Lawsuit filed in 'gardening while black' case in Detroit
A Detroit man is suing three women he says called police on him because of his race while he was tending to an urban garden on the city's east side.
Marc Peeples has filed a lawsuit in Wayne County Circuit Court against the three women, all east-side residents, saying he became a victim of unjust police calls, stops and racial profiling because he is African-American and the women are white.
The case is being closely watched by legal experts and others who believe it could serve as a litmus test for other African-Americans who feel they've been wrongly confronted by police because of their race.
Peeples says he was working in a community garden when he became the target of a barrage of complaints from the women, identified in the lawsuit as Deborah Nash, Martha Callahan and Jennifer Moore.
Nash responded to a request for comment from The Detroit News in a text message Wednesday: "My statement will be released at a later date." The other women couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
In an October interview, Nash told the New York Times she called police after Peeples threatened her.
“I am not a racist. I was all for the garden and even helped with supplies at first, but he threatened me several times, in person to my face, that I needed to leave my neighborhood or I would be put out one way or another,” Nash said. “I called the police because he was destroying property in the neighborhood and painting graffiti. No one had the right to paint park trees.”
Peeples told The Detroit News in October that he had been harassed by the women and they had called police on him numerous times while he was in his old neighborhood on Fayette and Winchester starting in the summer of 2017.
"I guess it was gardening while black," said Peeples, who said he lost his job and employment contracts because the problems the women caused him.
Peeples said at the time he was trying to "give back" to his old neighborhood by planting an urban garden in Hunt Park. He also said he boarded and secured an abandoned property across from the park.
"They call the police on me every time they see me (at the park)," said Peeples, who said he was arrested twice after such calls. "They were trying to paint me as a criminal."
The complaints led to charges being filed last year against Peeples; the charges were later dropped by a judge. Peeples said the complainants were "white women who use the police to get their way."
The lawsuit alleges the women made false police reports and accused Peeples of "various crimes that they knew he did not commit" from July 2017 to May 2018.
The lawsuit accuses the women of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and civil conspiracy. Peeples is asking for $300,000 plus court costs, interest and attorney fees.
Peeples' experience, says his attorney Robert Burton-Harris, mirrors that of many African-Americans across the country who found themselves at the receiving end of phone calls to police by white women reporting unfounded offenses.
A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for May 28.