Skip to main content

Drug Raids: Michigan Judge Rules Flint Rave Raid Arrests Unconstitutional

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #458)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

In March 2005, police in Flint, Michigan, burst into Club What's Next late one Friday night after witnessing a few instances of drug sales in or near the club and marijuana smoking inside the club, which was holding a rave party. Although police found drugs or paraphernalia on only 23 people (despite strip searches and body cavity searches), they arrested all 117 persons present at the scene. The remaining 94 people were charged with "frequenting a drug house," a misdemeanor offense.

2005 rave raid in Utah (courtesy Portland IndyMedia)
Last Friday, a Genesee Circuit Court judge threw out those arrests, holding that Flint police had violated the constitutional rights of the club-goers. In his decision, Judge Joseph Farah held that police lacked probable cause to arrest people merely for being in the club.

"The District Court erred in finding probable cause to arrest these defendants," Farah wrote in his decision. "To allow to stand the arrests of these 94 defendants would be to allow lumping together people who had been at the club for five minutes or five hours, people who never stopped dancing with those who sat next to a drug deal, people who sat at a table facing the wall with those in the middle of the mischief, and charge those dissimilarly present individuals with equal awareness and knowledge of wrongdoing."

The ACLU of Michigan, which represented the 94 people arrested for being present, greeted the decision with pleasure. "The ordinance under which the arrests were made is in place to protect Flint citizens from actual drug houses. It was never intended to be randomly deployed by the police against law-abiding citizens who go out to clubs to hear music and socialize," said Michigan ACLU executive director Kary Moss in a statement issued the same day. "Judge Joseph Farah's decision vindicates the constitutional rights of our clients and sends a strong message to police departments across the country."

"Judge Farah's opinion correctly concludes that the police had no business arresting any of them," said Ken Mogill, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Michigan who argued the case with Elizabeth Jacobs. "This is a gratifying victory for each of those law-abiding, wrongly arrested individuals and for the rule of law in our community."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


esterling (not verified)

On March 24, 2005, I submitted the following to the Flint Journal as a proposed op-ed. They ignored the submission.

Unlawful Police Raids are Indefensible
by Eric E. Sterling

I’ve finished reading the account in the Flint Journal on Tuesday, March 22, 2005, regarding the raid at the Club What's Next on Pasadena Avenue last Sunday morning.

According to the account, various patrons at the club were subject to strip searches without any individual suspicion that they were in possession of or had distributed illegal drugs. Those searches were illegal and wrong.

According to the account, many patrons of the club were arrested or issued citations accusing them of the crime of "frequenting a known drug establishment." If the establishment meets some legal standard for being a known drug establishment, then a court proceeding to close the club may be in order. However, it is wrong to charge persons with such an offense for patronizing a club operating with and in compliance with a liquor license. Those arrests and citations are wrong.

I am sure that the City of Flint, like most cities has a serious drug problem. However that fact does not justify illegal or unreasonable activity by the city or county police.

It is wrong to accuse persons of a crime on the ground that other persons -- in a crowded place -- have committed some other crime, when there is no evidence that the accused persons have aided and abetted or conspired with the other persons believed to have possessed or sold drugs. Such a charge is utterly alien to the American system of laws.

No properly trained police officer could reasonably believe that such charges are lawful and will be sustained. No prosecutor, properly trained in the law, can reasonably believe that the patrons of a crowded licensed club can be criminally liable for patronizing the club by calling it a "known drug establishment" when it has valid business licenses.

While I am confident that most of the citizens of Flint deplore the use and sale of drugs abhorrent, I am hopeful that they all find the abuse of power and the disregard of our Constitution equally unacceptable.

The patrons of a licensed club who have gone out to enjoy the music and to have a good time must not fear that they can be strip searched at the whim of the police, or unreasonably charged with offenses that are facially invalid.

Your natural inclination may be to defend the police. I urge you not to disregard the rights of people who attend music shows. Surely we are not going to tolerate discrimination by the police in America on the basis of one's musical tastes.

Flint is known in history as one of the places where the human right to strike and to engage in collective bargaining was established in the 1930s. Hopefully Flint will not acquire a new reputation in the history of rights where abuses of music goers will be tolerated in the name of fighting drugs.

Fri, 10/20/2006 - 11:46am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I strongly object to Eric Sterling's propagation of drug-hate propaganda below:

I am sure that the City of Flint, like most cities has a serious drug problem. ...

While I am confident that most of the citizens of Flint deplore the use and sale of drugs abhorrent, ...

Your natural inclination may be to defend the police.

That's a debatable portrayal, "a serious drug problem", given that the problem is Prohibition. It's debatable whether "most" people "deplore" drugs -- Sterling should quit spreading this charged language and attitude which is defined and encouraged by the Prohibitionists.

It's not clear that many people have a "natural inclination" to defend the police; see here how the supposedly enlightened reformers are shooting themselves in the foot and spreading most unenlightened notions and attitudes in the name of "reform".

Fri, 10/20/2006 - 12:06pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, Anonymous is correct--Eric does rather patronize the prohibitionists that run our governments. Drug use in and of itself is perfectly normal and widespread in the human race. Yes it may be considered a vice, but everybody knows the law will not stop vices.

Stating that "a drug problem exists" is more in the mind of the speaker than in reality. It is a perception held by religious fruit cakes and others similarly afflicted.

As Anonymous said and everybody knows, the drug PROBLEM is the prohibition laws.

Fri, 10/20/2006 - 7:07pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

That's a likely name for this whole situation. My name is J, I was at the club that night, I was arrested, strip searched, and generally humiliated, threatened and treated like a criminal. I watched many people have drugs planted on their person, myself included. This whole situation is out of hand, but be aware that we are not sitting down for it. I hope thru the media the real truth is found out about What's Next. Because after this, I keep asking myself that question. What's Next?

Tue, 03/25/2008 - 2:50pm Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.