GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Michigan’s civil rights watchdog announced two charges of discrimination against the Grand Rapids Police Department on Wednesday, further heightening scrutiny of the department following an officer’s killing of a Black motorist in April.
The charges came in response to complaints filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
The complaints filed on behalf of two 11-year-old Black boys alleged that police responding to a 911 call stopped the pair and a 17-year-old boy and held them at gunpoint. They were also handcuffed and searched, officials said. The officers were responding to a call about children walking near train tracks with a toy gun.
“It is important to note that one, there was no initial crime reported,” John Johnson Jr., executive director of the civil rights department, said during a news conference held via Zoom. “There is nothing illegal about children walking near train tracks with what the 911 caller identified repeatedly as a toy gun.”
Johnson also emphasized that the children were stopped half a mile away from the initial location within minutes of the 911 call. He said police detained the boys despite the children sharing their ages and contact information for a parent and complying with officers’ commands.
“The Grand Rapids Police Department was unable to show evidence of any white children who were similarly held at gunpoint, handcuffed, searched, placed in a squad car and questioned in response to a 911 call and no allegation of a crime,” Johnson said.
A representative for the police department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.
Grand Rapids, which has a population of about 200,000, is 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Detroit.
Scrutiny of the police department increased this year after an officer shot a Black man in the back of the head, killing him. The officer has since been fired and has been ordered to stand trial for second-degree murder in Patrick Lyoya’s death.
Leaders of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights said the community has mistrusted the city’s police department since 2019, when the agency held several public forums that drew more than 80 people. The agency has 28 open complaints against Grand Rapids Police, including those that prompted Wednesday’s charges.
Marcelina Trevino, director of enforcement for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said that’s the highest total of complaints the agency has received against a city law enforcement agency.
Charges issued by the civil rights department are evaluated by an administrative law judge during a formal hearing. The judge then makes a recommendation to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, which makes a final determination of whether discrimination occurred and what penalty is appropriate, including financial damages.
The state Department of Civil Rights previously announced two other discrimination charges against the Grand Rapids Police Department in July.
One of those cases also involved a Black child, 11-year-old Honestie Hodges. Her mother alleges that officers pointed their weapons at and handcuffed the girl while pursuing a relative who matched an attempted murder suspect’s description.
The other charge stemmed from a complaint filed by a Black woman who said officers pulled her over for an expired license plate and removed her from her car, handcuffed her and put her in a police cruiser.
Civil rights officials said Wednesday that both cases are still pending.