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Dearborn Heights police sued over family’s bias claims

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An Arab American family in Dearborn Heights is suing the city’s police department, alleging officers have discriminated against them after a dispute with a neighbor.

According to the suit filed this week in U.S. District Court, two of Ghassan Khaled’s daughters — who wear hijab, the traditional head-covering for Muslims — were outside their home Dec. 6 when the neighbor complained about garbage in the yard.

The man then grabbed the girls, ages 8 and 14, “by the arms and threw them to the ground,” yelling “you (expletive) Arab Scarfies,” the suit alleges.

The Khaleds called police, who “knocked on the door of the neighbor, and simply left after the neighbor did not answer,” according to the court document. But later that night, “many numerous police officers and vehicles, estimated at six to seven vehicles, arrived” at their home.

When Khaled went outside and asked why so many officers had come, he was told they were “there to issue … a citation for having his garbage on the curb prior to the permitted time as dictated by a city ordinance,” the suit states.

At one point, an officer said, “Arab, come here” and Khaled overheard his uniformed companions “laughing with each other and uttering the phrase ‘Arab (expletive)’ among other racially and religiously motivated remarks,” according to the lawsuit.

The officers delivered the citation, but when Khaled asked about the alleged assault on his daughters, “the officers merely continued to laugh and joke between one another and did not take any action,” the court filing says.

The next day, when Khaled’s brother took the two girls to police headquarters to file a report, all “were told they could not file a report and were asked to leave the station,” according to the lawsuit.

Also that day, the same person who refused to take the report went to the family’s home and said “she was there to make sure that Plaintiffs’ garbage was taken out on the appropriate day,” the suit claims. Meanwhile, an officer outside “made derogatory statements regarding Arabs.”

Since then, the family has been “specifically targeted and harassed by the Dearborn Heights Police Department,” according to the lawsuit. “On a near daily basis, and as often as every thirty minutes, a Dearborn Heights Police Officer drives by Plaintiffs’ home and shines the police vehicle’s spotlight onto Plaintiffs’ home.”

Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

Dan Paletko, the city’s mayor, said the lawsuit had not yet been received but an internal investigation was launched. He would not comment further.

The suit claims the family’s constitutional rights were violated and is seeking punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees and costs.