Waving At Relatives, The Newest Detroit Felony
December 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Fault Lines contributors repeatedly tell you to shut up when dealing with any sort of criminal matter. Three Michigan teenagers are wishing they’d kept their mouths shut around Detroit cops after merely waving to a relative. Now six police officers must contend with a federal lawsuit for behavior in conjunction with a summer prostitution sting that sounds like a movie script, including posting a photo of one teen to Snapchat, impounding their car, and dropping the kids five miles from home.
According to the New York Post, Hassan Abdallah and Ibrahim Bazzi picked up their friend Ali Chami after Chami’s shift ended at Coney Island Restaurant in Detroit. As the three left, Hassan spotted a relative pull into a nearby CVS. The teens waved at the man, who drove over and greeted them. Six Detroit cops thought the boys were actually interfering with a prostitution sting and decided to make them pay for it.
The cops swarmed Hassan Abdallah’s car and cuffed all three teens, then searched the boys without consent or probable cause. After putting the teens in unmarked cars, the cops drove through the city at high speeds without using emergency sirens or lights. One allegedly took a picture with Ibrahim Bazzi’s mobile phone and posted it to Snapchat. Eventually, they left the three boys at the intersection of Tireman and Abington in Detroit. With Abdallah’s car impounded, the three were ordered to walk approximately five miles to their homes in Dearborn and Romulus.
Police reports indicate this is going to be a “your word against mine” case, since no audio or video of the incident exists. The “interference” with the prostitution sting in August is summed up as “three kids yelling don’t do it” to an “older Arabic male.” Here’s the write up from the police report pulled by the Detroit Free Press.
“The males were yelling across the street and waving their arms to get the attention of an older Arabic male who was making his way toward our … decoy. The males were yelling, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it?’ ” the police report stated. “The males appeared to be discouraging the older Arabic male from talking with the decoy.”
“Interfering with police activity” would arguably fall under the Michigan Statute criminalizing obstructing an officer in performance of his duties. According to the law, if you “obstruct” a “police officer” in performance of their duties, and either know or have reason to know they’re doing police work, it’s a felony with penalties graded on how severely the officers were injured. That’s because “obstruct” is defined as “the use or threatened use of physical interference or force or a knowing failure to comply with a lawful command.” This is probably why the charges against Abdallah, Bazzi, and Chami went away quietly once the three lawyered up.
Assuming the police report to be 100% true, these charges couldn’t hold up. Even if the teens were yelling “Don’t Do It” to Hassan’s relative in an attempt to prevent solicitation from someone posing as a sex worker, waving hands and yelling isn’t “physical interference or force.” A prosecutor would also have to prove three teenagers knew a prostitution sting was underway in the area. That’s a high bar, given “stings” are usually secretive and most teenagers get their information about law enforcement activity from either Reddit or Twitter.
The boys’ allegations, if true, raise serious red flags about the way police work is conducted in Detroit. It also smells like a settlement in the making. There was no justifiable reason for an arrest based on three teenagers waving their arms and telling someone to refrain from participating in criminal activity. If Abdallah, Bazzi and Chami are telling the truth, government agents abused police powers for talking to a relative. If the cops’ side of the story is true, government agents still arrested three teenagers for attempting to prevent criminal activity through speech and expression, which is generally considered a pretty good thing. America doesn’t take kindly to government actors suppressing speech.
Life is about to get very messy for Officers Michael Carson, Joseph Machon, Jordan Leavy, and Ibrahim Abdul-Hamid, as well as two other officers whose full names weren’t listed in the federal suit. The six still have their jobs as of publication, but their future doesn’t look so good in a civil trial. At best, the officers will have to explain to a trier of fact how arresting three teenagers for preventing criminal activity doesn’t fly in the face of the First Amendment. At worse, someone’s going to take the stand and offer justification for taking a kid’s cell phone, using it to take a picture of that same kid in handcuffs, and posting it to social media.
Regardless, life is different for Hassan Abdallah, Ibrahim Bazzi, and Ali Chami. They’re reportedly fearful of further police interaction. Abdallah’s car “gave out” after his father forked over “hundreds of dollars” to get his car back. The teens might see some money from a civil suit, but right now they’re probably thinking life would be drastically different if they’d never said a word to Hassan Abdallah’s relative that night in August.