Police Taking Photograph and Fingerprints Without Probable Cause

Keyon Harrison, an African American 16-year-old, was walking home from school when he saw another youth with a model truck and paused to look at it.  Grand Rapids police, who later claimed that two youth looking at a toy truck is so suspicious that it justifies a police investigation, stopped Keyon, took his picture, and fingerprinted him.  Even though Keyon did nothing more than admire a toy, his picture and fingerprints are now in a police database. 

The Grand Rapids police have used this “photograph and print” procedure on about 1,000 people per year, many of whom are African American youth.  Keyon and Denishio Johnson, another African American youth who was similarly printed and photographed, sued to end the practice. 

In 2016, the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Michigan Court of Appeals arguing that allowing police to seize biometric data when no crime is committed is a dangerous erosion of the Fourth Amendment.  In 2017, the Court of Appeals issued a decision holding that the City of Grand Rapids could not be held liable because its policy only allowed, but did not require, the police to take photographs and fingerprints—a decision that could make it much harder to hold municipalities accountable for civil rights violations in state court.  We took over direct representation in the case and appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

In July 2018, the Supreme Court issued a major decision on municipal liability in favor of our clients, holding that cities can be held liable for authorizing unconstitutional conduct by their employees.  The case is now back before the Court of Appeals to decide whether police may seize biometric data like fingerprints without probable cause. 

(Johnson v. VanderKooi; ACLU Attorneys Miriam Aukerman, Dan Korobkin and Michael J. Steinberg; Cooperating Attorneys Margaret Hannon and Ted Becker and of U-M Law School.)

Read our Fall 2018 Legal Docket

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