CLEVELAND, Ohio — A group of protesters arrested in May 2015 following widespread demonstrations in response to the acquittal of Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo for his role in the shooting deaths of an unarmed couple filed a federal lawsuit accusing the city of Cleveland and its police department of violating their civil rights.
Jordan Workman, Jessica Barnes, Jasmine Bruce, Dominique Knox, Eric Maxwell, Tommie Pratt and Tanis Quach filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the city, Mayor Frank Jackson and police Chief Calvin Williams.
The case has been assigned to Judge James S. Gwin.
The seven protesters were among more than 70 arrested on May 23, 2015, as hundreds of demonstrators marched in streets across the city.
Brelo was charged with manslaughter in the 2012 police shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Brelo and 12 other officers fired a combined 137 shots into Russell’s car following a high-speed chase that ended in East Cleveland.
Police found no evidence the couple was armed.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John O’Donnell found Brelo not guilty, sparking a day of demonstrations and marches. Skirmishes broke out as night fell and protesters marched through downtown’s crowded entertainment districts.
Police said one person in the group threw a folding sandwich sign into Harry Buffalo on Prospect Avenue and struck a customer on the head. Cellphone video captured a scuffle on East 4th Street near Euclid Avenue, and police got reports of more scuffles on West 6th Street in the Warehouse District.
Officers in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse, then blocked them in the narrow Johnson Court and arrested 71 protesters.
The protesters were kept in jail and did not appear in court until Cleveland Municipal Court’s regular hours resumed on May 25, about 36 hours after their arrests.
Sixty-three of them were charged with only misdemeanors.
The group of seven who filed the lawsuit contend that they committed no crime and that police used unconstitutional crowd-control tactics that stifled their First Amendment right to demonstrate.
The lawsuit also accuses the police department of intentionally holding the demonstrators longer than necessary to keep them from returning to the streets to protest, and keeping them in “filthy conditions” at the jail that included contaminated drinking water and bed bugs.
“The city cannot quiet dissent with bogus arrests and prosecutions,” Jacqueline Greene, a lawyer who filed the suit, said. “In the current political climate, with increased government antagonism toward peaceful protest, it is critical that we protect free speech.”
Williams defended the arrests at the time saying the lawful protests had “degenerated into random acts of violence against people just standing on the street.”
The suit marks the second that the city has been slapped with over the handling of the arrests of protesters following Brelo’s acquittal.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of four protesters who were charged with felonies and argued that police purposefully delayed bringing the four demonstrators and many others before a judge to keep them from potentially returning to the streets.
The city settled that lawsuit out of court and agreed to a new mass arrest policy that was put in place before the 2016 Republican National Convention.