Federal Judge Orders Detroit Police to Stop Using Batons, Gas, Chokeholds on ‘Peaceful Protesters’

September 5, 2020 Updated: September 5, 2020

A federal judge has issued a restraining order, temporarily barring Detroit police from using a range of response tactics—including tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons—against “peaceful protesters” after a group accused officers of excessive force, with the city’s police chief dismissing the decision, saying no such methods have been used on people protesting peacefully.

U.S. District Court Judge Laurie Michelson partially granted a temporary restraining order filed on Aug. 31 by Detroit Will Breathe against the city of Detroit (pdf), accusing police of using brutal tactics to deter protesters from practicing their free speech rights.

“Since May 29, 2020, Defendants (collectively “DPD”) have repeatedly responded to peaceful demonstrations for equal rights under the law for Black Detroiters with unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive violence, subjecting nonviolent demonstrators to, among other things, tear-gas, pepper-spray, beatings, rubber bullets, deafening and disorienting sound cannons, police vehicles, flash grenades, chokeholds, and cordoning them off in small groups (“kettled”), and arresting en masse without probable cause,” the motion claims.

Michelson’s order, as cited by Detroit News, prohibits police from using certain tactics against peaceful protesters like using batons or shields to hit them, while extending the ban to bar the use of certain other tactics—like applying chokeholds or using vehicles for ramming—against any demonstrators whatsoever.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig responded to the order by saying his officers only have used force when protesters were not peaceful and that the ruling will not change how the department handles demonstrations, according to a statement on Twitter by the Detroit Police Department.

“We’re going to continue to do our jobs the way we’ve done it,” Craig said. “We respect peaceful protesters. We understand the judge’s order and we’ll make sure the protesters understand if there’s any aggression or violation of law, they will get ample notice like we’ve done in the past.”

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia, the city’s top attorney, said in a statement, “We are disappointed the order was entered without an evidentiary hearing because we believe when the evidence is heard, the police actions to date will be deemed justified,” Garcia added.

The judge, after reviewing some evidence, including videos of interactions between protesters and police, said some protesters could win their case.

“These videos, buttressed by the testimonial evidence, establishes that at least some Plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on their claims that the DPD used excessive force against them,” Michelson wrote.

The order, as cited by Detroit News, bars the police from using the following tactics for a period of 14 days:

“Using striking weapons (including, but not limited to, batons and shields), chemical agents (including, but not limited to, tear gas and pepper spray), or rubber bullets against any individual peacefully engaging in protest or demonstrations who does not pose a physical threat to the safety of the public or police;

“Deploying chemical agents or a sound cannon against persons peacefully engaging in protest or demonstrations without an audible warning and a reasonable amount of time to disperse;

“Placing in a chokehold or ramming with a vehicle any individual attending a demonstration;

“Tightening the zip ties or handcuffs placed on any individual to the point that the restraints cause physical injury, including loss of circulation or change in color;

“Arresting any demonstrators en masse without probable cause.”

Michelson wrote that the order may be extended by up to 28 days if there is reasonable cause to do so.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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