Football player sues Warren police over De La Salle hazing probe

The Detroit News

A young man once accused of participating in a 2019 hazing incident involving Warren De La Salle Collegiate High School football players has filed a federal lawsuit against city police, alleging their investigation was shoddy and tinged with racial bias.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court on behalf of Cleveland Harville. He was among the seven youths charged in connection with an allegation a student had been held to the floor of a locker room at a team dinner and assaulted with a broom.

Charges against the seven later were dropped, but Harville's lawyers claim he should never have been implicated.

The police investigators "knew as a matter of fact and law that the information provided about Plaintiff was inconsistent, unreliable, implausible, wrong, and woefully insufficient for probable cause constitutionally required for the issuance of a warrant for Plaintiff’s arrest," according to the suit.

Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer declined comment Wednesday morning. 

Authorities have said the charges stemmed from an alleged locker room incident in October 2019 involving other members of the varsity football team at the all-boys Catholic school. 

After the allegations surfaced and police started investigating, students alleged to have been involved were suspended. The team forfeited its Michigan high school playoff game and both the team coach and school president lost their jobs.

Harville, a Wayne County resident, was charged in February 2020. He was listed as the fifth student to be charged.

That October, all the charges were dropped. 

St. Clair County Prosecutor Michael Wendling said at the time the decision to dismiss charges came after consultation with defendants and victims, their parents, school officials and police.

Wendling said there were two known victims but there likely had been others who had also been through the hazing at some point over the course of several weeks or months.

In the federal lawsuit, Harville's attorneys contend the alleged hazing happened in September 2019, when he was "not enrolled at Warren De La Salle, on the football team or at the team dinner" when a student alleges he was assaulted, according to the filing.

When Warren police team initially started investigating, they did not focus on him; it wasn't until January 2020 that a student who alleged an assault told police Harville had participated, his lawyers said in the suit.

"Plaintiff was never interviewed by anyone concerning the allegations because he was not a student at Warren De La Salle nor football team member at the time of the alleged September 5, 2019, assault ... and, therefore, could not possibly have been involved in the alleged assault," the suit said.

The filing states the head investigator sought an arrest warrant for him and other minority students even after the St. Clair County Prosecutor’s Office rejected similar requests.

The students faced misdemeanor offenses punishable by up to 93 days in jail. The St. Clair County Prosecutor's Office handled the case due to a perceived conflict of interest in the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office involving a senior prosecutor.

Harville also passed two polygraph tests, his attorney said. Attorney Todd Perkins did not respond to requests for comment.

After his arrest, "colleges which had expressed interest in Plaintiff stopped communications and offers to further his football and educational opportunities withdrawn," according to the suit. "An independent third-party investigation found no player at-fault and suggested the actions taken against the Black and Brown players had racial implications and undertones."

The suit, which names five investigators, alleges they violated Harville's Fourth Amendment right not to be seized or charged with a crime without probable cause.

It also claims gross negligence and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. 

The defendants "were inclined and predisposed to treat similarly situated Black and Brown persons differently from white persons and did so with Plaintiff," the suit said. "Had Plaintiff been white, he would not have been investigated, charged with a crime, arrested, or detained."