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Ice Cream Truck Drivers File Civil Rights Complaint Against Hamtramck Police

The brothers say they were falsely detained without food, water, medicine, or access to a phone

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Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Two Yemeni-American ice cream drivers have file a civil rights complaint against the Hamtramck Police Department alleging that officers falsely accused them of insurance fraud and detained them for nearly two days without access to a phone, food, water, or medicine.

According to the WXYZ, brothers Omar Wassel and Mohamed Wasel say they were issued tickets back in March for an expired license plate. Police impounded their truck and removed the plates. The brothers went to the station to reclaim their truck the same day bringing with them proof of insurance and their license plate but were informed that they needed even more documents. The Arab-American Civil Rights League, which is representing the brothers, says when the men returned the next day with new plates and their proof of insurance, police arrested them for insurance fraud. "During this incident the officers were unnecessarily aggressive with us and continued to accuse me of having fake documents and laughed at me and humiliated me," Wassel writes in the complaint.

The brothers allege that they were held in jail for nearly two days and were refused use of the telephone, food, water, and Wassel’s asthma inhaler. Attorney Nabih Ayad says State Farm Insurance agents also visited the station to provide proof of insurance and get the brothers released but were turned away by police. The pair were released after police verified their insurance and within the 72-hour maximum window for detaining someone without filing charges, reports The Detroit News.

The brothers and their representation are accusing the police department of unfairly harassing them because of their Arab-American status. "They don’t like Arabs there [in Hamtramck]," Wasel says. "It’s so bad. They treated us like dogs ... because we’re Arab; Muslim."

"Police don’t usually arrest someone for not having insurance," Ayads adds. In a statement to The Detroit Free Press, the attorney further argued that the incident represented a pattern of harassment of Arab and Bangladeshi communities by the Hamtramck police.

Hamtramck’s mayor declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but city council president Saad Almasmari — himself a representative from the Yemeni community — says he feels the issue is the result of a "misunderstanding." He continues: "There's good relations between the police and the Arab community and all the Hamtramck communities."

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is expected to take steps towards an investigation of the complaint within the next several days.