DETROIT – The city of Detroit has paid out $19.1 million to settle claims of police misconduct since 2015, 7 Action News has learned.
The payouts stem from allegations of wrongful arrest, assault and battery, destruction of property and more.
“$19 million? That impacts every single citizen in the city of Detroit,” said Reginald Crawford, a retired Detroit police officer who recently completed a term on the city’s Board of Police Commissioners.
“The city knows they’re liable, they’re on the hook for something,” he said.
The payouts include cases stalled by the city’s 2013 bankruptcy, which effectively froze lawsuits filed against the department until the following year.
Still, the city’s numbers are high, eclipsing police misconduct payouts from Dallas, Denver and Indianapolis police during the same time period, combined.
Mayor Mike Duggan’s office insists the department is making progress in reducing the number of claims paid out over misconduct, saying the city “is cutting crime with fewer instances of complaints about officer conduct.”
Two of the larger settlements arose from claims that officers shot men posing no threat. In 2014, police chased a vehicle matching the description of an SUV involved in a carjacking. It turned out police were chasing the wrong vehicle, but when it stopped, one of its occupants, Otis Henderson, opened the door and fled.
Henderson would later say he ran fearing he might be arrested for a probation violation. A DPD officer chased him down an alley, ultimately opening fire and striking Henderson in the back. Henderson was unarmed.
The city settled the case for $400,000.
Last year, the city settled a similar case involving a 44-year-old Detroit man who caught the attention of police when they saw him carrying what appeared to be a firearm late at night near the corner of Warren and Warrick.
According to officer interviews, they asked the man to stop. Instead, they say he raised his weapon towards them. Officers fired seven shots, striking the man twice.
The man denied ever raising a weapon at police—which they later realized was a pellet gun—and medical records showed that officers shot him twice in the back.
“That tells me they didn’t really permit him to turn around and explain himself,” said his attorney, Cyril Hall. “I believe as soon as they saw him and exited the car, they discharged.”
The city settled the case for $925,000.
In 2016, officers raided a home on Detroit’s west side looking for marijuana plants. They found them in the backyard, according to owners Ashley Franklin and Kenneth Savage. Ashley and Kenneth maintained they were grown legally and showed officers their state license as caregivers and patients.
But also in the backyard were the couple’s three dogs, Spanish Presa Canarios, which the officers feared might attack them as they retrieved the marijuana plants. Rather than wait for animal control to arrive, the officers shot and killed the dogs in front of their owners.
“I just started screaming,” Franklin said through tears.
Neither Franklin nor Savage were ever charged. The city settled the case for $225,000.
Other high-price payouts since 2015 include:
-a $380,000 settlement with Gerald Wilcox, who was wrongly arrested for robbery. Police were told the assailant was in his 20s. Wilcox, a father of three, was in his 40s.
-A $100,000 payout to Lula Pearl Clark, a 70-year-old grandmother who was falsely arrested and jailed for a sex charge.
-A $2.35 million 2017 settlement to Tawanda Jones, who suffered catastrophic injuries after a Detroit Police vehicle ran a red light, striking her.
-Two claims totaling $4.5 million stemming from men who were sent to prison for crimes they did not commit.
Chief James Craig and the Detroit Police Department declined an interview for this story, but Mark Diaz, the President of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said that the large payouts don’t indicate any admission of wrongdoing.
He also said his officers have more contact with criminal elements on a daily basis than most similarly-sized departments and, until very recently, weren’t equipped with tasers that most other departments use.
“I’m not going to say that my officers walk on water,” Diaz said, “but I will say that when we have a higher volume of calls being serviced, there are more instances where the officers conduct will be scrutinized.”
Diaz said the city’s law department often settles cases that he and his officers believe are frivolous.
“Is the city going to settle frivolous lawsuits for really large sums of money?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“The city has settled lawsuits without actually hearing the officer’s side,” Diaz said, but was not able to point out what he deemed a frivolous case since 2015.