Thursday, September 08, 2005

Motion to Dismiss Denied in ACLU Case Representing Dance Club Patrons Subjected to Mass Arrest and Searches - ACLU OF MICHIGAN

The trial judge in the Flint, MI, club raid issued a disappointing decision denying the ACLU's motion to dismiss.

September 8, 2005 - Press Release

DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan expressed dismay today that the motion to dismiss the charges against 93 young men and women arrested, strip searched and/or cavity searched by the Flint police was denied. All of the people, represented by a team of lawyers from the ACLU, were drug free when they were at a dance club last March where other patrons in the bar possessed drugs, but charged with “frequenting a drug house.

“The ACLU is committed to defending these clients as long as it takes to vindicate their rights. Arresting, strip searching and cavity searching drug-free patrons of a licensed nightclub is not only unconstitutional, it is frightening,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “These young people simply did what thousands like them do all over the country, they went to a licensed and legal club on a Saturday night to listen to music, dance and socialize.”

On March 20, undercover officers from the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department and the Flint Police Department, entered Club What’s Next, a Flint dance club, to investigate possible drug activity. While the undercover officers reportedly bought drugs from certain individuals in the bar, nobody represented by the ACLU possessed drugs or drug paraphernalia. Nonetheless, a team of police officers raided the club and charged all patrons who did not possess drugs with a misdemeanor for “frequenting a drug house.”

“Unless this decision is reversed, the police will be able to arrest any one in a licensed nightclub or any music concert whenever a stranger lights up a marijuana cigarette,” said Ken Mogill, the ACLU cooperating attorney leading the 10 person legal team. “That’s absurd.”

During the raid, the dance club patrons were handcuffed and divided into two groups – males and females. Most men were taken into a men’s bathroom and searched, sometimes two at a time, and told to raise their shirts, drop their pants and underwear, and to bend over and cough. Some were told to put a finger into their anus. Those who were still handcuffed had their pants and underwear pulled down to around their knees by officers. One man was reportedly stripped on the side of the road after he had left the club.

Women were taken into a women’s bathroom and searched, at times in the presence of others. Some were told to lift their shirts and bras in front of eight male officers. An officer commented to one woman about the size of her breasts and asked if they were “real.” Several women have reported that they were subjected to cavity searches. One woman reported that the officer did not change the latex glove in between searching her vagina and anus.

“When did it become a crime for enjoying music at a legal venue?” said Gregory Gibbs, ACLU-Flint Branch president and one of the attorneys in the case. “Such a policy would have a tremendous chilling effect on free expression.”

In addition to asking the court to dismiss the charges, the ACLU told the judge in August of the egregious police conduct involved in these arrests, and asked the court to direct the arresting agencies to return to all records of each arrest, including arrest and description case, photographs and photographic negatives and any other records in this incident to each its clients.

This case is the latest of several incidents involving law enforcement misconduct that the ACLU is investigating. Most recently, a lawsuit was filed against the Saginaw County Jail for the egregious conditions where pre-trial detainees are forced to strip and are held naked in a segregated cell. Last year, the ACLU successfully resolved a class action filed on behalf of approximately 250 women who alleged privacy violations in the Livingston County Jail. The county agreed to implement policies to correct the longstanding privacy violations.

In addition to Mogill and Gibbs, other ACLU volunteer lawyers on the case include: Elizabeth Jacobs, Jeanmarie Miller, Glenn Simmington, Dean Yeotis, Chris Pianto, Matthew Abel and Michael Segesta.

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