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A double-amputee called Taylor police for help. They took his dog. Now the ACLU is suing the city.

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Anna Dudkova
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Dale Bryant loves his dog, King.

“Yeah, he helps me plenty,” Bryant said as King, a german shepherd, sniffed and wagged his tail on a Zoom call this week.

Bryant has both legs amputated. He gets around by laying face down on a modified wheelchair, and pushing the wheels with his arms, which puts him eye-to-eye with King. Bryant lives alone at his house in Taylor, outside of Detroit, just him and King.

“He protects me,” Bryant said. “When I’m outside, he’ll actually pull me into the house … because he’s strong as a bull.”

King wasn’t much more than a puppy in the spring of 2021 when Bryant says one night he got King settled in his crate for the night and went to watch TV. Then he heard a commotion back in the kitchen.

“I hear something moving around, and I’m like, ‘What is that?’” Bryant said.

"This is my dog now"

It was King, and he was tangled in a line that Bryant uses to allow him to go outside. Bryant said the more King struggled, the worse he got tangled. He tried calling his sister for help. But she’s a 20-minute drive away.

“And I didn’t want him to break his leg, and injure himself further. So I said the best thing for me to do is call for some help.” Bryant said. “So I called the police department — 911.”

Bryan's account of what happened next is laid out in a civil rights complaint filed by the ACLU of Michigan in federal court Thursday. The organization says officers' actions demonstrate problems with police training and attitudes toward people with disabilities.

The ACLU says the Taylor police officers who arrived started by mocking Bryant before they even got in the door. While King was struggling to get free from the line inside his crate, the ACLU says the young dog defecated, and made a mess. When the officers worked to free the dog, the ACLU’s complaint says they accused Bryant of not taking care of King.

“The officers did not talk about anything with Mr. Bryant,” the federal lawsuit claims. “Instead, they freed King from the lead line, concluded with no basis that the feces was “at least a week” old, and told Mr. Bryant that animal control was coming to take King. The officers did not listen to Mr. Bryant when he tried to address their concerns, and they did not give him an opportunity to explain.”

As this was happening, Bryant’s sister arrived, and when she tried to diffuse the situation by saying she could take King to her house, the city’s animal control officer refused.

“No, this is my dog now,” the animal control officer said, according to the ACLU.

“It was obvious that they were looking … for criminal activity, when this was a non-criminal emergency situation,” said Syeda Davidson, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, who reviewed video of the incident.

Seizing "property"

The civil rights organization has previously raised concerns about the police department in the small city downriver from Detroit, filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice last year asking the federal agency to investigate the Taylor Police Department for numerous incidents of use of force that the ACLU said showed possible racial bias.

Dale Bryant, who is Black, and King were mentioned in that complaint to the DOJ as an example of the “toxic culture” in the city’s police department, but Davidson said the incident calls for its own case.

“I know that our pets are beloved companions and our pets are our family,” Davidson said. But, she noted, pets are considered property under the law.

“So this is an unlawful taking of property,” Davidson said, “which is not allowed under the Fourth Amendment to the constitution.”

King spent four months in a city kennel, Bryant said, as he fought for the right to have him back, and to have animal cruelty charges dismissed.

Davidson said the incident also calls into question specific Taylor Police Department policies that lead officers to look for a crime when they’re dealing with people with disabilities.

The ACLU of Michigan filed its complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. It asks a federal judge to force the city to change its policies to make sure incidents like the one with Bryant and King can’t happen again. It’s also seeking monetary damages from the city.

The case also raises broader issues about how cities handle policing, Davidson said.

“We really want municipalities to rethink how they are responding to emergency calls that don’t involve a crime,” Davidson said. “And if that response is going to involve police officers, we think that police officers should be better trained in de-escalation techniques.”

The Taylor mayor’s office didn’t respond to an email and a call seeking comment on Wednesday.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.