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GRPD violated constitutional rights, state supreme court rules

Door to the Grand Rapids Police headquarters
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids Police Department violated the Constitution with a policy of photographing and fingerprinting people who were not under arrest, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The case dates back to two separate incidents that happened about a decade ago involving young Black men who were never charged with a crime.

In both incidents, Grand Rapids police officers detained the men, taking their photographs and fingerprints. That’s even though the officers had no reasonable suspicion that either man had committed a crime. The two men - Denishio Johnson and Keyon Harris sued the city over it’s so called “photograph and print” policy, and the case has been working its way through the courts ever since.

On Friday, the Michigan supreme court justices unanimously ruled the photo and print policy violated the constitutional rights of both Johnson and Harris.

“The fingerprinting of each of the plaintiffs in these cases constituted a physical trespass onto a person’s body, a constitutionally protected area, and the act of fingerprinting was done to obtain information to confirm plaintiffs’ identities,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

The justices ruled the policy “was facially unconstitutional because it authorized the GRPD to engage in unreasonable searches contrary to the Fourth Amendment.”

The ACLU of Michigan has said it reviewed hundreds of stops as part of its research in the case, and found that 75% of those who were subjected to the photo and print policy were Black. Less than 20% of the city's residents are Black, according to the U.S. census.

Dan Korobkin, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan says the supreme court's decision could have implications beyond this one police policy.

“I think this gets at a much larger issue around stops and searches, and what is often referred to as stop and frisk,” he says. “And stop and frisk still goes on all over the country.”

In its opinion, the state Supreme Court focused on fingerprinting, not on other types of possible police searches, but Korobkin says he thinks their decision in this case could lead police departments in Grand Rapids and elsewhere to reconsider their policies.

“We’re hopeful that this will mark a turning point, right?” Korobkin says. “We now have a ruling… taking people’s fingerprints, just on the side of the road like this, is unconstitutional. And we hope that will push things in a new direction.”

The city of Grand Rapids has said it stopped the photo and fingerprint policy in 2015.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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