Lawsuit filed over 2017 arrests at Flint meeting on city's water - WNEM TV 5

Lawsuit filed over 2017 arrests at Flint meeting on city's water supply

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FLINT, MI (WNEM) -

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan have filed a lawsuit on behalf of four residents who say police used excessive force to remove them from a Flint church during a town hall meeting related to the city’s crisis with lead-tainted water.

Mayor Karen Weaver hosted the meeting on April 20, 2017 at the House of Prayer Church to hear residents' concerns about the future of their water.

Flint Police Chief Tim Johnson said he asked men to remove their hats and also warned those in attendance to not disrupt the meeting. 

“[D]on’t be in here trying to disrupt this meeting, because if you do I’m going to escort you out and I’m only going to take you to the back door and then you’re going to jail. I’m not going to play with nobody tonight,” the lawsuit claims he said.

>>Read the full lawsuit here<<

During the meeting, “several” individuals were arrested for disorderly conduct among other reasons, Johnson said. Johnson said those arrested became disruptive during the meeting and it had nothing to do with the meeting itself.

Leah Palladeno, Anthony Palladeno Jr., Susan Whalen and Abel Delgado have been named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city of Flint. 

The arrests of the Palladenos

The lawsuit claims officers “forcefully escorted” Leah Palladeno and her husband, Anthony Palladeno Jr., from the meeting for expressing frustration to city officials about the public meeting being held in a church where religious rules were being enforced by police.

Once in the hallway, Leah Palladeno allegedly told Flint City Councilman Eric Mays the meeting was “bullshit.” That’s when officers “grabbed her, forced her hand behind her back, and slammed her head down repeatedly on a desk,” according to the lawsuit.

According to the documents, Anthony Palladeno Jr. verbally objected to his wife being arrested. Once she was put into a police van, Palladeno Jr. allegedly left the scene and went to his vehicle.

The lawsuit claims that’s when an officer came over to his vehicle and “with no explanation, handcuffed him and placed him under arrest.”

The arrest of Abel Delgado

The lawsuit claims Abel Delgado was entering the church when told by an officer to remove his hat. He refused at first, according to the documents, but eventually removed his hat.

During the meeting, Delago saw a friend, Susan Whalen, speaking with an officer in the hallway. He joined them and allegedly used “strong language” to criticize the actions of the police.

An officer allegedly threatened to arrest Delgado for using profanity in front of women and children. Delgado left the church building as his friend was being arrested and put in a police van.

When he returned, he saw Leah Palladeno “being slammed onto a table” by an officer. He then looked over his shoulder and saw another officer grab Whalen and “slam her into the metal bar of the door,” according to the lawsuit.

“While maintaining his distance and not interfering with the arrests, he told the police that they were supposed to serve the people and that what they were doing was wrong,” according to the documents.

Delgado was speaking with an officer in the church parking lot when he was arrested.

“Using strong language, Mr. Delgado told the officers that the arrests or expulsion of individuals from the town hall contradicted the interests of the people and were ‘worthless.’ He also called the officers ‘pigs’ and ‘fucking fascists,’” according to the documents.

The lawsuit claims the officer told Delgado he needed to leave the church property because he was “cussing at the church” and “disrespecting the church.” Immediately after, a different officer allegedly came up behind Delgado and handcuffed him.

The lawsuit claims Delgado became extremely afraid.

“He feared that he might be shot or otherwise assaulted by the officer,” according to the lawsuit.

The arrest of Susan Whalen

According to the lawsuit, when Susan Whalen arrived at the church she was told by an officer to remove her hat. She did so, but asked her friend to get the badge number of the officer.

When her friend went outside, Whalen saw an officer allegedly push her friend. She left the meeting to join her friend in the hallway.

While in the hallway, Whalen saw Leah Palladeno being arrested. Whalen was trying to get back into the hallway of the church to videotape the arrest when an officer allegedly “slammed her body on the metal bar between the doors,” with warning. The action caused Whalen to scream in pain, according to the documents.

Whalen was removed from the church when she saw Anthony Palladeno Jr. being arrested. According to the documents, Palladeno Jr. told the officers he had his dog locked in his motorhome and someone needed to release the dog.

Palladeno Jr. gave Whalen his keys and she walked away from the arrest to another corner of the parking lot. The lawsuit claims Whalen was taking a moment to collect herself when officers told her she was under arrest.

The following is video obtained from WFNT Radio. 

WARNING GRAPHIC LANGUAGE: 

The lawsuit claims six people arrested that night were exercising their First Amendment rights. They spent the night in the Flint City Lockup and were released the next morning.

The Genesee County Prosecuting attorney did not press criminal charges.

"There was no probable cause to arrest them and two of our clients were arrested with excessive force," said Greg Gibbs, attorney.

Gibbs believes officers were arresting individuals due to the rules set in place by the church. Despite the forum taking place in a church, Gibbs said it was still a government meeting, meaning those First Amendment rights are still protected.

"They're actually enforcing the laws of the church like they would a law passed by the government and that is unconstitutional," Gibbs said.

Meanwhile, Leah Palladeno said she wants the city and its officers to take responsibility for their actions and never restrict her or any others' right to protest again.

"First and foremost, that we do have the freedom of speech and we do have the right to get out there and speak," she said.

TV5 reached out to the city and the police chief regarding the lawsuit, but they are not commenting on the pending litigation.

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