Detroit city officials are debating doing business with an attorney who allegedly harassed an activist with a disability.
City Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López put a resolution forward urging the law department to end the contract with the Allen Brothers law firm. Its founder, James Allen, works for the city of Hamtramck and also does work for Detroit and other suburbs.
Charles Blackwell, a transparency advocate who uses a wheelchair, is suing Allen for sending discriminatory emails about his disability. Blackwell was unintentionally targeted in a drive-by shooting, leaving the lower half of his body paralyzed. Blackwell claims Allen targeted his disability after he criticized Hamtramck government officials.
“Saw you seated today and yesterday and will see you seated for as long as the Good Lord sentenced you,” Allen allegedly emailed Blackwell. “But you surely deserved that bullet God sent to put you where you are when you read this and where you will ALWAYS be, haha.”
Allen referred to Blackwell as “wheelboy” in other instances, telling him to “sit down and stay down where that bullet justly put you.”
Following the filing of the federal suit, Hamtramck temporarily put Allen on unpaid leave. He has since returned to work.
City officials in Detroit say Allen’s actions disqualify him from further work with the city.
“The fact that we would not have the same type of consequences for an entity that’s being discriminatory towards members of our population, the disability community specifically, I think is incredibly problematic and troublesome,” Castañeda-López says.
“There’s certain protected classes and I think the comments made by this entity are incredibly egregious.”
The Allen Brothers law firm has an $825,000 contract with the City of Detroit. Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia, who is the city’s top attorney and oversees the Allen Brothers contract, previously worked as a partner of the group.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Chuck Raimi, who works under Garcia in Detroit’s law department, says the Allen Brothers law firm handles a large caseload for Detroit.
“The Corporation Counsel’s position is that City Council does not have the authority to require the contract be terminated,” Raimi says.
He says the law department reserves the right to amend and end the contract.
“What we’re trying to do here is protect the City and its citizens to the best of our ability.”
The resolution was approved in committee and will go before the rest of City Council in the coming weeks.