ACLU Lawsuit Claims Grand Rapids Police Arresting People For Trespassing Without Cause

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Allegations have surfaced that Grand Rapids police officers are abusing their power, making arrests for trespassing when people have done nothing wrong and no one’s asked them to leave.

On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed against the GRPD by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Miriam Aukerman, an attorney for the ACLU of West Michigan, said more than 800 companies in Grand Rapids have signed what they call “Letters of Intent to Prosecute Trespassers.”

The problem is, according to the ACLU, there is no public record of these letters, so no one knows for sure which companies have agreements with police.

The ACLU says that isn’t the biggest injustice, and Gil Weber said he can speak from experience.

Weber suffers from chronic hip pain, making it difficult to sit for long periods of time without needing to get up and stretch. “It’s the worst pain in the world,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Because of the pain, Weber said, he needed to stretch when he pulled into the BP gas station at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Franklin Street in June of last year. Within a minute of pulling into the station, he said, he was approached by police.

“(Officers) looked me in the face and said, ‘I am arresting you for trespassing.’ “

For three days Weber sat in jail had to pay $300 to get his car out of impound, only to have the trespassing charges dropped in court.

“He did what many of us would do, just pull into a gas station to check a map, or make a phone call, or to get out and stretch, that is not a crime,” said ACLU lawyer Miriam Aukerman.

A year later, Weber is named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department filed in federal court.

The lawsuit claims police solicit businesses to sign a letter of intent to prosecute trespassers. “The problem is when the police decide who the trespasser is and who isn’t,” said Aukerman.  “I think businesses have no idea what’s actually happening here.  Businesses don’t want their patrons arrested.”

The ACLU said they’ve uncovered hundreds of businesses with a signed agreement with police. “These are sort of 815 secret places were your rights can disappear,” said Aukerman.

We attempted to reach out to police to ask them about the letters and the lawsuit, we were told they had no comment.

Weber said he just wants to make sure trespassers are punished and everyone else is given an opportunity to comply with the law. “They should ask you to leave first, give me an opportunity to leave.”

The ACLU said they first reached out to the police department in February but didn’t get a response which is why they went forward with the lawsuit.

The next step for the city is to respond to the lawsuit, which was filed on May 1.

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10 comments

  • guest

    **SO** sick of cops!! they are such @$$hole$!! then they wonder why they get no respect! I say screw em…nothing but contempt here!

    • CommonSense

      These letters are signed by the business property owner at their request. What's your chip on shoulder all about? Maybe by showing a little respect-as what your comment is lacking, they would show some back to you???
      Just a thought. The world is not out to get you, is it?

      • Clint

        It doesn't matter if a business owner signed a letter. It's not tresspassing to go to a public business for one minute. Ever. Under any circumstance, unless they have asked you to leave. Which they did not.

        You should live up to your name.

        • certain

          Common Sense is a troll who can be found exhibiting his lack of anything remotely even resembling his namesake on may different websites. Weak-ass little person who's only power in life is making people angry with forum comments. Best pitied a bit then ignored.

  • K-Dude

    I understand where the police are coming from. I've driven through area's of cities and groups of people hang outside the business just to hang out. The business owner doesn't want to complain out of fear of retaliation but customers are intimidated from entering the business out of fear & suspicion of the groups intentions. I feel for the police, they are wrong for not being there when needed and wrong for being there when not needed. Thank You Police Officers everywhere!!!

  • Guest

    THE POLICE ARE SUPPOSE TO PROTECT AND SERVE. THAT ALL STOPS WHEN "THEY" DECIDE THEY SHOULD BE TREATED LIKE GODS! I RESPECT THE LAW AND THE POLICE, BUT THEY NEED TO SHOW A LITTLE RESPECT WHEN DEALING WITH THE PEOPLE ALSO. I BELEIVE THEY MAKE MISTAKES, EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES, EVERYONE EXCEPT THE COP WITH THE GOD COMPLEX, HE'S ALMIGHTY AND NEEDS FOR EVERYONE HE DEALS WITH DOWN ON ONE KNEE.

    • K-Dude

      Sounds like you have a lot of interaction with the police in not-so-positive situations, (like you were guilty of something) and you reacted in a less-than positive way (disrespectful) and the office reacted accordingly (arrested). Respect is a mutual kind of thing, try it, it works.