DJC Files Lawsuit Against Detroit Police and Local Landlord for Illegally Evicting Young Mother

The logos for Detroit Will Breathe, Detroit Justice Center, and Detroit Eviction Defense

For Immediate Release
News from Detroit Justice Center, Detroit Will Breathe, and Detroit Eviction Defense

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

***Media Advisory***

Casey Rocheteau, Communications Manager, Detroit Justice Center, 313-736-5957 ext 102

Complaint and exhibits available upon request.

Joins local activist groups Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense in Calling for an End to Police Evictions

DETROIT –  The non-profit law firm Detroit Justice Center has filed a lawsuit against multiple Detroit police officers, the City of Detroit, and a local landlord named Santea Bryant. The suit alleges that last year the police and the landlord illegally evicted a young woman named Whitney Burney and her children from their home. The Complaint, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on December 9, claims that the City of Detroit and its police department’s own policies and practices caused the incident and others like it to occur.

Ms. Burney’s experience garnered significant attention from local media when it happened last year, and protests from local activist groups Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense led Detroit Police officers to apologize to Burney and admit that her eviction “should have never happened.” But Ms. Burney and her supporters say that a simple apology is not enough.

“It was traumatizing,” Whitney Burney says when asked about her eviction at the hands of Detroit Police. “My family lost everything. The police just wouldn’t listen to me.” Burney says she supports changes to how Detroit police handle cases like hers: “I just don’t want what happened to me and my children to happen to anyone else.”

Burney says that she was forced by police to leave her home with only a few bags of clothes and other possessions after her landlord falsely claimed that she was a squatter. She had to leave everything else behind including furniture, appliances, and her children’s Christmas presents. She and her children were homeless for several weeks afterward, until a fundraising effort from Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense helped her rent a new home.

“This is not a case of a few bad apples,” says Joe McGuire, attorney with Detroit Justice Center. “The City of Detroit and its police department have had a longstanding problem with officers conducting illegal evictions on behalf of landlords. And time and time again, it has failed to hold officers accountable or to make needed changes that would address this problem.”

The Detroit Justice Center joins local activist groups Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense in calling for an end to police evictions in the city. “There is no reason for police to get involved in these disputes,” McGuire says. “These matters should be brought before a judge. Eviction cases in Michigan are some of the speediest legal proceedings you can find, especially in cases where squatting is alleged. There is no reason for police to help landlords circumvent that process.”

The Detroit Police Department claims that it only acts to eject squatters, but supporters say Ms. Burney’s case shows that officers on the street should not be entrusted with determining who is a squatter under the law. “She had the keys, she had the lights and gas in her name, she had the whole place furnished, and she had her two eight-year-old children with her – does that sound like any kind of squatter to you?” asks Marie Sims of Detroit Eviction Defense.

The defendants in the lawsuit have yet to file a response. Supporters in Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense say that they will continue to work to pressure the City of Detroit to change its policies. “The City needs to release information to the public,” Pat Driscoll of Detroit Eviction Defense says. “How many times has this happened? And have any officers been disciplined for illegally evicting Detroit tenants? We have a right to know.”

Detroit Will Breathe, a local activist group which focuses on protesting police brutality and misconduct, released a statement which reads “The facts of this case show a central role of the police in our community: to violently repress, harass, and displace working class people for the benefit landlords and real estate speculators. Instead of giving the police over $300 million per year, we should use that money to create safe, high-quality public housing so that people like Ms. Burney and her kids don’t have to suffer the abuse of slumlords.”

  • Detroit Justice Center is a non-profit law firm working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.

  • Detroit Eviction Defense is a coalition of tenants, homeowners, union members, community advocates, and allied groups united in the struggle against foreclosure and eviction.

  • Detroit Will Breathe is a militant youth-led organization formed in the streets of Detroit in the midst of an international movement against police brutality.