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Flint, MI— A Flint family is saying Michigan State Police violated their civil rights and traumatized “innocent minor children and adults” after raiding the wrong home.
Around 10:45 p.m. on April 21, 2021, several MSP officers and partner police agencies “smashed in” the door of Renee Dunigan and her adult daughter Michelle Colston’s rental home on Garland Street in search of a homicide suspect, Attorney Teresa Bingman said during a press conference at Joy Tabernacle Church on June 8.
In a letter to the Department of Justice, Bingman and two other attorneys, Bill Goodman and Julie Hurwitz, claimed officers were conducting a no-knock warrant.
MSP said officers announced their presence twice before entering the home.
Family members said they didn’t hear anything and that following the raid, officers explained to them why no-knock warrants are necessary to surprise suspects.
“They were not denying that this was a no-knock warrant, ever,” Aaron Dunigan said, son of Renee Dunigan and a pastor at Joy Tabernacle.
Inside the house, MSP SWAT and police officers “rousted” the mother and daughter as well as Colston’s three children ages 14, 10, and 3 from their sleep and held them at gunpoint for over an hour before realizing they were in the wrong house, according to the letter.
In a written statement, MSP officials said, “The MSP has apologized to the family and immediately began to work with both the landlord and the renters to remedy the situation, which included paying for repairs to the front door, which was damaged during entry.”
The family said the door has not yet been repaired.
Goodman, who is representing the family, said an unreliable witness provided incorrect information to the MSP about the whereabouts of the suspect.
“They received information that this was supposed to be the house. They received it from a confidential informant who, within minutes after they learned they were in the wrong house, they determined had intentionally given them false information,” Goodman said.
MSP officials confirmed the confidential informant “knowingly” misinformed police.
“A request for criminal charges against this subject for providing false information to law enforcement will be forthcoming,” MSP officials said.
The family shared their story at the June 8 press conference. They are calling on the DOJ to investigate MSP along with Flint and Genesee County partner police agencies for what they say are discriminatory practices. They are also calling on Michigan legislature to ban no-knock warrants.
Flint Black Lives Matter leader DeWaun Robinson and Pastor of Community Connections at Flint Central Church of the Nazarene Todd Womack also spoke at the June 8 event.
“Our lived experiences are not up for question this afternoon. The question is, are we as a society ready to do something different, and recognize the value of Black and brown people in this country?” Womack said.
Renee Dunigan was sitting in her living room with her 14-year-old granddaughter.
“I saw flashing lights outside my door, which I’m very nosey I usually get up and see what’s happening, but God just told me ‘don’t move.’ So, I decided to sit there,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “A few minutes after that, the door was kicked in and we were told to put our hands up, not knowing what’s going on.”
Colston, who had just gotten out of the shower when the officers arrived, heard her toddler crying from the other room, she said. With her phone in her hand, she left the bathroom to see what was wrong.
“All I see is SWAT with shields from the floor up to here,” Colston said gesturing near her chest. “All they said is ‘Drop the phone! Drop the phone!’…. My initial thought was I see all of these white cops. Everything that’s going on in the world right now, I’m Black, I’m already guilty. So, the first thing I did was I dropped my phone,” she said.
The family said they were instructed to sit on the couch and were not allowed to call family members or use their phones.
Colston was only wearing her nightgown and said she asked officers if she could cover herself with a nearby blanket. She said they allowed her to do so.
For over an hour, family members said an officer pointed a gun at them, which Renee Dunigan described as “big with beams.”
Aaron Dunigan said a neighbor called him when he saw police cars arrive at his mother’s home.
“I got a phone call about 10:45 at night, it was a Wednesday, and on the other end was frantic neighbor, who was just like, ‘Hey, man, the police are raiding your mom’s house! The police are raiding your mom’s house!’” Aaron Dunigan said.
He said he stood outside for 45 minutes in the cold not knowing if his family was “dead or alive.” He asked officers for information but was told they couldn’t tell him anything, he said.
The family said officers refused to answer their questions while the raid was taking place.
The raid ended after the MSP realized they were in the wrong home. They left promptly but returned shortly afterwards to raid the home next door, Aaron Dunigan said.
“I wouldn’t want to live in a world without police. But I wouldn’t want to live in a world where the police can just come into your house, do what they want when they want without any consequences or repercussions. So, we are calling for an investigation into the policies into how they conduct business into the communities in which look like we do,” Aaron Dunigan said.
Bingman said the raid violated the family’s right to equal protection secured by the Fourteenth Amendment.
“In addition to violating several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the police left this family in a state of mind that has forever changed their lives,” Bingham said.
Colston said her 14-year-old daughter was an A and B student prior to the raid, but dealing with the trauma caused her grades to drop dramatically.
“My 14-year-old didn’t sleep for weeks. As a parent, my number one job is to protect them. And for me to be sitting inches away from my daughter and for her to tell me ‘Mom, I thought I was going to die, did you feel like you were going to die?’ As a parent, that’s one of the biggest failures to feel like at the hands of the police who are supposed to protect us. My daughter’s like ‘My mom is right here and she can’t save me,’” Colston said.
Colston’s three-year-old has also been affected. The family said he wanted to become a police officer before the raid and that Chase, from the children’s show “PAW Patrol,” was his favorite character.
“Now, he don’t want Chase no more,” Aaron Dunigan said.” Every time he sees (police) he thinks they’re on their way to his house to break in his house again. That just should not happen to a three-year-old who, a week before, wanted to be a police officer.”
The family said they are speaking out for other Black families.
“We don’t feel like they should be able to do the same to other families. To be able to go in and terrorize their house and their families and just leave. It’s not okay,” Colston said.
Goodman said a no-knock warrant would never be executed in a White neighborhood and that state police have a long history of brutality in Flint’s northside, a primarily Black community.
“What we’re talking about here is illegal entry and that’s the problem. That’s been a policy problem at Michigan State Police, other police departments, and agencies have been doing all around the country,” Robinson said. “They only do these no-knock warrants in Black communities. The state wouldn’t do this out in Fenton. They wouldn’t do this out in Grand Blanc.”
MSP officials said these “allegations” are not “accurate or reflective of the policies and procedures of the MSP relating to the execution of search warrant.”
The family said they met with MSP officials on several occasions but were unable to come to an agreement because the MSP department hasn’t given them refused to hand over documents, including the search warrant.
Attorneys for the family are working to secure bodycam footage.
“It’s going to require thoroughgoing investigation. There should be an internal investigation within the Michigan State Police Department,” Goodman said. “That investigation should include findings. It should include findings of fault if there is fault, and it should include training, supervision, and discipline those sponsors who made a series of terrible mistakes.”
Goodman also said the family needs lifetime medical care and counseling.
The family said in addition to the letter to the DOJ, they intend on pursuing legal action against all responsible individuals, parties, and government entities.