Detroit woman sues Detroit, ex-cops after 2019 Snapchat video

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

A woman is suing the city of Detroit and two former Detroit Police officers who were fired in 2019 after they allegedly posted a racially charged video of her to social media after a traffic stop.

Ariel Moore of Detroit alleges that the two former officers, Gary Steele and Michael Garrison, posted a video of her walking home in "dangerously below freezing" weather after they confiscated her car keys when they pulled her over for an alleged absence of a registration tab in January 2019. 

The video, posted to Snapchat, was captioned "What Black Girl Magic Looks Like" and “Celebrating Black History Month,” and two men, allegedly Steele and Garrison, can be heard saying “Walk of shame. In the cold” and “Bye, Felicia.”

A screenshot of a Snapchat post, allegedly by Detroit police officers who have since been fired.

Moore, a Black woman, says the officers' alleged actions constituted racial discrimination and caused "great physical pain," "emotional distress" and "humiliation" in a lawsuit filed Tuesday with the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The suit claims the two former officers, both of whom are White, acted “willfully, maliciously, in bad faith and in reckless disregard of federally protected rights,” and that the city failed to adequately train its officers prior to the incident and adequately respond when it occurred. 

The incident sparked controversy in 2019 and earned the condemnation of then-police Chief James Craig, who ordered an audit of the afternoon shift at the department's 6th Precinct that found a "racially tone-deaf" culture and fired Steele in February and Garrison in March of the same year.

Craig claimed in 2019 that the two former senior officers were largely responsible for a racial divide in their precinct, having targeted black motorists' vehicles to tow, and tried to get more white officers assigned to the shift. 

Both former officers had for years before the January 2019 traffic stop become embroiled in incidents both on- and off-duty, in response to which Moore's lawsuit alleges the city failed to act and knew or should have known would continue to deprive citizens they interacted with of their rights.

The city "has been well aware of the systematic, ongoing and ratified racism that has permeated the ... police department for years," the suit alleges.  

Steele was accused in 2008 of violently attacking and threatening to kill his girlfriend, in 2011 of punching an unarmed, restrained suspect in the mouth, and using excessive force and improper conduct against women and minorities in several complaints between 2013 and 2019.

Steele was also accused of creating another, similar racially insensitive video in 2017. 

Garrison's career, the suit claims, included being sued in 2006 for allegedly wrongfully stopping and harassing a 15-year-old boy and for shooting a deer while on duty. Garrison was fired in 2015, but an arbitration hearing led to the sentence being reduced to 60 days' suspension without pay or benefits. 

The suit also claims that Moore's race and gender were motivating factors in the two men's decision to stop her, seize her vehicle and "force her out" into freezing weather to deprive her of "the equal protection and benefits of the law, equal privileges and immunities under the law, and due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Section 1981." 

Moore is being represented by attorneys Geoffrey Fieger and Gregory Wix.

Seeking damages of at least $75,000, Moore's suit says the officers discriminated against her because of her race and gender, and her right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and right to adequate shelter and protection from freezing weather were violated.

She claims fear of the two former officers and a desire to leave "as soon as possible" led her to reject their offer of waiting in their vehicle for someone to pick her up and walk home, which Craig at the time said placed her in "very real danger." 

The Detroit Police Department and Detroit Police Officers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.