Judge dismisses lawsuit after Black Realtor, clients handcuffed at gunpoint during house showing – MLive.com

Wyoming police briefly detained a Black real estate agent and his client Sunday, Aug. 1 because of a mix-up relating to a recent break-in at a home being toured (Wyoming Department of Public Safety)
KENT COUNTY, MI – A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Wyoming police who held a Black Realtor and his client at gunpoint after a neighbor reported a burglary during a house showing.
Realtor Eric Brown, his prospective buyer, Roy Thorne, and Thorne’s then-15-year-old son contended that police handcuffed them at gunpoint because they are Black.
In a case that drew national headlines, they accused police of false arrest, using excessive force and equal-protection violations.
Related: Black Realtor, clients sue police for handcuffing at gunpoint during house showing
The incident happened Aug. 1, 2021, at vacant house for sale on Sharon Avenue SW – a week after a squatter, who was also Black, illegally entered the house.
In an opinion issued Tuesday, Feb. 28, U.S. District Judge Hala Jarbou in Lansing said that five officers who responded to the call had qualified immunity.
They had probable-cause to detain the three after a caller reported that a “‘young black man’” is “‘back there again’” she wrote.
Related: Police defend cuffing Black realtor and client at Michigan home showing, case gets national attention
One of the officers who responded to the earlier illegal entry also responded to the incident with the Realtor. The officer, Logan Wieber, escalated the call from trespassing to breaking and entering because of similarities of the two incidents, the judge said.
The three inside saw police outside with guns out. They left the house, one at a time, with their hands up before they were handcuffed. Police then holstered firearms.
Brown told police that he was a licensed Realtor and that he was showing the house to his friend. Once his identity was confirmed, police apologized for the inconvenience and removed the handcuffs.
The judge said that “this is not a rare and obvious case where the unlawfulness of the individual Defendants’ conduct is sufficiently clear.”
She said that Wieber had information from an eyewitness that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were breaking and entering the house – which is sufficient to establish probable cause.
He had arrested the squatter then responded days later to a report that the “same young black man,” driving a black sedan, had returned. On the way there, he contacted the caller to confirm it was the same suspect, the judge said.
There was no apparent reason to think the witness was lying, the judge said.
“Probable cause in this case stems not only from a reasonably trustworthy eyewitness but also from the corroboration of the eyewitness’s assertions by the individual officers on the scene,” Jarbou wrote in her 32-page opinion.
Wieber noted that the vehicle parked outside was similar to a vehicle parked outside during the earlier incident.
“The fact that Wieber did not recognize Plaintiffs once they exited the home weakens but does not defeat the existence of probable cause,” the judge wrote.
She said that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that an officer “‘is entitled to qualified immunity if he or she could reasonably (even if erroneously) have believed that the arrest was lawful, in light of … the information possessed at the time of the arresting agent.’”
Wieber had testified that “it was the same point of entry, a similar vehicle which ended up not being the same vehicle, so until we could verify everything, it was still treated as (a breaking and entering).”
The judge found that other officers who responded also had probable cause.
“The officers arrived on the scene of a suspected breaking and entering at an unoccupied home that had previously been unlawfully entered, observed movement inside the home, and heard an individual yell “Officers!” from the home then duck under the window before coming out the front door,” Jarbou wrote.
While Thorne complained about his handcuffs being too tight, the judge said police did not use excessive force. She said that officers who pointed guns did not know if those inside the house had a weapon or posed a danger. Police holstered guns once the plaintiffs were in handcuffs.
The judge also said the plaintiffs could not show that they were treated differently than “any similarly situation individual of another race … .”
The judge also dismissed claims against the city and police Chief Kimberly Koster.
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