Detroit Police Commissioner sues city, police department over 2019 arrest

"I put my hands up and they grabbed me from behind and pulled me out of my seat like I was being criminalized, like a criminal that I am not."

It was more than a year ago when the unlikely source of that statement was made from the back of a police cruiser. Willie Burton, the police commissioner from the 5th District in Detroit, had just been placed under arrest for disrupting a police commissioners' meeting while railing against the use of facial recognition technology by the Detroit Police Department. 

Alleging emotional, financial, and physical stress - including a concussion - Burton has filed a civil rights complaint in federal court against the city of Detroit and its police department.

Claiming in a statement to have been falsely arrested, brutalized, and having his political career stifled, Burton said his 1st, 4th, and 5th amendment rights were violated.

The contentious meeting from July 11 surrounded the issue of facial recognition, a controversial technology that the Detroit Police Department has utilized to help make arrests and identify potential suspects in crimes. While the city's police chief argues it has aided the department in making arrests and taking criminals off the street, civil rights leaders ranging from community advocates all the way up to members of Congress have argued it fails to correctly identify Black citizens.

Advocates say the technology has led to the wrongful arrests Michael Oliver and separately Robert Williams. In the case of Williams, the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the department after police arrested him, believing he had stolen Shinola Watches. The ACLU says a "rigged photographic lineup" was preceded by a facial recognition match of Williams. 

However, Chief James Craig has argued those cases had other problems and facial recognition technology isn't the only tool used when making arrests. Instead, it serves as one component in a long process of identifying criminals and making arrests.

Along with his outburst, Burton claims to have also been arrested for speaking out against the unlawful habit of the Police Commissioners' Board holding closed meetings to discuss important policy issues where the public wasn't allowed to attend. 

"If this is how the police treat a duly elected Police Commissioner while the public is watching, one can only imagine the treatment the average citizen can expect to receive at the hands of Detroit Police when the cameras are not rolling," read a statement from Burton's attorney.

FOX 2 has reached out for comment from the Detroit Police Department but has yet to hear back. 

Burton plans on holding a press conference Thursday at 2:30 p.m. to discuss the lawsuit.