August incident sparked accusations of racial profiling from the National Association of Realtors
A black real estate agent, his black client and 15-year-old son have reportedly filed a federal lawsuit against seven policemen in addition to the city of Wyoming, Michigan, after they were detained and handcuffed while viewing a client’s house.
Real estate agent Eric Brown, his client – Army veteran Roy Thorne – and his son were viewing the property on August 01 when police were sent to the scene in response to a call about a break-in.
Officers surrounded the building and the three were ordered out of the house at gunpoint. They were then handcuffed before being released without charge shortly afterwards.
The incident prompted accusations of racial profiling from the National Association of Realtors.
The three, who filed the lawsuit on October 01 in Michigan’s western district court, are seeking unspecified damages on five counts, claiming six police officers violated their civil rights with unlawful detainment and excessive force. Among other counts, they have included assault and battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In addition to the six police officers, Wyoming’s police chief was also named as a defendant.
During the incident, one of the officers’ body cams recorded the events, showing police yelling repeatedly at the occupants to step outside with their arms in the air.
Police have said they acted in response to a report from a neighbor, claiming they had spotted the same man who had been arrested for breaking into the house a week earlier, and that he had returned to the scene in the same vehicle, a black sedan.
Police have made it clear that the caller had not been the same person who reported the break-in but they had been aware of the previous arrest and seen the arrested individual and his vehicle, adding that the person had been asked by the homeowner to watch the house.
It transpired that the caller was mistaken, despite allegedly assuring the police that they had identified the man as the suspect. Police later said Brown’s black Hyundai Genesis had also been mistaken for the suspect’s vehicle, a Mercedes sedan.
On being detained, Brown explained to the police that he had been giving Thorne and his son a tour of the property after arranging the visit online the day before.
Speaking to the media within hours of the incident, Thorne said they feared they would all be killed, while Brown accused the police and the caller who had reported the break-in of racial prejudice.
The incident sparked an angry response from Charlie Oppler, the president of the National Association of Realtors, who issued a statement accusing the police of racial profiling, describing the detainment of Brown as “deeply disturbing”.
He said: “While, thankfully, neither Brown nor his clients were physically harmed in the incident, racial profiling – and the humiliation, indignity and trauma that comes with it – has no place in our country.”
The lawsuit claimed that the plaintiffs would not have received the same treatment if they had not been black. "Had the Plaintiffs not been African American men, they would not have been held at gun point, would not have been detained, and would not have been handcuffed."
The lawsuit also pointed out that the cars and license plates did not match the previous suspect's.
Police bodycam and dashcam footage showed at least two officers unholster their firearms during the incident, although Wyoming police stressed that this is standard procedure when officers respond to a reported home invasion in progress with multiple individuals inside a home.
The City of Wyoming Police Department issued a statement after the incident, exonerating the officers and saying that while it was “unfortunate” that innocent individuals had been placed in handcuffs, officers had acted “reasonably according to department policy based on the information available to them at the time”.
It added: “After a thorough internal review of the actions of each of our public safety officers who responded to this incident, we have concluded race played no role in our officers’ treatment of the individuals who were briefly detained, and our officers responded appropriately.”
Neither the city of Wyoming nor the police have reportedly responded to media requests for comment on the lawsuit.