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Man who had police canister shot at his face plans to file lawsuit

“They're lucky they didn't incinerate him or somebody else nearby," an attorney for the man said Tuesday
Posted at 4:57 PM, Jul 28, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The man who had a metal police canister launched at his face during the riots in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30 is planning to file a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department.

Sean Hart, who police say was not familiar with downtown Grand Rapids, was driving his Chevy Suburban from the fish ladder area towards the intersection of Fulton and Sheldon. When he got to the intersection he was met by a line of police officers blocking the roadway.

Police say he stopped at the intersection for about three minutes while playing the song "F*** the Police" from his vehicle.

While Hart was being told to leave the area by officers, he says they aimed a "40 mm single-shot launcher" towards him. He left the area but returned a few minutes later to tell officers he was upset with the way they handled the situation.

As Hart approached the line of officers, he was hit with a mist of pepper spray by one officer. Seconds later, Officer Phillip Reinink fired a metal canister at his face.

"Officer Reinink recognized immediately following his actions that he had made a mistake, a mistake we all regret under the pressure caused by the hostile environment, unruly crowds and the type of chaos that none of our officers in our department had ever seen,” Chief Eric Payne said Tuesday morning.

Officer Joe Garrett, a member of GRPD's Special Response Team, said Reinink had mistakenly loaded the canister into his launcher when he meant to load another type of canister that would have just sent a plume of pepper spray towards Hart.

In regards to the canister mistakenly fired on May 30, a 'SPEDE-HEAT" canister, Garrett said, "This is a long-range projectile. The objective of this projectile is to be launched from a place of distance. The range is 125 to 150 yards, typically from behind the line into a crowd.”

The canister he meant to fire was a "MUZZLE BLAST".

"As you can see, they're very close in appearance," Garrett said Tuesday morning. "The MUZZLE BLAST round is the optimal factor range for that, it's about 10 feet. There's actually no projectile that comes out of this round here.”

Chief Payne announced Tuesday that the department had completed it's internal investigation into the incident. Officer Reinink was given a two-day suspension without pay.

The Kent County Prosecutor's office had already announced that they would not be filing any criminal charges in the case.

Ven Johnson, one of the attorneys representing Hart in a soon-to-be-filed lawsuit, says the incident comes down to more than a simple mistake made in the heat of the moment.

“Are you going to buy this? Because we all know it's a complete and utter lie,” Johnson said Tuesday afternoon. “Who do you think loaded the gun? It's his job to know whether you got a bullet in there or a water bottle.”

Johnson says their suit will seek to cover some of the medical and economical damages Hart suffered after the incident.

“When they suspend an officer, quote, without pay, that tells you that they have found that he or she ... violated their own policies and procedures," Johnson said. “They're lucky they didn't incinerate him or somebody else nearby him. He was not advancing on them. He was not assaulting them. He wasn't touching them."

Chief Payne said the department will be announcing changes to their use of force policy on August 11.

"This was a chaotic situation," Chief Payne said Tuesday. "We had never experienced that before. We prepare for these types of incidents. A mistake was made, and we fully acknowledge that. Officer Reinink acknowledges that."

"We will continue to learn from this incident and make sure we're serving the community well."