintiffs included, without probable cause.

Most recently, on the night of August 22, 2020, DPD attacked Detroit Will Breathe’s peaceful gathering at the corner of Woodward and John R in an egregious display of brute force. Prior to the arrival of DPD, participants sang, danced, played music, read books, and blew bubbles. When the DPD officers arrived, they immediately charged into the crowd and attacked. They beat Alex Anest so severely that he was hospitalized for five days with a collapsed lung and broken rib. They tackled, handcuffed, and detained Caylee Arnold — then pepper-sprayed her directly in the face as officers pinned her to the ground.

Meanwhile, the City of Detroit has done nothing but authorize and condone these practices. Defendant Police Chief James Craig publicly stated as recently as August 24, 2020, that he was “proud” of these officers. Deputy Chief Todd Bettison said that Detroit Will Breathe is “no longer welcome in Detroit.” Chief Craig has also time and again stated that the demonstrators in Detroit are from outside the city to divert the public’s attention from the fact that 80% of DPD officers do not live in Detroit — begging the question, who are the real “outside agitators”?

The lawsuit filed today in federal court alleges that the officers’ actions were illegal and in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil and constitutional rights, including their right to freedom of speech and assembly and their rights to be free from excessive force, unlawful arrest, and retaliation for conveying a message of racial justice. The group has also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, seeking an immediate stop to DPD’s abusive and unlawful practices.

Detroit Will Breathe is represented by civil rights attorneys Jack W. Schulz and Amanda M. Ghannam of Schulz Law PLC; Julie Hurwitz and Bill Goodman of Goodman, Hurwitz, and James PLC, and Sean Riddell of the Riddell Law Firm all on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild — Detroit/Michigan Chapter.

Detroit Will Breathe and their attorneys and supporters will hold a press conference outside the Theodore Levin Courthouse at 231 W Lafayette Boulevard on Monday, August 31, 2020 at 12:00 p.m.