Detroiters D’Marco Craft and Michaele Jackson are suing the city of Detroit and two 5th precinct officers, claiming they were maced and beat up for no justifiable reason at an east side gas station in May.
A trip to a gas station to buy cigarettes turned into a night of terror for two Detroit men who say they were ambushed by two rogue police officers — including one who allegedly maced and body-slammed one of them “WWE-style.”
But while the assault went down, the men claim, one of them caught it all on video.
In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court, Detroiters D’Marco Craft and Michaele Jackson are suing the City of Detroit and two 5th precinct officers, claiming they were harassed and physically attacked for no reason at an east side gas station in May.
Jackson, a 38-year-old bus driver with the Detroit Department of Transportation who claims to have a longstanding good relationship with police, said he never saw it coming.
“I went down WWE-style. I hit the racks with the Twinkies and the Ho Hos … It was like a nightmare,” Jackson said at a news conference today at his lawyer’s office in Southfield. “I feared for my life.”
Jackson said he never threatened the officers or made any physical contact with them, but was maced from behind while walking away and then thrown to the ground and beaten. He said he was placed under arrest that night and transported to an emergency room by ambulance for injuries — including bruises and cuts — sustained in the attack.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he has seen the plaintiffs’ video of the incident and is concerned by it. However, he said, the gas station also has a video of the event and offers more details about what led up to the officer firing mace at Jackson.
“When you look at the store video, there is certainly more activity that led up to that,” Craig said. “The suspect did take a swing at the officer. I could not tell if that swing made contact.”
When asked if he was concerned about the officer spraying the mace after Jackson had walked away, Craig said: “That’s a concern, I’ll be candid. But I’m not prepared to make a decision.”
According to Craig, Officer Richard Billingslea — the accused attacker — has been working a desk job since shortly after the gas station incident and is still getting paid. He said it’s up to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to decide if Billingslea engaged in any criminal activity that would warrant criminal charges.
Craig said that if Worthy decides not to bring charges, he will address the issue administratively. He said the police will release the gas station video later.
The other officer is Hakeem Patterson, who is accused in the lawsuit of standing by and letting the attack happen
Worthy’s office said it has received a warrant request regarding only Billingslea, but that it has not yet made a charging decision.
According to Craft, a 26-year-old criminal justice student who was taping the incident on his iPhone and has had past dealings with Billingslea — here is what went down at the gas station that night:
The two officers were already at the gas station when he and Jackson arrived. Craft recognized Billingslea — claiming the officer had harassed him multiple times in the past year, including driving by his house and flipping him off in front of his mother. So when Craft saw Billingslea inside the gas station, he left to avoid any confrontation.
But the officers followed Craft out of the store, with one of them hollering out to him: ” ‘You aint’ buying nothing today?”
Craft responded no “Cuz I know how you are. F— you.”
Craft said he suggested to his friend they go elsewhere for smokes.
Jackson saw no reason for that. So he went inside to buy his smokes. On his first attempt, Jackson claims he was tackled and thrown to the concrete face-first. On his second attempt, while at the counter, he claims he turned around and was maced in the face and eyes by Billingslea, who then threw him to the ground.
“Billingslea, without any warning whatsoever, then put his right arm around Mr. Jackson’s throat and violently spun Jackson around and body-slammed Mr. Jackson to the floor,” the lawsuit states. “Billingslea threw Mr. Jackson down to the ground so hard that Jackson was thrown at least 3-4 feet and landed on the floor after first slamming into a metal rack of Hostess treats, such as Snoballs and Dingdongs.”
According to the lawsuit, police told Jackson he was going to be charged with resisting arrest. However, the prosecutor’s office denied a request for an arrest warrant. To date, he has not been charged.
Craft, who was videotaping the incident, said the officers threatened to arrest him if he didn’t hand over his phone and passcode — so he obliged. The officers then smashed his phone on the counter and threw it in a nearby trash can, but another officer later retrieved it, he said.
According to Craft, his phone was held in a police evidence room for one month before he got it back. The video of the gas station incident was not released.
Neither man has any criminal convictions, records show.
Craft described Billingslea as a vindictive officer who smiles when he harasses people. He said Billingslea once got in his face and did a karate-chop move, grinning as he did to intimidate him.
Attorney Ari Kresch, one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, lambasted the police department for keeping Billingslea on the job and accused the force of “protecting rotten apples.”
“Why, why is Officer Billingslea still on the job?” Kresch said, disputing claims that Jackson fought the officers or resisted arrest.
“They’ve got to stop lying,” Kresch said. “This investigation should take only 30 minutes.”
Across the country, verdicts in police-brutality lawsuits range from tens of thousands of dollars to tens of millions of dollars.
On the higher end, a federal jury in Detroit awarded a $36.6-million verdict last November to a man who was beaten, dragged, had his face smashed into a wall and was tied down with a bag over his head inside the Genesee County jailhouse in Flint. A jailhouse camera captured the incident. The jury saw the graphic video and delivered the verdict, which is rare for this area.
In 1999, a jury in Chicago awarded a $28-million verdict in a police brutality case that involved two police officers who beat a man into a coma who also became paralyzed.
In 1992, the City of Detroit paid $5.2 million to the family of Malice Green, an African-American man whose beating death at the hands of two white police officers triggered a firestorm of controversy. Green was beaten in the head with a flashlight after refusing to open his hand and allegedly relinquish a vial of crack cocaine. The two officers, Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers, were convicted in his death.
Kresch questioned why police won’t show the plaintiffs the gas station video, noting he’s asked for the video, but police won’t give it to him.
Craig said releasing the video right now is premature.
Kresch said Craig is mishandling the case.
“It’s a culture of backing up your officers,” Kresch said. “The chief was reckless.”
The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
“The only thing that changes behavior is jail or money,” Kresch said. “In this case, there should be jail and money.”