Student files lawsuit against East Lansing police officers for conduct in 2010 incident

An MSU student is suing two East Lansing police officers in federal court, according to court documents.

The case involves two officers and Justin Socha, a 38-year-old MSU student who claims two East Lansing police officers coerced him and a friend into spreading glass behind car tires in a parking lot and later wrongfully arrested him.

The case claims that after the MSU football game against Notre Dame in 2010, East Lansing police officers Anthony Fuller and Jeffrey Thomas used intimidation and other tactics to force Socha to sweep broken glass in the street and then spread it behind car tires.

That night, Socha allegedly walked to a house he'd never been to before to pick up a friend who was staying with him. When they came out the back door of the home, the lawsuit claims an officer approached them and threatened to arrest Socha and his friend for prowling and trespassing if they couldn't get the owner of the house to come outside.

After several unsuccessful attempts to get someone in the house to come outside, the officers allegedly gave the pair a broom to sweep broken glass from the street into a nearby parking lot behind car tires. According to the lawsuit, Fuller and Thomas told Socha and his friend would go to jail if they did not complete the task.

One of officers allegedly wanted to evict the residents of the house, saying he worked "very close with the East Lansing Housing Commission and these guys are going to be sorry; I hate these guys."

Socha claims in the lawsuit that he and his friend eventually were allowed to leave, but after they began walking home his friend noticed he was missing money from his pocket. They returned to the scene, where the officers arrested Socha with disorderly and public urination.

Socha was found not guilty of the charge in 2011.

East Lansing police Capt. Jeff Murphy said both officers implicated in the case are still employed and the department is conducting an internal investigation.

"We have a well-established internal investigation procedure," he said. "During that internal investigation procedure, we don't comment on it or discuss the details."

The case seeks unspecified damages, which is a standard for constitutional rights cases that go to federal court, according to Racine Michelle Miller, Socha's lawyer.

Miller said she doesn't think the officers involved will lose their job.

"The majority of my practice involves suing police officers, and the first thing I tell all my clients is the police officer will probably not lose their job," she said. "What I hope comes of this is the officers become better trained in constitutional law."

East Lansing City Attorney Tom Yeadon declined to comment on the details of the case. 

Both Miller and Yeadon said a settlement conference is scheduled for March 27.

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