City seeks changes to order banning Detroit police use of tear gas, rubber bullets on protesters

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — City officials requested Thursday that a federal judge change a temporary order banning police from using certain tactics and equipment to rein in protesters.

Attorneys for the city, Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Police Chief James Craig and its police officers filed the request in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Protesters with Detroit Will Breathe march the streets on the 100th day of protesting racial injustice and the death of George Floyd.

They are asking the judge to modify the order to keep protesters from vandalizing property, throwing any objects at police officers that could injure or kill them, inciting violence and loitering or blocking public roads and sidewalks. They also want the order to require protesters to obey police officers' lawful commands, such as moving from one place to another or leaving a demonstration.

"Modifying the (temporary restraining order) will not hurt (the) plaintiffs," the city argues in its court filing. "It would simply ensure that plaintiffs will no longer

engage in unlawful conduct as they have throughout the demonstrations over the

past few months.

"In no way does it hinder plaintiffs from engaging in lawful, peaceful protesting activity or otherwise chill their First Amendment liberties. Indeed, the proposed modifications are reflective of city ordinances and state law."

The city's petition comes about a week after U.S. District Judge Laurie J. Michelson issued an order barring Detroit police from using tear gas, batons or rubber bullets against protesters for 14 days. The order stems from a lawsuit Detroit Will Breathe, a group of activists that has held protests in Detroit every day since late May and is calling for police reform, filed last week.

Meanwhile, Michelson decided to grant limited discovery to the attorneys for Detroit Will Breathe as they have alleged that the city has "not provided any factual evidence supporting what they are alleging to have occurred justifying the use of force and en masse arrests."

Attorneys for Detroit Will Breathe were not immediately available for comment. Organizer Tristan Taylor also did not respond to a voice message left with him seeking comment. 

Attorneys for the city included an affidavit from Deputy Detroit Police Chief Todd Bettison to support the request to change the federal court order. In it, he warns clashes between police officers and demonstrators could become more dangerous.

"I am deeply concerned that we have seen a material escalation in the confrontational attitude of Detroit Will Breathe protesters that appear to have been emboldened by the recent temporary restraining order," Bettison said in the affidavit.

"It is deeply concerning that, armed with a restraining order that restricts police response, but no corresponding restriction on the violence and illegal activity by the protesters, the next staged confrontation may become more dangerous and more violent."

In an order Friday, Michelson granted a request from Detroit Will Breathe to obtain police records "that reference or portray any of the individual Plaintiffs" in

incidents that occurred on 10 days between late May and late August.

However, the judge denied the group's request for records from those dates that have been reviewed by Craig, Duggan or Bettison, as well as any evidence police have "demonstrating any violent acts by Plaintiffs or other demonstrators to which DPD was responding and/or justifying DPD’s use of force."

The judge set a status conference for Sept. 18.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez