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State civil rights department formally charges GRPD with racial discrimination

A fence erected around the Grand Rapids Police Department.
Brett Dahlberg
Michigan Radio
A fence erected around the Grand Rapids Police Department.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights has formally filed two claims of racial discrimination by the Grand Rapids police department.

The claims next head to an administrative law judge, and could ultimately result in fines or corrective action for the department.

The claims come more than two years after the department first held listening sessions in the city to hear from residents about alleged discrimination by the department. MDCR says it’s still investigating 28 other allegations of discrimination involving GRPD.

"Filing formal charges in these two cases is a significant step in our ongoing investigations into alleged discriminatory actions by the Grand Rapids Police Department," said John E. Johnson, Jr., executive director of the MDCR, in a statement posted online. "We remain committed to conducting a thorough and impartial examination of the evidence in every complaint brought against the GRPD, working with the parties to reach settlements where we can, and taking complaints to charge when necessary."

One of the claims announced on Monday involves a highly-publicized incident that took place in Grand Rapids almost five years ago. In that incident, GRPD officers handcuffed at gunpoint 11-year-old Honestie Hodges and held her in the back of a police cruiser while she cried out. Hodges was not suspected of any crime. Instead, GRPD officers were looking for her aunt, who was white. Hodges was Black.

The city cleared officers in the incident, saying they hadn’t violated any policies. The city later changed its policies for interacting with minors, and nicknamed the new policy the “Honestie Policy.”

Hodges died from COVID-19 in November of 2020. MDCR says the discrimination complaint was filed by her mother, Whitney Hodges.

The second discrimination charge filed by MDCR stems from a traffic stop that happened in January of 2020. The MDCR says GRPD officers removed Melissa Mason from her car and placed her under arrest for 20 minutes, even though the stop was for an expired plate, and Mason was compliant.

The charge says Mason — who is Black — wore a “Black Lives Matter” shirt when she was stopped and said “Black lives matter,” to the officer before being put in the back of the police cruiser.

Before releasing her, the officer told Mason, “Well, since you stopped running your mouth, we’ll let you go,” according to the charge.

MDCR says its investigators found evidence to back both of the discrimination complaints, and made an effort to resolve them with GRPD, before filing the formal charges.

News of the two civil rights charges comes just days after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled GRPD violated the constitutional rights of two Black men in incidents dating back to 2011.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Radio’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 Radio since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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