A teenager is suing Detroit Public Schools and two district police officers for allegedly violating his rights after he was locked up for more than a month over a snowball.
Dominique Rondeau was sent to juvenile detention after the officers said he threw a clump of ice and snow at a police car parked outside East English Village High School, shattering the vehicle’s windshield.
Neither officer saw Rondeau, then a 16-year-old sophomore, commit the crime. But both said they clearly spotted him on security camera footage.
When the video was played in court, however, they couldn’t identify the perpetrator. The charge was swiftly dismissed, leaving Rondeau and his family relieved but seeking answers.
“The only evidence they had was the camera, and the camera couldn’t see anything,” Rondeau, now 18, said.
Rondeau, who is emotionally impaired, has filed a federal court lawsuit alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. The lawsuit says police arrested him without probable cause or a warrant, a violation of his constitutional rights.
DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski declined to comment. In court filings, District Attorney Rebecca Hicks has denied wrongdoing.
When classes let out at East English Village on Dec. 16, 2013, students started throwing snowballs.
Police Officer Floyd Jenkins saw “a large white object thrown from a crowd of three to four male students,” according to a police report. The object broke the car windshield.
The group of students included Rondeau, Jenkins wrote.
Jenkins and another officer, Freddie Wilson, watched the security video and arrested Rondeau later that day at his grandmother’s house a mile from the school.
“They knocked,” Rondeau said. “I cracked the big door open to see who it was. … They opened the (screen) door, and they just walked in, and they started putting me in handcuffs.”
Rondeau was taken to the county’s juvenile facility and charged with destroying police property. A referee set his bond at 10% of $20,000.
With his family unable to afford the $2,000 needed to release him, he remained in detention for nearly 40 days — including the Christmas and New Year’s holidays — before a judge granted his lawyer’s request for a personal bond.
At the bench trial Feb. 26, both officers testified they saw Rondeau on the video. But neither one could pick him out when Assistant Prosecutor Katherine Gonzales played the footage in court.
“You couldn’t see the snowball hitting the car, and you can’t tell it was Dominique,” Rondeau’s defense attorney, Lynda McGhee, said.
The prosecution had no other evidence. The judge dismissed the charge.
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SOURCE: Detroit Free Press – Ann Zaniewski