Civil rights department files discrimination charges against Grand Rapids police

By: - July 25, 2022 12:40 pm

Grand Rapids Police Department on April 12, 2022 with barricades in front of the entrance, anticipating protests after a GRPD officer fatally shot a 26-year-old Black man, Patrick Lyoya, in the head. | Allison R. Donahue

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) filed formal charges of discrimination against the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) in two separate complaints.

During a press conference Monday morning in Grand Rapids, John E. Johnson, Jr., MDCR executive director, said the charges officially levied last Wednesday are a “significant step in our ongoing investigations into alleged discriminatory actions” by the GRPD.

In complaints filed by Whitney Hodges on behalf of her minor daughter, Honestie Hodges, and by Melissa Mason, MDCR’s investigation found that the GRPD unlawfully discriminated against the claimants by treating them unequally based on race.

The first complaint, filed by Mason, was in response to a traffic stop on Jan. 20, 2020. 

GRPD officers stopped Mason, who is Black and was driving with three children, for an expired plate. According to the MDCR, Mason was compliant with officers, but was still removed from her car, handcuffed and placed under arrest in a police cruiser for approximately 20 minutes. 

In response to the investigation, GRPD was unable to demonstrate that people of another race in similar situations were treated the same as Mason.

The second complaint, filed by Hodges on behalf of her daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, alleged unequal treatment by GRPD of Honestie Hodges, who was Black. 

Honestie Hodges died in November 2020 from COVID-19. 

In this instance, police were in pursuit of a middle-aged white woman who matched the description of an attempted murder suspect on Dec. 6, 2017.  According to the MDCR, officers pointed their weapons at Honestie Hodges and others as they exited a house under surveillance and placed her in handcuffs in a GRPD cruiser. 

The police department was also unable to show evidence in this case that individuals of another race were treated the same in similar circumstances. 

GRPD has historically been under fire for discriminatory practices, especially since April, when Grand Rapids officer Christopher Schurr fatally shot 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, in the back of the head during a traffic stop. 

Schurr was charged in June with one count of second degree murder for killing Lyoya. The police department waited three weeks after Lyoya’s death before releasing Schurr’s name. 

On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a now discontinued GRPD policy of fingerprinting and photographing two Black teenagers not charged with a crime was unconstitutional. 

The MDCR charges announced Monday are just two of 28 total discrimination complaints against the GRPD that the MDCR are investigating. 

“This is the work we are constitutionally mandated to do and we are committed to a fair and impartial investigation of every complaint before us,” Johnson said. 

A city of Grand Rapids spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the charges or the other MDCR investigations. 

MDCR Director of Enforcement Marcelina Trevino said depending on the outcome of these investigations, the MDCR may have other charges and will notify the community when those charges are issued.

Next, an administrative law judge will hold a proceeding to consider all the evidence and will make a recommendation on whether the evidence shows discriminatory action occurred and what penalties should be levied in response, Johnson said. 

Following that, the MDCR will conduct their own hearing to consider those recommendations and make a final determination, which could include ordering corrective action and ordering monetary damages.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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