DETROIT - A 23-year-old Detroit man sued Grand Rapids-based Meijer stores Monday after his beating by an off-duty Detroit police officer moonlighting as a store guard went viral on the Internet last week.
Detroit Police, meanwhile, announced that despite defending the officer last week, they now found the beating to be improper and have put the officer on desk duty.
Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said in a news conference that his client was seeking "in excess of $25 million" against the Meijer store chain and the Detroit police officer “as a result of a vicious beating that was inflicted upon a totally innocent customer who had done absolutely nothing wrong."
Meijer officials had no comment on the lawsuit. However, the company offered this statement: "We have reviewed the video of the incident and are disturbed by the images. We are providing the Detroit Police Department access to all security footage and are fully cooperating with them so they can properly investigate this incident involving their officer."
The plaintiff and beating victim — David Bivins — had been standing in the lobby of the Meijer store in Detroit, on 8 Mile Road near Woodward, “waiting for his fiancée Hillary Ross to return from the bathroom," Fieger said in a news release.
"Their baby had been born the week before and this was their first date night out," Fieger said. Bivins "was approached by a Meijer security guard who demanded to see his purchase receipts. Shortly thereafter, the guard began to viciously beat David with a nightstick, knocking out his teeth, and injuring his arm and leg,” Fieger’s statement said. A video shot by a bystander proliferated quickly on YouTube after the incident at about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 8. A chorus of online critics alleged police brutality.
Warning: Video contains graphic imagery and explicit language.
Both the officer and the customer who was injured are black. Last week, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said his "preliminary look" at what happened led him to think that the officer's use of force was proper, and he said the age difference between the two — the officer is 65, and a 39-year veteran of the department — also contributed to a sense that some force was needed so the older officer could restrain the young man. In addition, Craig recommended last week that prosecutors charge the customer with disorderly conduct as well as resisting and obstructing an officer.
But on Monday, after a week of reviewing the evidence — including both a bystander's video seen on YouTube and the store's surveillance film that caught part of the altercation — Craig said he changed his recommendation and asked that no charges be filed. The officer has been placed on desk duty at the Detroit Police Department and suspended from doing any "secondary employment" at Meijer, Craig said. Besides Meijer stores, the lawsuit names as defendants Detroit police Officer Lonnie Wade, three Meijer security guards and another Detroit police officer who was moonlighting at the store as a guard.
Craig said his investigation found that Wade was the security guard who first approached Bivins, and that alone was inappropriate conduct.
"The officer should've waited for store security to say, 'We believe this person is involved in retail fraud.' That did not happen. It was solely the officer's decision" to question and detain Bivins, Craig said. He said the proper role of Detroit officers who moonlight in uniform is "visibility and support only."
In addition, Craig said his review of the store's surveilance video showed that Bivins, initially, was not hostile to the officer and "had his hands at his sides." It was only when the officer became aggressive in his questioning that Bivins began to resist, Craig said. Bivins, when the officer continued to detain him, raised his voice and began using profanity, that Wade began struggling with him, striking him with the nightstick in the leg several times as Bivins dragged him to the store's doorway and into the parking lot, as shown on the video.
Once the two were in the parking lot, they continued struggling, with Wade repeatedly threatening to arrest the young man and ultimately striking him in the face with the nightstick, the video showed. The blow broke a tooth, Detroit police said.
According to Fieger, the blow to Bivins' face broke his jaw, and he also suffered contusions, "multiple smashed teeth" as well as back, neck and head injuries, and he was a victim of false imprisonment because Detroit police took him into custody after the incident. Bivins appeared Monday in Fieger's office in a white shirt and tie as they announced the lawsuit. Bivins' fiancée Ross is co-plaintiff, Fieger said.
Last week, acknowledging that videos can have viral impact nationwide, Craig said: "I've been very vocal about this — whenever an officer uses force, it never looks good.”
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