A suburban Detroit man is suing a local police department, its chief and officers for $1 million after he was arrested, he says, without probable cause and with excessive force.
David Hurley, 59, said Farmington Hills police officers crushed his back, smashed his face to the ground and jammed a knee into his neck while he stood in his yard inspecting his property. He had not committed a crime, according to the lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star.
The police were looking for another man, but they did get his description until after they arrested Hurley.
“I thought I was going to die,” Hurley said.
A woman called 911 in October 2020 to report that her partner had stolen her cellphone and wallet after a physical assault. The caller described the suspect as a 21-year-old man driving a brown 2000 Oldsmobile. The dispatcher did not ask for a description of the man or the clothes he was wearing, according to the federal complaint filed on Oct. 10.
Farmington Hills Police Officer Anthony Bateman responded to the call and said that he followed the Oldsmobile on foot.
Hurley was in his Farmington Hills home when he saw another Black man run through his yard. He went outside to figure out why the man was there, the lawsuit says.
However, Bateman spotted Hurley and ordered him not to move, get on his knees, and on the ground. The officer accosted Hurley with his gun drawn, court documents show.
Hurley told Bateman his name and identified himself as the owner of the house. Dispatchers said the suspect’s last name was Stewart. Still, the lawsuit alleges that Bateman ignored the man and applied more restraints by stepping on Hurley’s back.
“I couldn’t breathe and expressed that to the officers,” Hurley said at a press conference on Tuesday. “‘I can’t breathe. It’s killing me.’ And before I knew there was — I couldn’t see how maybe 10,15, 20 more officers all just piling on me.”
Court documents show Hurley was in police custody for about three minutes when the 911 dispatcher called back the woman to ask for the suspect’s description.
The caller then said the man was wearing a black trench coat, gray sweatpants and red shoes. Hurley, who was at home with his family during the alleged assault was wearing pajamas, he said. Bateman reportedly said that the man in custody was not wearing a trench coat but did not let Hurley go.
Hurley’s attorney Dionne Webster-Cox believes the wrongful arrest was motivated by racial bias.
“I would say it’s all racial,” Webster-Cox told reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. “I’m gonna say it’s all racial because the two men were Black. I’m gonna say it’s racial because they were already after one Black man who looks nothing like my client, and when my client comes out of this house, they jump on him, another Black man.”
According to court documents, Hurley was in custody for seven minutes when officers received a description of a 6-foot Black male weighing 225 pounds.
Webster-Cox alleges, however, that there is no record of the 911 caller providing a physical description. Hurley is also 6 feet tall but has a medium-build body. He was released only after one officer realized the mistake.
Webster-Cox said Hurley and his family are traumatized by the incident. He had to be treated in the emergency room and now suffers from a herniated disk, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
“The ultimate betrayal for man is when you come into a place where he goes to rejuvenate and find rest and you take that away from him,” Hurley said.
Hurley’s daughter said she feared that her father would become another statistic, just five months after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis after former officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into that Black man’s neck.
“The thing that just kind of stands out in my mind so heavily is right after George Floyd happens and the phrase ‘I can’t breathe’ is on T-shirts and posters. Here. My father comes to the door in such apparent anger and fear saying I couldn’t breathe,” Chayse Hurley said on Tuesday. “And so that phrase is just echoing in my mind.”
Hurley’s violent arrest exemplifies the culture within the Farmington Hills Police Department that the city has been negligent to fix, Webster-Cox said. The police force came under fire in July after it was unveiled that officers were using images of Black men for target practice.
“Guess what, city of Farmington Hills Police Department, all Black people do not alike,” the attorney said.
Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King told Fox 2 that the officers acted appropriately and they will “vigorously defend the lawsuit in court.”