Volume of electronic data too much to handle in protesters' suit, Detroit tells judge

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The city of Detroit and its Police Department are asking a judge to trim the amount of information they're required to release to an activist group that is suing them over claims of excessive force used during protests against police brutality. 

Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor talks about the behavior of police officers as members hold a press conference at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on July 12, 2020.

The city's lawyers filed an emergency motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court asking a judge to reconsider an order issued last week that granted Detroit Will Breathe's request for police records "that reference or portray any of the individual plaintiffs" in incidents that occurred on 10 days between late May and late August.

The city and police say the order would require the plaintiffs to review "roughly 9,000 hours of city-wide videos to identify responsive materials, and also secure and review emails and, to the extent accessible, text messages from multiple dozens of non-party police officers," the attorneys wrote in the filing.

"This is an impossibility under the court’s timeline of September 18, 2020 with limited government resources, and is not narrowly tailored as required for expedited discovery."

Among the issues, the attorneys said: "vehicle and body cams capture approximately 7,200 different videos per day ... and more than 85,000 events are captured citywide for the dates in question," and the city "cannot simply turn over carte blanche 15 terabytes of video footage ..."

The requirement "would be prohibitively laborious and prohibitively expensive data transfer, and it would violate the privacy rights of citizens who may be captured on the unrelated police calls and responses."

The city said it needs more specifics to find the relevant footage sought in the lawsuit to avoid an "unduly burdensome and oppressive" review, according to the filing.

"If plaintiffs wish to focus their request on specific officers, identified, on the specific date, and include body or dash cam identification numbers the request would be more manageable," the city's attorneys wrote.

In another motion filed Tuesday, the city asked that Detroit Will Breathe, a protest group, be ordered to turn over relevant texts, emails, videos, photos and social media content before an upcoming hearing as well as allow depositions of 14 plaintiffs.

"Only with the requested expedited discovery can defendants have a fair opportunity to prepare in order to defend against the preliminary injunction and to prevent further irreparable harm caused by plaintiffs’ unlawful, violent actions," the attorneys wrote. "This need is particularly great in light of plaintiffs’ continued misrepresentations that its demonstrations have been entirely peaceful."

Lawyers listed as representing Detroit Will Breathe did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

On Aug. 31, the group sued the city and the Detoit Police Department, alleging officers engaged in "unnecessary, unreasonable and excessive force" during protests against what they say is a racist criminal justice system.

The suit includes allegations that peaceful protesters have been "tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten and otherwise subjected to unconstitutional excessive force, shot with rubber bullets ... put in chokeholds ... and arrested en masse without probable cause."

Days after the lawsuit was filed, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that barred Detroit police officers from using several tactics and equipment on "peaceful protesters" for 14 days.

The city later asked the judge to modify the order to bar 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 wanted the order to require protesters to obey police officers' lawful commands, such as moving from one place to another or leaving a demonstration.