Over the past 25 years, Hugh Davis has made a career of suing hundreds of police officers accused of misconduct. Now the 60-year-old civil rights attorney is taking on the Taylor Police Department.
Davis represents four people who allege that, in separate incidents, they were beaten or otherwise abused while in the custody of the cops in this working-class community southwest of Detroit. Some of those cases are pending, and Davis says more are likely.
“I kept hearing horror stories about Taylor,” says Davis.
Davis — best known by his nickname, Buck — has his work cut out for him. His clients, who are suing more than a dozen officers for excessive force, false arrest and other illegal acts, are hardly sympathetic. Some have abused drugs and alcohol or have had previous run-ins with the law.
That’s to be expected, says Davis, who believes that police officers often mistreat people on the edge.
“People who are either weak, poor, or in crisis are the kind of people who come in contact with the police,” says Davis. “So you have this psychology where police officers have to confront human misery every day and become callous and corrupted by the little power they have.”
Davis’ client Chris Turner, 39, for instance, has been arrested for driving without a license, drug possession and domestic violence; he accuses the Taylor police of beating him twice while he was in their custody three years ago.
Tina Hayes, 37, another Davis client, has been arrested repeatedly for drunken driving. Hayes claims that she still receives medical treatment three years after a Taylor officer dropped her on concrete.
The department’s attorney has vigorously denied any wrongdoing and says the lawsuits are without merit.
Many attorneys won’t take these cases because they are difficult to win and don’t result in large jury awards or settlements, says Davis. But he says that money isn’t a prime motivating factor for his Detroit law firm, Constitution Litigation Associates. “One-third to one-half of the work we do is pro bono,” says Davis, who recently represented the watchdog group, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, for free.
The coalition, which had complained of police misconduct by Detroit officers for years, wanted to intervene in consent decrees struck between the city of Detroit and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department is monitoring the Detroit Police Department after a two-plus-year investigation of fatal police shootings, mistreatment of prisoners and other matters. U.S. District Court Judge Julian A. Cook Jr. ruled against giving the coalition a role in the consent decrees, which outline reforms the Detroit Police Department must make.
Ron Scott, a spokesman for the coalition, says allegations of police misconduct are hardly confined to Detroit. Since the group has gained prominence in questioning the Detroit department, he says it has heard regular complaints about suburban police forces, including from Taylor.
Scott, who met Davis 35 years ago when both worked on tenants’ rights issues on behalf of residents of Detroit public housing, calls Davis one of “the finest civil rights attorneys in the state.”
Davis hopes his firm will force reforms in the Taylor Police Department, which has an annual budget of $10 million, and employs about 100 officers to protect the Downriver community of 64,500.
Attorney Gina Puzzuoli, who has represented the Taylor Police Department for 18 years, says that in all past cases that went before a jury, Taylor officers were exonerated. The city has settled some lawsuits, but Puzzuoli does not know how many.
“I’d hate to guess and be way off,” she says.
Puzzuoli works for Dise & Associates, which has represented police departments around the state, and she believes Taylor is one of the best.
“This department has very few cases compared to other departments,” says Puzzuoli.
Are lawsuits over excessive force a part of doing government business?
Michael D. Lyman, a criminology professor at Columbia College in Missouri and a nationally recognized expert on use of force and other police issues, says that four lawsuits involving more than a dozen officers “seems excessive” for a department the size of Taylor’s.
Wade D. Schindler, an adjunct criminology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, notes that it’s important to remember that even suspected criminals have rights, even if they are drinking or taking drugs.
“Does that mean the officer has a right to use unnecessary force? No,” says Schindler.
Davis has sued Taylor twice in the past. The first case was in 1974 and involved four plaintiffs, who alleged Taylor officers beat them; they received a small settlement. The second one went to trial in the late 1980s. The jury awarded the plaintiffs about $80,000; in that case a family, who claimed that officers used excessive force, fled town after facing police retaliation, says Davis.
“I’m convinced there are hundreds of cases out there,” he says.
But Davis says it is not enough to sue individual officers. He also is suing the city for “municipal liability” in three cases, meaning he must prove a pattern and practice of condoning excessive force — and that it starts at the top.
Davis decided to take on the Taylor force after deposing Thomas Bonner, the city’s former police chief, in 2001.
Asked whether the department had ever found a complaint of non-lethal excessive force to be justified, Bonner answered, “I, you know, I don’t know. I’d have to look it up. I can’t remember one.”
“Our claim is … that the city, as far back as [Bonner] can remember, has never disciplined an officer for non-lethal force,” says Davis.
Bonner joined the force in 1969, became chief in 1986, and retired last year after he was criminally charged for mishandling $16,000 in public money; his preliminary exam is scheduled for Aug. 18.
Puzzuoli says that some officers have been disciplined for not following police policies. Metro Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Taylor, seeking all citizen complaints accusing officers of excessive force, and documents on investigations into those complaints covering the past four years. The city refused to provide this material, claiming that it is exempt from releasing it under state law. However, the city provided a list, devoid of names, indicating that there were nine excessive-force complaints and that all but two were “unfounded.” In the two complaints deemed justifiable, an officer was counseled and another was fired for asking a woman for sexual favors.
“In some circumstances officers do improper things and people should be compensated,” says Puzzuoli. “That is just not the case” with any lawsuit pending against Taylor.
In his deposition, ex-police chief Bonner also maintained that the department nipped police brutality in the bud: “If two officers working together appear to be more aggressive than we like, we split them up and send them to training, some type of positive training. We try and head off the problems before they start.”
Davis counters that this policy gives Taylor officers “a license to use excessive force” because they know the worst that will happen to them is they will “get shifted around.”
Splitting up aggressive cops “is a good start,” says Lyman, the Columbia College professor, but he noted that officers need to be continually assessed.
Puzzuoli says officers “are reviewed every day of their life. Every police report they turn in is reviewed by the administration and the police chief.”
The Taylor Police Department also does not track the number of complaints lodged against individual officers, according to Bonner.
“We have no reason to do that,” said the former chief. “We watch our officers and that usually takes care of the complaints.”
Puzzuoli advised Bonner, the mayor, City Council members, the current police chief and police officers not to talk to Metro Times. She also did not want to talk in detail about the pending litigation because she says that it would be unfair to the defendants and the plaintiffs.
Puzzuoli successfully removed all of Davis’ cases from Wayne County Circuit Court, where they initially were filed and where jurors are known to be sympathetic to plaintiffs and give large awards. The cases are now in U.S. District Court, where the jury pool is more conservative.
The city also avoided turning over citizen complaints on excessive force and follow-up investigations to Davis, who received statistics similar to Metro Times.
For changes to occur at the Taylor Police Department, Davis says that more people must come forward.
Here are some accounts of those who have.
Early on the morning of Jan. 6, 2000, Carolyn Wilson called Taylor police to claim that her boyfriend, Chris Turner, had shot at her with a BB gun — a charge he denies. Officers arrived at Turner’s home at 2 a.m.
Turner and Wilson had a history of domestic disputes. In a previous incident, Wilson was charged with domestic violence and put on probation for a year.
This time, Turner was arrested for felonious assault and domestic violence. The 39-year-old father of four claims that during the four days he spent in jail, police officers beat him twice, refused to let him call an attorney or take him before a judge so that he could be arraigned and released on bond.
Turner sued the city of Taylor and seven officers for false arrest, excessive force and other illegal acts; when he filed his initial complaint he did not know the names of another seven officers he says were involved. He has since identified them and filed a motion to amend his complaint to include those officers.
Turner testified during a deposition that he repeatedly asked officers through a cell intercom to take him before a judge, but the officers refused.
He also said that an officer told him to stop using the intercom or he would “kick his ass.” On the evening of Jan. 7, Turner said, four officers dragged him out of his cell and punched, kicked and choked him as they moved him to another cell.
He testified that Officer Roseanne Crapanzano kicked him in the head. Crapanzano denies kicking Turner, but said under oath that she had kicked and stepped on disorderly prisoners’ hands in the past.
Crapanzano said Turner had to be moved since he was disorderly and had deliberately flooded his cell by clogging the toilet, which Turner denies. Crapanzano, who has been with the department since 1999, said she has never received a misconduct complaint from a detainee.
After the alleged beating, Turner, who has asthma, had an attack, according to court records. Police called paramedics who, after providing initial treatment, said that Turner needed to be transported to a hospital. According to court records, the police refused. That is an apparent violation of department policy, which says, “When making a decision whether or not to send a prisoner to the hospital for treatment, the supervisor-in-charge should not hesitate to send the prisoner to the hospital if there is any question at all.”
Turner said he asked several officers if he could make a phone call, but his requests were denied.
On Jan. 9, Turner claimed, an officer Maced him, rammed his head into a steel post and punched him in the ribs and back. That same evening the police again called paramedics to treat Turner, who was hyperventilating; paramedics treated him, but said Turner did not need to go to a hospital, according to court records.
Eric McFarlin was also in the Taylor jail for shoplifting on Jan. 9. According to an affidavit filed with the court earlier this year, McFarlin said he heard a scuffle and an inmate scream. McFarlin said he saw two or three officers pull a black male from a cell, slam the inmate against the hallway walls and punch him at least twice in the stomach. Shown a photo of Turner, McFarlin said that he appeared to be the inmate he saw beaten in jail.
On Monday morning, Jan. 10, Turner was released from jail without being brought before a judge to be arraigned. He was not required to post bond.
When Turner arrived home after his release, the police were there and ordered him to leave “or I would be arrested,” Turner said in his deposition.
Attorney Cynthia Heenan, who works with Davis, says that the Taylor police illegally evicted Turner from his home. Heenan says that only the court can order Turner not to have contact with Wilson, who was his live-in girlfriend at the time.
Two days after he was released from jail, Turner saw a physician. The doctor noted that Turner had multiple “contusions.”
Turner filed a written complaint with the Taylor Police Department. On April 25, 2000, Jac Desrosiers, who was an Internal Affairs commander before he retired, wrote Turner and said, “I found no evidence to support your claims.”
Puzzuoli says the Michigan Department of Civil Rights also dismissed a complaint filed by Turner.
Turner was eventually arraigned on the domestic violence charge, which was dismissed because Wilson refused to testify.
Puzzuoli filed a motion to have Turner’s case dismissed, but the federal judge has not yet ruled on it.
Tina Hayes has been arrested several times for drunken driving and domestic violence. In 2000, Taylor police twice arrested Hayes and held her in jail for a night. The 37-year-old mother of three says she was treated appropriately the first time. But when they arrested Hayes on Sept. 10, 2000, two Taylor police officers physically assaulted her, according to her lawsuit, in which she is suing the arresting officers Nolan Schilz and Paul O’Connor for excessive force, false arrest and other illegal acts.
According to Hayes’ lawsuit and deposition, she was packing her car when officers arrived at her home. She planned to leave because she and her boyfriend, Chris Marsiglia, had been fighting. That wasn’t unusual; the cops had been called to the address before.
That night, her boyfriend talked to one of the officers while Hayes spoke to the other. Hayes said she cried as she tried to tell the officer about the fight. But the officer wouldn’t listen and told her to get in the house, testified Hayes. Frustrated, Hayes headed for the house and said, “Fuck this.”
“Then I was grabbed from behind,” testified Hayes. “My arms were, like, jerked behind me and then I was swung around and then thrown face first to the ground.”
Hayes testified that the officer kneeled on her back and neck.
“I told them to calm down,” says Marsiglia, who felt that the officers were abusing Hayes.
The other officer handcuffed Hayes and put her in the patrol car.
“I couldn’t believe what had just happened, and so I kicked the door, kicked the window. And then he opened the door and pepper-sprayed me,” says Hayes, who is 5-foot-2 and weighed 110 pounds at the time.
At the Taylor police station, Hayes said, Schilz dragged her out of the car feet first, causing her neck, head and back to strike the car before she was dropped on the pavement.
Hayes said that when she screamed, Schilz squeezed her face and told her to stop yelling.
(Davis tells Metro Times that Schilz admitted during a deposition last week that he pulled Hayes from the police car feet first; a transcript of Schilz’s testimony was not available by press time.)
Hayes said the officers threw her into a cell, where she rinsed her eyes of the pepper spray and vomited. Over the station intercom, an officer allegedly mocked Hayes by pretending to vomit; another cop entered her cell and allegedly grabbed “his private area,” she testified. The same officer threatened to put another inmate in her cell “to kick my butt,” and threw food at Hayes, she said.
According to a police report, Hayes banged her head on the cell wall and floor, tore her shirt and claimed she was going to sue for criminal sexual conduct.
Marsiglia picked up Hayes the next morning from the police station and was shocked by the bruises on her face.
“She said that police tried to say I did that,” Marsiglia told Metro Times.
He says he went into the station to protest accusations that he bruised Hayes. Marsiglia claims an officer told him, “If you did this, you would have been the one who was arrested.”
Marsiglia says that he photographed Hayes’ bruises that day.
Hayes says she has since received regular medical treatment for severe pain.
“I get injections for pain management in my neck and back and head,” Hayes says.
Hayes was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest. But she says she had not been drinking the night of the incident. The disorderly intoxication was amended to disturbing the peace, to which she pleaded guilty and received one year’s probation; the other charge was dropped.
“The excessive force they used wasn’t necessary. I’m very angry,” says Hayes, who has moved to Romulus.
“I was afraid if they knew that I talked to a lawyer that there would be more trouble,” says Hayes, who left Taylor afraid that the officers might retaliate for her suing them.
Her case is scheduled to go to trial next year.
Davis is not the only lawyer suing Taylor police on behalf of a client alleging abuse.
Attorney Tim Holloway, who used to work with Davis, sued two Taylor officers last year for allegedly breaking his client’s jaw; the case is still pending.
Holloway’s client, Randy Schliewe, doesn’t remember much about the night he was arrested two years ago. But the 21-year-old says he does recall being kicked and dragged to a holding cell.
On June 15, 2001, Schliewe and his buddies Matt Smith and Sean Elliott attended a concert at Joe Louis Arena. They shared a joint at the concert. Schliewe and Smith were underage at the time, but they asked a stranger to buy them beers, which they guzzled in the men’s room. About 15 minutes later, Smith vomited. Schliewe felt light-headed and his vision was blurry.
“It wasn’t like a normal buzz from a beer,” he said in a sworn deposition.
Schliewe suspects that the stranger who bought the beer spiked it with a drug.
“That’s the only thing that could have possibly happened,” testified Schliewe, who insists that he consumed only one beer that night.
Schliewe recalled leaving the concert soon after Smith became ill. The rest of the evening was “pretty sketchy,” he testified. “I remember little bits of stuff.”
After they left Joe Louis Arena, Elliott took Schliewe and Smith to a friend’s house in Taylor.
“I wasn’t myself at the time,” said Schliewe. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Schliewe and Smith left their friend’s house to roam the neighborhood; Schliewe doesn’t remember why. They got into a fight with two strangers not far from Schliewe’s home. Schliewe doesn’t recall much about the brawl.
“I couldn’t even tell you, if they walked in here now, what the kids looked like,” Schliewe testified.
Friends set out looking for Schliewe and Smith. They found Schliewe injured and lying on the pavement. Though Schliewe was bleeding, he insisted on heading home on foot. Along the way he stopped at a gas station. Several of Schliewe’s friends and a cousin, Scott Bridges, arrived at the gas station. Two Taylor officers also were there. Bridges told Metro Times that Schliewe asked for water and to go to the hospital.
Several more officers arrived at the scene at about 1:30 a.m. Schliewe appeared to have a cut on his nose and left cheek and his “jaw also appeared swollen,” according to a police report. The report also says that Schliewe was covered in blood and said that he had been assaulted, “but was uncooperative in providing any further details.” Schliewe was very “loud and agitated” and told the officers that he had taken acid, according to the report. An officer asked Schliewe not to touch him, but Schliewe brushed and spit blood on the officer and shouted, “And what are you going do about it if I do bitch?’” the report says.
Schliewe recalls an officer slamming his face into the hood of the cop car before cuffing him. He didn’t know why he was being arrested.
Bridges said an officer “bounced” Schliewe’s head against the patrol car.
“I complained and the officer threatened to arrest me,” says Bridges, who told Metro Times that Schliewe didn’t curse at the officer or wipe blood on him.
When they arrived at the police station, an officer found a joint in Schliewe’s pocket, according to a police report.
The officers told Schliewe to stay seated on a bench outside the booking room, but he didn’t listen. He doesn’t recall why he insisted on getting up, but recollects wanting water.
While still handcuffed, Schliewe apparently bolted from the bench, following an officer into a secured area.
According to police reports, four officers restrained Schliewe and put him in a holding cell.
Schliewe said officers assaulted him.
“I didn’t see who was hitting or whatever. I remember being kicked when I was on the ground and stuff and being dragged in there,” testified Schliewe, who was locked in a holding cell at about 2 a.m.
“And after that happened, I was, like, in and out of consciousness,” he testified.
Schliewe lay in the cell for about two hours before officers took him to the hospital, according to the police station videotape, which recorded the time and date of the incident.
Schliewe was treated for a broken jaw.
The police charged him with disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, resisting arrest and attempting to escape.
Before the arrest, Schliewe never had been in trouble with the law. He pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in exchange for the other charges being dismissed. He was given a year’s probation, which he successfully completed.
In his lawsuit, he claims that Officer Troy Toro punched him on the left side of his face and broke his jaw.
Toro, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 270 pounds, admitted in court pleadings that he punched Schliewe, but said he hit him in the right jaw, not the left.
Puzzuoli says that it is not clear whether Schliewe’s jaw was broken before or after his arrest.
Bridges tells Metro Times that Schliewe’s jaw was not broken until he was in custody.
Schliewe is suing Toro for excessive force. He accuses Officer Mark Gaynier, who was a cadet at the time of the alleged incident, of kicking him in the back. Schliewe is also suing Toro and Gaynier and two other officers for failing to get him immediate medical attention.
Without the videotape, Holloway says, it “would be a tough case” since his client doesn’t remember much. Holloway also represented Schliewe in his criminal case, which is how he obtained the video.
Holloway wouldn’t say how much compensation Schliewe wants from the police. The case is scheduled to go to trial next year.
“I get nervous as heck when I see a cop. I don’t like to go out now,” says Schliewe, who works for a lawn care company.
Schliewe says he sued because “The cops need to learn a lesson. They’re supposed to be the good guys.”
Taylor police arrested Richard Barry on Nov. 25, 2000. The night of his arrest, he’d been drinking for a couple hours at a corner bar about a block from his home, according to his lawsuit and sworn deposition. He left the bar at about 1:30 a.m. and was walking home, he said, when a Taylor patrol officer stopped him. The officer told Barry that there had been recent break-ins in the neighborhood.
Barry, who was intoxicated, said, “What the fuck does that got to do with me?” He shouted other obscenities at the officer, who arrested him for disorderly intoxication.
Barry testified that he cursed at the officer on the way to the station.
When they arrived, several officers, including the one who arrested Barry, allegedly hit him in the legs and buttocks with sticks, and banged his head against a desk, according to his deposition. Barry said he couldn’t identify any of the officers. After the alleged beating, which Barry said lasted 15 minutes, he was ordered to strip and change into a suicide prevention gown before being placed in a cell.
Puzzuoli claims that Davis’ own expert testified in a deposition that Barry’s injuries were not inflicted by nightsticks or flashlights.
Barry said that he complained to an officer administering a Breathalyzer that his legs were bruised from the alleged beating, but the officer ignored him. He said he also asked other officers, through the cell intercom, to be taken to the hospital because he thought that his legs were broken, but was again ignored.
The following day, Barry paid $100 bond, was released and walked home, he said. His father-in-law, whom Barry lived with, photographed Barry’s bruises the next day, and he sought medical treatment.
Officer Kirk Blanchard, who arrested Barry that night, testified that he did not hit see anyone strike Barry. However, Barry swung at him twice as Blanchard arrested him, he said. Barry denied this.
Officer Dwayne Little testified that Barry said he was “suicidal,” which is why he was required to wear the gown. Little, who is also a defendant, testified that he did not see any marks on Barry’s body.
Barry denied telling officers that he was suicidal, according to his deposition.
Gaynier, who also helped process Barry and is a named defendant in the lawsuit, said in a written police report that Barry “was very belligerent, flailing his arms in a violent nature towards [Cadet] Little and myself.”
About 12 hours after Barry’s arrest, an officer had Barry fill out a medical questionnaire. According to it, Barry said that he had pains in his legs and head.
Sgt. Timothy Culp was the supervising officer on duty the night of Barry’s arrest and is also being sued. Culp wrote that he never saw any officers harm Barry. “I saw no marks or any other indication of trauma to defendant Barry,” said Culp.
After he was released from jail, Barry said he went to his Florida home for three months because he was frightened of the Taylor officers.
“I wanted to get out of there,” he testified. “I was scared they were going to come get me.”
While in Florida, a warrant was issued for Barry’s arrest because he failed to appear for his disorderly intoxication charge. He returned to Michigan to take care of the warrant.
Barry, who had no previous criminal record, filed a citizen’s complaint against the officers in April 2001, asking that they drop the charge against him. The Taylor police never contacted him regarding his complaint, testified Barry. However, he said that two officers showed up at his house after he filed his citizen’s complaint. He refused to let them in. He said they left an unsigned note — later entered as evidence — on his front door, which says, “Because you don’t want to answer your door, you are now my summer project! Good luck.”
Barry’s sued the city of Taylor and several officers for false arrest, assault and other illegal acts in 2001. Barry, who had hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver, died last year; his wife has become the plaintiff in the lawsuit as the personal representative of his estate.
The defendants filed a motion to have the case dismissed, but the federal judge has not yet ruled.
Arthur Shelton, a longtime friend of Davis, sued several Taylor police officers after they arrested him in 1997. At the time, Shelton, 55, was visiting a neighbor, Tedford Thompson.
According to Shelton’s lawsuit and deposition, at about 3 a.m., he shot off his .45 caliber pistol three times in Thompson’s backyard. He fired twice into the ground and once at a bell hanging from a post, testified Shelton, a lifelong Taylor resident. He then unloaded the gun, set it down and prepared to head home.
As he picked up his gun and clip, he heard a police officer shout, “Freeze.” Shelton said five officers appeared in Thompson’s yard with their guns drawn.
The officers ordered Shelton to put down his gun. The retired truck mechanic, who had minor run-ins with the Taylor police in the past, told the officers to leave. According to Thompson, the police ordered Shelton to put down his gun several times before he complied.
Asked if he shot off his gun, Shelton told the officers that he hadn’t. “I didn’t want to be arrested,” he later said, explaining why he had lied.
The officers arrested him for being intoxicated while in possession of a firearm. Shelton said that he was sober and had had only one beer earlier that night at a local bar. Thompson testified that Shelton was sober and hadn’t had anything to drink during their four-hour visit.
The police confiscated Shelton’s handgun, which he legally owned. When they handcuffed him, Shelton told the officers that his hand was broken. He had removed his cast earlier that day because it was wet, according to his testimony. Shelton asked that they not cuff him behind his back. But they did anyway, he said. He lay in the cop car on his belly so as not to put pressure against his hand.
Shelton said he suffered intense pain when an officer allegedly dragged him from the car by his broken hand and kneed him in the side. Shelton said he screamed and passed out.
“I never felt excruciating pain like that in my life,” Shelton testified.
The following day, Shelton woke up in the Taylor jail in pain; his left hand was swollen.
No charges were brought against Shelton, who was released on a $100 bond. A couple days later, Shelton said, he complained to Chief Bonner about the incident. Bonner allegedly told him that he would look into it. Shelton says he never heard from Bonner, but did get his gun back about 18 months later — it had been destroyed, he said.
According to Bonner’s deposition, Shelton only complained to him about the officers confiscating his gun.
About six months after he complained to Bonner, Shelton was charged with being intoxicated while possessing a firearm. The charge was later dismissed.
Shelton sued the officers involved for assault, false arrest and other illegal activity. But a federal judge dismissed his case in 2001 because he failed to allege whether he was suing them as individuals or representatives of the city, and there is no evidence of excessive force.
The case has been appealed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments in September.Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org