Federal lawsuit accuses Grand Rapids police of using excessive force against bystanders during protest


Grand Rapids police during the May 30 protest. - JARED BOONE, SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Jared Boone, Shutterstock.com
  • Grand Rapids police during the May 30 protest.

Grand Rapids police are accused in a federal lawsuit of excessive force and assault and battery for their handling of a man and woman who found themselves blocked by a line of officers in riot gear during a protest in May.

Sean Hart and Tiffany Guzman were not involved in the protest when police pointed a gun at them and struck the man with a flash-bang grenade at close range on May 30, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

Hart and Guzman were fishing in Grand Rapids when they heard sirens and saw smoke in the downtown area. When the pair drove through the city to see what was happening, they came upon an approaching line of police in riot gear.

Since police were blocking the street, Hart asked the officers what he should do. That’s when they say three Grand Rapids cops quickly approached them, with one pointing a loaded gun at them. Police told them to make an illegal left turn.

Hart obeyed the directions but was shaken, so he decide to stop his vehicle and walk toward the police line to tell officers that their conduct was unwarranted. Without a warning or verbal order, an officer sprayed Hart in the face with mace or some other chemical. Then Officer Phillip Reinink, without warning, shot Hart at point-blank range with a flash-bang grenade, which is designed to be launched – as a warning – hundreds of feet away from the target.

Hart was burned, with bruises to his eyes, face, and shoulders. He was treated at a nearby hospital.

“The use of the chemical spray or mace at point-blank range, let alone the shooting of a weapon at point-blank range, constitutes the use of deadly force,” their attorney Ven Johnson, of Ven Johnson Law, said in a statement. “This is assault and battery and is a clear violation of GRPD training, policies and procedures. Reinink was disciplined for this misconduct and placed on a two-day unpaid suspension and the other officer was not disciplined. This is unacceptable and GRPD must be held accountable for officer conduct which could have killed my client.”

The officer accused of pointing a gun at Hart was not yet named in the lawsuit because police refused to identify him. After he’s identified, Johnson said the officer will be a named defendant.

Metro Times was unable to immediately reach Grand Rapids police for comment.

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