CADILLAC — The lawyer representing an African American youth who claimed he was the victim of discrimination by a Cadillac police officer said a $90,000 payout by the city’s insurance provider was “complete vindication‘ of his case.
The lawsuit claimed that John Doe — an African American minor who has not been identified by the court — was “lawfully riding his bicycle home from the store on the (White Pine Trail) in Cadillac‘ on Aug. 15, 2015, when Cadillac officer Thomas Wade drove onto the trail in his cruiser and followed closely behind him, eventually forcing him off the trail.
On Dec. 3, a stipulation order of dismissal with prejudice was filed with 28th Circuit Court, which was the result of both sides accepting the case evaluation that occurred in late September, according to Cadillac legal counsel Mike Homier.
He said the case evaluation is a form of alternative dispute resolution and is required in these types of lawsuits unless it is deemed not suitable.
“It is a panel of three judges and they look at (the case) and issue an award, which is just to say they are looking to resolve it,‘ Homier said. “If either side rejects (the case evaluation) then it would continue. If one accepts it and one rejects it then it would continue. If both accept it, then the case is finished.‘
He said the initial claim by the plaintiffs was far higher than the $90,000 issued as a result of the case evaluation. As a result, Homier said the insurance company recommended the city accept the evaluation so they didn’t get hit with sanctions such as attorney fees and costs.
“I wasn’t sure the other party would accept it, but they did. The insurance company wrote a check and the case was dismissed,‘ Homier said.
He also said because both sides accepted the case evaluation there was no finding of liability, which means neither the city or Wade were found to be at fault. In the end, Homier said this becomes a business decision for the insurance company and the city continues to dispute the allegations.
John Doe lawyer Blake K. Ringsmuth, with Ringsmuth Wuori PLLC, said under the circumstances of the case, he believes the $90,000 monetary award was “fair and reasonable‘ and “sent a message to the city something went very wrong that day.‘
“The system that’s in place to protect citizens failed,‘ Ringsmuth said. “I hope they have attempted to address a dark chapter in their history.‘
Ringsmuth also said he disagreed with Homier’s assertion that the case evaluation acceptance by both parties is an indication that the city is not liable for what happened that day.
“You don’t pay $90,000 in a case that isn’t completely legitimate,‘ said Ringsmuth, “especially when the issue raises concerns about the legality of police department conduct.‘
As for John Doe, Ringsmuth said he’s “thankful that someone took him seriously and believed in him‘ and that he hopes the case will bring to light the challenges those in the African American community face when attempted to redress civil rights grievances.
According to court documents, Wade and another officer were searching the White Pine Trail for a man with Alzheimer’s disease who was reported to be missing when the incident involving John Doe occurred. They later found the man on the trail.
The five counts originally alleged in the lawsuit were assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, gross negligence, violation of the Elliot-Larson Civil Rights Act, and ELCRA retaliation.
The ELCRA retaliation count alleged that then-police chief Todd Golnick made statements that could be interpreted as threats against John Doe’s mother.
In February 2019, Wexford County Circuit Court Judge William Fagerman dismissed the race-related charges, stating that not enough evidence was presented to show a connection between racist motives and Wade’s actions on the trail.
On Oct. 1, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed Fagerman’s decision to dismiss the count of violation of the ELCRA — a decision that Ringsmuth believes “changed the complexion of the case.‘