On November 22, 2016, the American Freedom Law Center, in cooperation with the Thomas More Society of Chicago, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the City of Westland, its Chief of Police, several police officers, the Northland Family Planning Clinic, its CEO and two of its employees on behalf of Kimberley Thames, a pro-life advocate who was falsely arrested and imprisoned in violation of her constitutional rights.
On August 27, 2016, Kimberley Thames went to the Northland facility on Ford Road in Westland, Michigan to be a witness for life. She silently prayed on the public sidewalks surrounding the facility. She had no weapons with her. She never does. Ms. Thames abhors violence, including the violence of abortion. All she had with her that day was a Rosary and a pro-life sign.
As she would often do, Ms. Thames engaged the Northland security guard on duty that day, assuring him that she was praying for him as well as the unborn babies. She also told the guard that she would pray he would find another job—a job that would protect life, not defend death.
The guard appeared agitated by Ms. Thames’ suggestion, claiming that his job was “fine” and that he was there to protect everyone. Ms. Thames told the guard that she was happy to hear that he would protect her as well. She had never heard this from the other guards.
Shortly after this conversation, Ms. Thames departed the area momentarily to use the restroom at a nearby store. Upon returning to Northland, Ms. Thames noticed several police cruisers and the security guard talking to a uniformed officer. Ms. Thames had no idea why they were there.
One of the officers approached Ms. Thames and asked her if she told the security guard that she was going to bomb the clinic. Ms. Thames emphatically rejected such an absurd accusation.
Unbeknownst to Ms. Thames, a Northland employee and the security guard called 911 and made a false claim that Ms. Thames was threatening to bomb the Northland facility.
On the 911 call, the dispatcher asked the Northland caller if Ms. Thames had anything in her possession “that appeared to indicate that she had a bomb,” and the caller responded, “no, just the sign,” referring to the pro-life sign Ms. Thames had been holding at the facility.
Aside from searching Ms. Thames’ vehicle—a search which revealed no evidence of criminal activity—the officers didn’t bother to conduct an investigation. Indeed, none of the officers at the scene bothered to interview the Catholic nun who was outside with Ms. Thames the entire time. The nun was trying to tell the officers that they were arresting the wrong person. She told the officers that Ms. Thames never made any threats and that the guard was lying. The officers ignored what she was telling them.
The officers took Ms. Thames into custody, telling her that she was “under arrest for making terrorist threats.” The officers placed Ms. Thames in handcuffs, put her in a police cruiser, and brought her to the Westland police station.
While the police were booking Ms. Thames, she was sobbing. She couldn’t understand why they were doing this to her. She did nothing wrong. She kept telling the officers that she was innocent and that the security guard was lying, which he was.
It was Saturday morning, and Ms. Thames was placed in a city holding cell. She would remain in jail for nearly three days. She was eventually released on Monday, August 29, after a city detective finally took the time to review the case, correctly concluding that no crime was committed. But the harm was already done—an innocent woman lost her freedom and was imprisoned.
While in the city’s custody, Ms. Thames was not allowed to make a telephone call or to speak with anyone outside of the jail. She was alone and concerned for her safety. She had never experienced anything like this before.
The food the city served in the holding cell was terrible; it turned Ms. Thames’ stomach. Ms. Thames has health issues and has to eat healthy foods. She couldn’t eat.
Throughout the night, the city jailers paraded various criminals in and out of the same holding cell. Most of them were promptly released, but not Ms. Thames.
At various times, Ms. Thames tried to put toilet paper over her eyes to block the glaring lights so she could at least try to get some sleep on the cold and damp concrete slab of the holding cell, but the city jailers wouldn’t allow it. Ms. Thames never slept. Her body constantly ached. She was awake for over 50 hours. It reminded her of torture.
At one point, Ms. Thames tried using a stale honeybun that her city jailers had given her for breakfast the day before as a pillow to rest her head. It didn’t work.
The holding cell didn’t have a private restroom, just a toilet in the corner for everyone to use. The conditions were far from sanitary, and there was no privacy for Ms. Thames, just constant anguish.
The stress of Ms. Thames’ arrest and custody was exacerbated by the fact that she is a claustrophobic. Just being inside the detention cell was causing her great anguish and pain. Only prayer kept her from breaking down completely.
To add insult to injury, upon being released, Ms. Thames requested a ride to her car, which, after searching it, the police officers left in the parking lot of a business that was adjacent to Northland. The jailers refused. Ms. Thames walked to her car and drove home.
CASE UPDATE (12/20/17): We filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking that the court rule in our favor on the issue of liability as a matter of law. Upon ruling in our favor, we will pursue damages.
CASE UPDATE (4/20/18): The Court denied the parties’ motions, sending the case to a jury.
CASE UPDATE: The defendants’ appealed their denial of qualified immunity, and Thames cross-appealed the denial of her motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The case is currently pending appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
CASE UPDATE (9/21/18): We filed our opening brief (listed as “Second Brief” since our client is the appellee for the defendants’ appeal of the qualified immunity issue).
CASE UPDATE (11/28/18): We filed our reply brief (listed as “Fourth Brief”), which now completes the briefing in this case. We await oral argument in the Sixth Circuit.
CASE UPDATE (12/19/19): We filed a petition for rehearing en banc, asking the full court to review the case.
CASE UPDATE (6/8/20). We filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to review this important First Amendment case.