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Judge dismisses city counterclaim against Detroit Will Breathe protesters

Demostrators in downtown Detroit protest police-involved shootings that have killed African-Americans.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A federal judge has dismissed the city of Detroit’s counterclaim against a group of protesters. Members of Detroit Will Breathe have been marching in the city since George Floyd’s death last May.

Some of them sued the city over alleged police brutality and mistreatment during protests last summer. The city counter-sued, saying protesters were part of a civil conspiracy to injure police officers and cause property destruction.

But Judge Laurie Micelson rejected the city’s conspiracy claims, and threw out the counter-suit.

“Most of the statements and posts [from protest organizers] that the City points to in no way suggest an agreement, let alone one to commit unlawful acts,” Michelson wrote. “Instead, they simply evidence DWB organizing and publicizing public protests, albeit with occasional strident and passionate language.”

“The Court cannot draw an inference based on these facts that there was an agreement between Plaintiffs to engage in unlawful activity. Moreover, if protesters fail to heed lawful orders to disperse, law enforcement has recourse. A speculative lawsuit that this may have been the result of a civil conspiracy to commit unlawful acts, with the attendant risks to first amendment freedoms, is not one of them.”

The city “failed to identify any of the individuals who allegedly engaged in this unlawful conduct,” said Amanda Ghannam, one of Detroit Will Breathe’s attorneys. “All they could really connect our clients to was the fact that they organized and attended these protests.”

“And the city completely retaliated against them with the filing of the counterclaim. So this is a victory for free speech rights, for protesters across the board.”

Detroit corporation counsel Lawrence Garcia said the city is disappointed in the decision, but accepts it.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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