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Suit alleges pattern of illegal detentions in Fort Wayne

February 10, 2016

Three Fort Wayne residents – and perhaps scores more – were illegally detained by police without warrants, probable cause or even the accusation that they had broken the law, a federal lawsuit alleges.

“The common thread among all of them is the officers didn’t have the authority to force them to come down to the station, and yet they did,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Chris Myers of Fort Wayne. He claims that in related litigation, an officer in a deposition said such actions were common practices used hundreds of times by police in Indiana’s second-largest city.

Myers represents three residents who sued Fort Wayne and filed an amended complaint Jan. 29 seeking a class action on behalf of people who were improperly detained by police. Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana rejected a prior motion for class certification last month but left open the opportunity to restate the claim.

Van Bokkelen’s Jan. 21 order granted the city’s motion to deny class certification.

“There are several problems with the class definition in this case,” the order says. “The proposed class is a fail-safe class. Only those individuals who are found to have had their Fourth Amendment rights violated are members of the class. Moreover, whether a plaintiff was detained against his will is a subjective inquiry. The class Plaintiffs have defined cannot be certified.”

In court replies to the complaints, Fort Wayne denies all the allegations. Police spokesman Michael Joyner said the department’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation. Attorney Carolyn Trier, who defends the city in this litigation, did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. The suit is Brian Reitdorf, et al. v. City of Fort Wayne, 1:15-CV-113.

Myers said the amended complaint clarifies the proposed class of people as those who were seized and detained since May 2013 without a warrant, when they hadn’t committed a crime in the presence of an officer, and when the person was detained for purposes other than his or her participation in criminal conduct.

The plaintiffs are Brian Reitdorf, Quinnette Oden and Aaron Hall. The suit alleges that in October 2013, Reitdorf was at work when an officer in uniform and two plain-clothes detectives asked to talk to him in front of his manager. Reitdorf asked for a lawyer, at which time the uniformed officer told him he had to go to the station to make that request.

The complaint says Reitdorf was handcuffed, placed in the back of a squad car, taken to the station and questioned, though he wasn’t a suspect in a crime. “Reitdorf was told that if he did not comply and answer their questions, he would be a suspect,” the suit claims. He eventually was returned to his workplace without charge and no arrest was recorded, according to the suit.

Oden was detained in March 2015 after officers allegedly forced their way into her apartment without a warrant or probable cause and accused her of a robbery, which she denied. She was handcuffed and questioned about a person police were looking for and led police to that person’s apartment, the suit says. The other person was arrested, but Oden nevertheless was taken to the police station where she was detained for 90 minutes to two hours before a detective told her, “I don’t even know why you are here,” according to the suit. Oden was not charged or arrested.

Hall in October 2014 was detained as he and his girlfriend were passengers in a car in a parking lot where the driver was suspected of smoking methamphetamine. The suit says the driver was arrested, but officers determined Hall and his girlfriend had broken no laws. Still, police insisted the pair go downtown to speak to a detective. They declined after being told they couldn’t take their dog, the suit says, but officers “proceeded to detain Mr. Hall against his will, taking Hall and his girlfriend (also detained against her will) to the police station in spite of their objections.”

The suit says Hall was transported in handcuffs, then placed in a room and shackled to the floor, where he was held until he was eventually released.

“The unlawful detention of Plaintiffs Reitdorf, Oden, and Hall, as well as other similarly situated individuals who were seized, detained and arrested by City of Fort Wayne police absent a warrant or probable cause, and absent any objectively legal reason for their detention and arrest, is part of a repeated pattern of conduct at the Fort Wayne Police Department reflecting an ongoing policy, practice, procedure and custom,” the complaint says.

Myers represented plaintiff James Paige in an earlier case with similar circumstances. In 2009, Paige alleged police came to his house without a warrant, patted him down, cuffed him and took him to the station where he was shackled and ankle-chained to the floor. He spent more than two hours in police custody as he was questioned in a homicide investigation, and his home was illegally searched, Paige’s federal suit alleged.

Paige filed a motion for summary judgment in that case, which the city settled soon after, Northern District court records show in James O. Paige Sr. v. City of Fort Wayne, 1:08-CV-268. Myers said an officer deposed in that case indicated such “snatch and grabs,” as Myers termed them, were common.

Myers’ amended complaint names two other people who allege similar detentions without probable cause. One of them, Violet Hanson, filed a lawsuit against Fort Wayne, represented by Myers’ firm. Hanson claimed in a suit filed last March that officers burst into her home without a warrant, pushing aside her 12-year-old son. Her suit claimed officers searched the premises, cuffed her and took her to the police station without cause. She was released after a time, the suit claims, and told to find her own ride home.

Fort Wayne admitted in its answer to the suit only that officers were “present in the area at or near (Hanson’s) apartment building,” but denied the other allegations. The case was dismissed after Hanson moved from the area, but Myers cites it in the new class-action complaint.

“We’re not trying to close down the ability of police officers to do an adequate investigation,” Myers said. “What we’re saying is you don’t just get to go out and snatch them up with no warrant and when they’re not suspected of committing a crime.”•

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