The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and their Criminal Law Reform Project filed a lawsuit in federal court this week against the city of Grand Rapids. At issue is a practice of trespassing arrests that defies constitutional protections.
According to the blog of the ACLU, Grand Rapids police have a practice of arresting people for trespassing on the properties of businesses across the city—often without warning or asking them to leave first. They get away with this using a system that skirts the Bill of Rights.
First, the police department circulated a form to area business owners. The form, when signed, states that the business owner wishes to prosecute all trespassers on their property. More than 800 local businesses have signed the forms.
Then, the police department takes it upon themselves to determine which citizens are customers who should be left alone and which should be taken into custody for trespassing—sometimes even when they were paying customers.
The practice has been going on for years and it seems the police enjoy the permission they seem to have to harass any patrons that don’t look right or that they would rather see in cuffs.
The ACLU offers examples. The first is a man who stopped at a gas station to stretch after a car ride. The police had a trespassing form signed by the business owner, so they stopped and asked the man what his business was. They asked to search his car and gave him a breath test, which he passed. Without finding any other reason to make a lawful arrest, they arrested him for trespassing. This despite the clerk admitting at his hearing that he never asked the man to leave nor complained of his presence to police.
Though the charges were eventually dropped, he sat in jail for three days before a friend bailed him out.
A similar arrest was executed when two men sat in a car outside of a sports bar. There was a line to get in, but it was raining so a friend was holding their place. The police arrested the men for trespassing, citing the signed form from the business owner as their justification. Charges were later dropped.
The ACLU’s lawsuit says these are violations of the constitutional protection against unlawful arrests and the fact that these trespassing charges don’t hold up in court offer support to that claim.
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