ACLU Lawsuit Claims Grand Rapids Police Arresting People For Trespassing Without Cause

Posted at 11:11 PM, May 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-03 04:32:16-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Allegations have surfaced that Grand Rapids police officers are abusing their power, making arrests for trespassing when people have done nothing wrong and no one’s asked them to leave.

On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed against the GRPD by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Miriam Aukerman, an attorney for the ACLU of West Michigan, said more than 800 companies in Grand Rapids have signed what they call “Letters of Intent to Prosecute Trespassers.”

The problem is, according to the ACLU, there is no public record of these letters, so no one knows for sure which companies have agreements with police.

The ACLU says that isn’t the biggest injustice, and Gil Weber said he can speak from experience.

Weber suffers from chronic hip pain, making it difficult to sit for long periods of time without needing to get up and stretch. “It’s the worst pain in the world,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Because of the pain, Weber said, he needed to stretch when he pulled into the BP gas station at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Franklin Street in June of last year. Within a minute of pulling into the station, he said, he was approached by police.

“(Officers) looked me in the face and said, ‘I am arresting you for trespassing.’ ”

For three days Weber sat in jail had to pay $300 to get his car out of impound, only to have the trespassing charges dropped in court.

“He did what many of us would do, just pull into a gas station to check a map, or make a phone call, or to get out and stretch, that is not a crime,” said ACLU lawyer Miriam Aukerman.

A year later, Weber is named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department filed in federal court.

The lawsuit claims police solicit businesses to sign a letter of intent to prosecute trespassers. “The problem is when the police decide who the trespasser is and who isn’t,” said Aukerman.  “I think businesses have no idea what’s actually happening here.  Businesses don’t want their patrons arrested.”

The ACLU said they’ve uncovered hundreds of businesses with a signed agreement with police. “These are sort of 815 secret places were your rights can disappear,” said Aukerman.

We attempted to reach out to police to ask them about the letters and the lawsuit, we were told they had no comment.

Weber said he just wants to make sure trespassers are punished and everyone else is given an opportunity to comply with the law. “They should ask you to leave first, give me an opportunity to leave.”

The ACLU said they first reached out to the police department in February but didn’t get a response which is why they went forward with the lawsuit.

The next step for the city is to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed on May 1.