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Man who had police canister shot at his face during Michigan protests plans to file lawsuit

Posted at 7:07 AM, Jul 29, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A man who had a metal police canister launched at his face during protests in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30 is planning to file a lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department.

An attorney representing Sean Hart says the planned lawsuit will seek to cover some of the medical and economic damages Hart suffered after the incident.

Police say that on May 30, Hart was driving in downtown Grand Rapids as Black Lives Matter protests were taking place following the death of George Floyd. They say Hart was met by a line of police officers who were blocking the roadway at the intersection of Fulton and Sheldon.

Police say he stopped at the intersection for about three minutes while playing N.W.A.'s "F*** the Police" from his car.

Police say they told Hart to leave the area. Hart claims police aimed a "40 mm single-shot launcher" towards him, but did not fire.

Hart left the area but returned a few minutes later to tell officers he was upset with the way they handled the situation.

As Hart approached a line of officers, he was hit with a mist of pepper spray by one officer. Seconds later, Officer Phillip Reinink fired a metal canister at Hart's face.

"Officer Reinink recognized immediately following his actions that he had made a mistake, a mistake we all regret under the pressure caused by the hostile environment, unruly crowds and the type of chaos that none of our officers in our department had ever seen," Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said Tuesday morning.

Officer Joe Garrett, a member of GRPD's Special Response Team, said Reinink had mistakenly loaded the canister into his launcher when he meant to load another type of canister that would have just sent a plume of pepper spray towards Hart.

"This is a long-range projectile. The objective of this projectile is to be launched from a place of distance. The range is 125 to 150 yards, typically from behind the line into a crowd," Garrett said.

The canister Reinink meant to fire was a "MUZZLE BLAST." Garrett said the MUZZLE BLAST rounds are similar in appearance, and that no projectile would have fired from the launcher.

Ven Johnson, one of the attorneys representing Hart, said the incident comes down to more than a simple mistake made in the heat of the moment.

"Are you going to buy this? Because we all know it's a complete and utter lie," Johnson said Tuesday afternoon. "Who do you think loaded the gun? It's his job to know whether you got a bullet in there or a water bottle."

Payne announced Tuesday that the department had completed an internal investigation into the incident. Reinink was given a two-day suspension without pay.

"When they suspend an officer, quote, without pay, that tells you that they have found that he or she ... violated their own policies and procedures," Johnson said. "They're lucky they didn't incinerate him or somebody else nearby him. He was not advancing on them. He was not assaulting them. He wasn't touching them."

The Kent County Prosecutor's Office had already announced that they would not be filing any criminal charges in the case.

Payne said the department would be announcing changes to their use of force policy on Aug. 11.

"This was a chaotic situation," Payne said Tuesday. "We had never experienced that before. We prepare for these types of incidents. A mistake was made, and we fully acknowledge that. Officer Reinink acknowledges that."

"We will continue to learn from this incident and make sure we're serving the community well."

This story was originally published by Michael Martin on WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.