Woman Sues Dearborn For Violation Of Rights

By |2015-04-09T09:00:00-04:00April 9th, 2015|Michigan, News|

The city of Dearborn is being sued by a Detroit woman who alleges the city violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act during a traffic stop in August of 2012. Shalandra Jones is arguing in court that when Dearborn Police Officer David Lacey ticketed her for possession of marijuana, he did so because of her HIV-positive status.
The incident was caught on the dashboard video camera of Lacey’s patrol car on Aug. 3, 2012. He pulled a 1999 GMC Jimmy over for a failed brake light. Jones and her partner Mark Scott were in the vehicle, with Scott at the wheel.
After approaching the vehicle, Lacey said he smelled marijuana and asked for it to be surrendered. Jones handed over a small amount of marijuana. Later in the exchange she would reveal she was a medical marijuana card holder, but that her card had expired.
Because of the marijuana, Lacey searched the vehicle for other contraband. During that search he found Jones’ HIV medications. He admitted later in the video he was “pissed” by the discovery because he had been searching the vehicle without gloves and had touched Jones’ earrings in her purse. He was worried, he said repeatedly, that he would take something home to his family.
HIV experts say it is exceedingly unlikely Jones’ earrings could have resulted in transmission of HIV.
Despite a warrant for Scott’s arrest, he was released with two “fix it” tickets. Jones was ticketed for a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge. Jones was able to get the city to drop the charge, but a year later. Her attorney, Joshua Moore of Detroit Legal Services, said at the time that Dearborn prosecutors consistently offered to drop the marijuana charge if she would agree to sign a document waiving her right to sue the department.
At issue are the statements Lacey made indicating he was issuing tickets because Jones had failed to disclose her HIV-positive status to the officer. Something, incidentally, she is not legally obligated to do in Michigan
“Ok, I explained it to (Scott),” Lacey said to Jones. “I asked him if he had anything and he said, ‘No.’ Stuff like that. As soon as I’m getting you out of the car, ‘Sir, I’d like to tell you I’m HIV-positive.’ Whatever it is. Tell me right away. I explained to him, you know, this is the west end of Dearborn. It’s a relatively nicer area, and we usually don’t have a lot of stuff like that around here.”
Lacey told Jones that if suspects don’t disclose diseases they have and whether they are carrying needles, “We’re going to be really mad.”
“I understand that what you have isn’t something I could get, but it makes me nervous… I don’t want to take it home to my family,” Lacey told Jones. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would have wrote anybody for anything. But that kind of really aggravated me, you know what I mean? You got to tell me right away, ‘I’ve got this. I’ve got that.’ ‘Cause at that time, I wasn’t wearing any gloves.”
“I wrote you for the marijuana,” explained Lacey, instructing her to get her marijuana card renewed and to contact the court within 14 days.
Jones is also alleging that the city has failed to properly train law enforcement staff on dealing with people with various diseases, including HIV.
In the reporting after the incident was first revealed, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad told the Dearborn Press and Guide the department was taking action to beef up training related to HIV.
“We’ve also partnered with an HIV health professional and educator who will assist us with providing a greater understanding (of HIV transmission),” Haddad told the newspaper Oct. 1, 2012. “We want to be transparent, and I’m confident we can do better.”
But in an August deposition in the case, Dearborn training officials said no such training had ever been conducted. In fact, Moore says Dearborn officials were offered a no-cost training as well as policy review by Equality Michigan. That offer was never accepted.
In that same report, Haddad said Lacey had “a positive demeanor” when dealing with the couple. But depositions in the case show Lacey was ultimately found to have violated departmental policies.
“It’s a notice of a written reprimand with 10 days of unpaid suspension held in abeyance. And it also directs that he get additional training, and it’s for the violation of unbecoming conduct under Section 24 in the rules and regs,” Haddad said in his deposition while holding Lacey’s reprimand, “which in part makes it a violation for insensitive language or expressing prejudice towards someone.”
Aside from arguing that Lacey discriminated against her for issuing tickets because she failed to disclose her HIV-positive status, Jones is suing the city alleging they violated Michigan’s HIV privacy law by releasing the police video under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The video was released, unredacted, to the American Independent News Network.
That privacy law was passed in the late 1980s, but there is no documented use of the law. The law makes it a misdemeanor to release a person’s HIV status, except under very narrow exceptions. Violating the provision can result in civil action or criminal action.
Jones and her attorneys argue this violated her rights to maintain confidentiality under the law and the city had the responsibility to redact her HIV information before releasing the video.
The legal issues are hazy on this one, however. In a situation in Lansing, police released the HIV-positive status of a person arrested for exposing himself during a sex sting operation in a local park. Under pressure from activists, Mayor Virg Bernero asked Attorney General Mike Cox to determine if any laws had been violated. In a written response, Cox’s office said that releasing some one’s HIV status was up to the municipality. Such an opinion is considered law until, and if, it is challenged in court.
Dearborn, in a filing last week, argued that Jones herself has no right to claim a violation of her privacy because she had previously been public to some in her community about her HIV-positive status. City attorneys are relying entirely on a case in which a person argued information presented in open court should have remained private — something the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected.
The lawsuit and controversy has also raised questions about Equality Michigan’s annual ComedyFest. That event is held at a Dearborn owed facility.
“Although it saddens me to hear Equality Michigan is having an event at a Dearborn owned property, I hope that they will approach the city for another opportunity to train on diversity and HIV education,” Moore said. “It is clear their police department is grossly undertrained. I have often thought the response from the LGBT community from the horrific actions of Officer Lacey would be much more if Ms. Jones were a white gay male.”
Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan, said the organization will work to address any concerns.
“Equality Michigan will continue to offer and insist that the city of Dearborn conduct proper and complete LGBTA and HIV training to public officials and law enforcement,” she said in a written statement. “We also implore the city of Dearborn to modernize their laws and pass an LGBTQ-inclusive human rights ordinance. Since Mayor Guido invited us over a decade ago, it has been out pleasure to bring our ComedyFest event to such a diverse and historically rich city. However, with over 30 other cities now taking steps to protect LGBTQ people, Equality Michigan can only ask LGBTQ Michiganders to travel to a city where they are unprotected for so long. We have not yet made a final decision on ComedyFest 2016’s venue, and we will be talking to community leaders about addressing these concerns before we do.”
Lawyers on both sides will be in court at 2 p.m. May 7 to argue whether the lawsuit can continue.

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