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Detroit man sues women who allegedly called police on him for 'gardening while black'

The women "should be sitting at the defendant's table for stalking and harassment charges," not the gardener, a judge said at a 2018 trial.
Image: Marc Peeples gardens with his children on Liberated Farms.
Marc Peeples gardens with his children on Liberated Farms.Courtesy of Robert Burton-Harris

A black Detroit man is suing three white women alleging they repeatedly filed false police reports and accused him of various crimes that they knew he did not commit to keep him away from a public park in his old neighborhood.

Marc Peeples, 33, claims in the lawsuit filed last week that the women fabricated the complaints against him in calls to Detroit police from July 2017 to May 2018 as he built a community garden in a city park.

Peeples, who describes himself as an entrepreneur and urban gardener, told NBC News that he spent almost two years cultivating the overgrown park in a Detroit neighborhood into a big garden of flowers and vegetables.

For half that time, the women — Deborah Nash, Martha Callahan and Callahan's granddaughter, Jennifer Morris — sought to get him "incarcerated or seriously injured by law enforcement," according to the lawsuit filed in Wayne County Third Circuit Court in Michigan.

The women live across from or near the park, the lawsuit says. Peeples said he grew up in the area but now resides elsewhere in the city.

Peeples and his attorney, Robert Burton-Harris, describe it as a case of "gardening while black."

Nash, Callahan and Morris could not immediately be reached for comment.

In March 2018, the women met with administrators at the Detroit Police Department and made a series of accusations against Peeples, including that he had stolen from homes near the park and that on several occasions, he had threatened to burn down their homes and kill them, according to the lawsuit and a trial transcript.

In another incident in May 2018, Peeples told NBC News that he was at the park teaching a group of home-schooled children about gardening when Callahan called 911 and reported that he was a convicted pedophile who could not legally be around children.

Police responded and he was arrested in front of the students, Peeples said. He has never been accused of or charged with such crimes.

The women's claims that Peeples threatened them resulted in his being charged with three counts of stalking. Each count carried a sentence of up to a year in jail.

At his trial in October 2018, District Judge E. Lynise Bryant dismissed the case before it went to the jury, describing it as "disgusting" and "a waste of the court's time and resources."

The judge said the women "should be sitting at the defendant's table for stalking and harassment charges," not Peeples.

The lawsuit claims that Peeples suffered economic injury, including lost job opportunities and canceled contracts, because of the charges. He is seeking $300,000 in damages, as well as attorneys' fees and other costs.

Peeples said Tuesday that he did not garden at the park during the trial and is now happy to be back at work doing what's important — maintaining the park and teaching children the value of horticulture.

"Since the trial went the way that it went, it actually has been a positive by bringing light to what I’m doing in the community," he said.