When Leonid and Arlene Marmelshtein heard someone on the front porch of their small Southfield ranch house that cold winter night, they thought one of their adult sons had come home to enjoy Hanukkah dinner with them.
But within seconds, Southfield police broke the door down — looking for a suspected marijuana dealing operation — and threw flash-bang grenades, filling the small house with deafening noise, blinding light and smoke.
“I thought they were here to kill us,” Leonid Marmelshtein, 74, said of the police officers, who wore black hoods hiding their faces and had their guns drawn.
Arlene Marmelshtein, 58, ran terrified out the back door in her stocking feet.
Police found no evidence of drug trafficking, but they did find a tiny amount of marijuana belonging to a grown son in a sock drawer. He pleaded to a misdemeanor possession charge and was placed on probation.
The 2004 raid on the Marmelshteins’s home is now the subject of a lawsuit winding its way through U.S. District Court in Detroit. It is one of several civil suits in Michigan and dozens across the country charging that the increasing use of such grenades by police is dangerous and excessive force.
Flash-bang grenades ignite legal battles
Jurors will decide in a civil case what went wrong when a Detroit police officer shot and killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones during an early-morning raid on May 16 in search of a murder suspect.
A central question they will grapple with: Should officers have tossed a flash-bang grenade into the duplex?
Police contend the grenade was necessary for the safety of officers and those inside in order to surprise and distract a suspect considered armed and dangerous. But critics, including Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing Aiyana’s family, and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality contend the use of the grenades is a military-style tactic that is an excessive use of force.