Lawsuit says Detroit wrongly tickets people for loitering

A Southfield lawyer is seeking certification of a class-action lawsuit in federal court, saying Detroit police have wrongfully ticketed people with loitering near illegal activity.

Attorney Daniel Romano said he has more than a dozen clients who weren't engaging in any illegal activity, but were ticketed. The lawsuit says Detroit police routinely issue the misdemeanor tickets without cause for loitering in a place of illegal occupation.

Romano said police are abusing innocent people.

"Detroit is within the United States of America," he said. "You have to follow the constitution."

Officials with the city's law department could not be reached for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department said the department has no comment because of the ongoing litigation.

Romano said one of his clients was ticketed after picking up a friend at a Detroit hotel known for its drug sales, unbeknownst to his client. He said the woman drove more than a mile away from the hotel and was pulled over by an officer, who ticketed her.

Romano said there have been other cases of people ticketed outside clubs or homes raided by police.

According to the lawsuit, Jason Morton was ticketed in June 2009. He and a friend were parked on a street in Detroit, waiting on another friend so they could go play basketball, when officers raided a home nearby and then approached Morton's vehicle.

The lawsuit says Morton and his friend were forced to sit on the porch of the raided home and were ticketed.

The city has asked the judge to deny the class-action certification.

Romano's lawsuit contends the city's ordinance is "unconstitutionally vague" because it doesn't define what constitutes loitering in a place of illegal occupation -- guidelines the city acknowledges aren't contained in the city code, according to court documents.

But the city says Detroit police officers are trained on state laws and local ordinances.

"Detroit police officers, just as any other law enforcement officer in the state of Michigan, must have probable cause to arrest and/or ticket an individual," the city said in a response filed in September.

Contact Gina Damron: 313-223-4526 or [email protected]