Traverse City News and Events

Was It Racism?

By Beth Milligan | Jan. 13, 2020

It was on a warm, sunny summer evening when the 13-year-old Cadillac student bought some cookies at one of the city’s Dollar Generals before heading home on his bicycle via a section of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, a 92-mile trail that runs from the southeast end of Cadillac’s Lake Mitchell to Comstock Park outside Grand Rapids.

A few minutes into his ride, the youth became alarmed: A car was trailing him on the non-motorized, pedestrian-only trail.

Nervous, he pedaled faster, but the car soon caught up. He spun his legs as fast as he could, but the proximity of the car — now just a car-length or so behind him — terrified him, he would later recount. When he spotted an opening at the side of the trail, he turned and got out of the way of the oncoming car. It continued on its way.

This brief encounter occurred in 2015, but the nature of what happened and why it occurred has been the subject of an investigation and a lawsuit in the years since. The youth is an African American who grew up in the overwhelmingly white city of Cadillac. The car was a Cadillac Police cruiser, driven by an officer who, it would later come to light, had shared racially insensitive memes on Facebook.

In this week's Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker, investigative reporter Patrick Sullivan explores the details of the case, which resulted in the City of Cadillac paying $90,000 to end the lawsuit plaintiff attorney Blake Ringsmuth had filed of behalf of the young man, a result the attorney said amounts to “absolute vindication” for his client.

“This is one of the most important cases of my career,” Ringsmuth says. “It was the proper use of the law to get justice to expose abuse of power against a community member that has no real power. That’s what our justice system, when its being used for its highest purpose, is all about.”

Michael Homier, the attorney who represented the City of Cadillac and its police officer, says Cadillac did not admit any wrongdoing and that the result should not be seen as a vindication for the plaintiffs. Homier says the result of the case was not a settlement, technically. Rather, the sides agreed to undergo a case evaluation, and the city’s insurance company made the call to accept that evaluation, leading to the $90,000 payout. “Cadillac didn’t settle the case, and they didn’t pay any money,” Homier says. “Their insurance carrier paid.”

Was the encounter, as the City of Cadillac would claim, an unfortunate misunderstanding that occurred when the student crossed paths with an officer who was conducting a search for a missing Alzheimer’s patient, or was it, as the youth and his attorney contend, a menacing act of racism? Read more about the case in this week's Northern Expressavailable to read online and on newsstands at nearly 700 spots in 14 counties across northern Michigan.

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