A Black agent and a client who were handcuffed and held at gunpoint during a home showing in Michigan in August have hired attorney Ben Crump — who previously represented the families of police brutality victims George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — to sue the City of Wyoming and local cops in federal court.
Keller Williams agent Eric Brown and his client, Roy Thorne, filed the lawsuit against the City Of Wyoming and the Wyoming Police Department on Oct. 4, claiming they were unlawfully detained, falsely imprisoned, exposed to emotional distress, denied equal protection and treated with excessive force.
The pair, both of whom are Black, argue that the response — five patrol cars and orders to evacuate the house with their hands up — was disproportionate to the situation and embarrassing to Thorne as his son looked on.
“Had the Plaintiffs not been African American men, they would not have been held at gun point, and would not have been detained, and would not have been handcuffed,” attorney Ven Johnson wrote in the lawsuit.
Beside Johnson, Brown has retained Crump, a lawyer who previously represented the families of Floyd and Taylor, in lawsuits.
Floyd, a Black man who died of cardiac arrest in May 2020 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood on his neck for nine minutes, sparked nationwide protests against police brutality. While Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison in criminal court, Crump led a case that resulted in a city payment of $27 million to Floyd’s family — the largest police settlement in Minneapolis history.
Taylor, a Louisville EMT who was shot by police officers who stormed her house in search of another person, also sparked nationwide racism discussion. Crump helped reach a settlement that compelled the City of Louisville to pay $12 million to Taylor’s family, the highest such settlement ever believed to be paid to the family of a Black woman killed by police.
Brown was touring the upper level of a home on Sharon Avenue SW in Wyoming, Michigan, with Thorne and his 15-year-old son on Aug. 1 when all three visitors were surrounded by police officers gathered outside the property in response to a 911 call from a neighbor shortly after their arrival.
All three visitors, including the 15-year-old boy, were placed in handcuffs and let go only after Brown pulled out his real estate credentials.
When the incident occurred, the Wyoming Police Department denied race played a factor in their response and said they followed protocol after a recent burglary at the same address led to an arrest and charge of unlawful entry on July 24.
“After a thorough internal review of the actions of each of our public safety officers who responded to this incident, we have concluded race played no role in our officers’ treatment of the individuals who were briefly detained, and our officers responded appropriately,” Wyoming Department of Public Safety said in a statement in August. “While it is unfortunate that innocent individuals were placed in handcuffs, our officers responded reasonably and according to department policy based on the information available to them at the time.”
While the police claim the incident is a “big misunderstanding,” the lawsuit filed by Brown and Thorne argues that there was “no reasonable suspicion” that the men had committed a crime. The cars parked outside the open house were a Chevrolet Malibu and a Hyundai Genesis while police records indicated that the earlier burglar had driven a Mercedes.
“The speaking officer falsely claimed that he could not see the license plate of the vehicle, otherwise he would have known it was not the squatter,” the lawsuit states. “However, the license plate is clearly visible on multiple body cameras and could have easily been identified by simply looking at it.”
The incident comes at a time of heightened discussion around racism and how Black professionals are treated with suspicion and sometimes even violence by the police.
In December, a Compass agent and real estate photographer in Arlington, Virginia, filed a racial profiling complaint after being interrogated in front of a client while taking pictures on the job. In 2018, a situation similar to what happened to Brown and Thorne played out in Cincinnati and resulted in an agent suing the city.