detroit police
Detroit Police Department cruiser. (Shutterstock photo)

A federal jury has sided with a Black Detroit Police sergeant in a lawsuit alleging fellow officers within the department used excessive force and retaliated against him for complaining about race discrimination during an off-duty encounter in 2017.

Johnny Strickland, an 11-year veteran of the department at the time, was “handcuffed, harassed, and humiliated” by DPD colleagues when he “accidentally arrived at an unmarked, unsecured crime scene,” and was later suspended after he filed a complaint, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said in a news release. 

The jury rendered its verdict Monday and awarded Strickland $150,000 in the lawsuit against the City of Detroit. 

“If I, as a veteran police officer, so easily became the victim of police misconduct by my own colleagues, the average citizen doesn’t have a chance,” Strickland, who was represented by the ACLU in the litigation, said in a Tuesday statement. “I hope that my actions will encourage other Black officers to stand up for what’s right, staying quiet only makes things worse.”

The city declined to comment Wednesday on the outcome of the case.

Strickland’s federal suit was filed in 2018 in Michigan’s eastern district alleging a racially hostile work environment and a violation of his civil and constitutional rights under state and federal law. The aim of the suit, the ACLU notes, was to expose and reform “racist policing practices” to ensure the safety of the community, including for police officers of color. 

Internal studies conducted by DPD since 2017 have revealed racial tensions within the ranks of officers as well as racial misconduct by officers directed at members of the community. The ACLU said that it proposed reforms during the pendency of Strickland’s case, but contends that  the city’s police department refused to consider them. The case ultimately resulted in a four-day jury trial.

While off duty on Jan. 22, 2017, Strickland inadvertently entered a crime scene under investigation before it was secured by police, according to the lawsuit. He identified himself as a Detroit police officer, but officers on the scene, the filing notes, insulted and ridiculed him. Strickland was placed in handcuffs, detained without justification and his private vehicle was searched. 

Strickland, according to the suit, was warned not to report the incident by a white captain who was the supervising officer on the scene, who allegedly stated: “This goes nowhere from tonight.” 

Strickland filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office within the Detroit Police Department. But the DPD internal affairs investigation turned its focus on Strickland and accused the officer of violating department policies. Strickland remains employed with the Detroit Police Department. 

“Thanks to Sgt. Strickland, who had the courage to speak out against wrongdoing, this case shines a light on the unfairness and injustices that affect Black police officers and the community at large,” Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney, added in a statement. “Our hope is that the city’s leaders will take a close look at what that light has revealed and act aggressively to provide the community with a whole new approach to ensuring the public’s safety and welfare.” 

In addition to Fancher, ACLU of Michigan attorneys Syeda Davidson and Dan Korobkin and cooperating attorney Leonard Mungo represented Strickland in the lawsuit. 

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