ACLU asks Department of Justice to investigate use of force by Taylor Police Department

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has asked the federal government to investigate the Taylor Police Department, citing instances of alleged police brutality and excessive force.

The ACLU filed a complaint Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice detailing 20 alleged instances of violence by Taylor police officers, many of which it contends raise concerns about the possibility of racial bias. 

ACLU attorneys hope the Department of Justice will determine whether Taylor police have a documented pattern of using excessive force and discriminating against Black people and lead to a culture shift and reforms that make policing in the city more just, said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan's Racial Justice Project staff attorney. 

Fancher said old notions of policing, wherein officers are trained like "soldiers going to war," are fading. Instead, communities want officers who are trained in mediation, can respond to mental health crises and drug emergencies and can calm people when emotions run high.

"Taylor's police department not only lacks these things, it lacks a culture that aspires to them," he said. "It lacks leadership that promotes them."

City officials are aware of the ACLU complaint and will cooperate with the Department of Justice as asked, according to a statement sent by Taylor police Commander Michael Lividini.

"The City takes all matters of public concern seriously, especially any alleged improper police conduct," the statement reads.

Taylor City Councilman Butch Ramik, a retired Taylor police officer, said he has raised similar concerns about allegations of excessive force and racial discrimination in the police department over the last two years.

He claims his concerns largely have been ignored.

"Anybody has a right to come in and complain [about the department]," he said of the ACLU's Thursday announcement. "Anybody has a right to come in and investigate something. If things aren't getting fixed, then somebody has to do it."

Wayne County prosecutors charged Taylor police officer Tyler Peake with assault and misconduct in office, a felony, in August for his alleged role in the assault of Brendan Morgan, whom officers had stopped in relation to a reported domestic violence call.

Prosecutors say body and dash cameras show Peake, 23, punching Morgan, 34, in the face through an open window while holding a handgun in his left hand. Morgan had rolled down his window and raised both hands, where they were visible. Peake continued striking Morgan, prosecutors said. 

More:Taylor police officer suspended after being charged with misconduct, assault

Peake remains on unpaid administrative leave from the department. 

That incident is part of a pattern of inappropriate conduct by Taylor police officers that Fancher said has not been adequately addressed by the department or city leaders.

"If you've got officers that are engaged in that type of conduct and you're not able to contain it, even if you have the best of intentions as a police chief or police leadership or a police administrator, then there are factors present within that institution that make it unlikely that you're going to be effective," he said. "We need to get somebody involved, not us, but somebody who can be effective. We think that's the Department of Justice."

The ACLU also contends the Taylor police department and city government allegedly blackmail victims of police brutality by charging them with crimes and offering to drop those charges if the victims agree not to sue over excessive force.

For instance, ACLU attorneys pointed to Illinois resident Imani Ringgold-D'Abell, who is Black, was pulled over by Taylor police in 2019 while he was driving with his girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter.

Officers said he was speeding. Six police vehicles came to the scene. Officers ordered him out of the car.

When Ringgold-D'Abell asked why, officers pulled him from the car, held him facedown and used a taser on him at least three times, according to a Thursday press release announcing the ACLU complaint.

Police said they stopped Ringgold-D'Abell for speeding, not having his driver's license or proof of insurance. He was charged with several offenses, including interference with police authority. The ACLU said he was told the charges would be dropped if he signed a waiver agreeing not to sue the department.

He refused to sign, the ACLU said. He filed an excessive force lawsuit against the department last month.

Fancher said video footage captured by bystanders and police dash-cams show officers using different levels of response against people of different races.

He pointed to a video of a White man who carried a military-style gun on a city sidewalk and declined to produce his identification when asked or respond to an officer's questions. Officers were "obsequious" and "extremely deferential" to the man during that encounter, Fancher said.

A video of the incident is posted on YouTube by an account called "LibertyIsForEveryone.com."

Contrast that with the treatment of Calvin Jones, who is Black, Fancher said.

Officers pulled him over in 2016. When Jones asked why an officer wanted to see his identification, officers allegedly "smashed his window, dragged him out of his car," and held him in a chokehold until he allegedly lost consciousness, the ACLU release states.

A video of the incident is posted on YouTube by an account called "PoliceActivity."

Jones' encounter with Taylor police first drew the ACLU's attention to the city, Fancher said. He argued the department and city officials did not show interest in discussing reform, and instead defended the officers' response. That's why the organization wants the Department of Justice to step in, he said. 

"We aren't after blood," Fancher said. "We're after a police department that's responsible and which treats the residents of the community and visitors to that community in a manner that respects their civil and human rights."

ckthompson@detroitnews.com