This case arose out of a disturbing pattern of conduct involving allegations of racially biased treatment in Cleveland’s trendy Warehouse District restaurants and clubs. There have been several complaints about club security, off-duty Cleveland police, selectively enforcing dress codes or other policies only against African American men, and then using that alleged infraction as an excuse to throw them out of the club and call the police. It has received significant media attention in the Greater Cleveland area.

One of those incidents involved Alvin Williams, an adult African American male. On July 17, 2010, Williams was arrested and charged with the crimes of aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest while in Cleveland’s warehouse district. Williams was in the company of approximately ten other individuals and was ordered to leave The Velvet Dog club because he did not meet their dress code. Williams was wearing a baseball cap but noticed that other Caucasian patrons were in the night club and were permitted to wear similar baseball caps and head attire. The incident was video recorded by a person in Alvin Williams’ party as documentary proof of the disparity in enforcing the dress code, although the camera has been confiscated by the police and not returned. Although Williams felt that the incident was racially motivated, he and his party left the Velvet Dog and went to another night club in the district. Approximately one hour later the group returned to the general vicinity to go to Panini’s restaurant, which is located next door to the Velvet Dog and, apparently, employs the same Cleveland Police for security. The police officer that had previously ejected Alvin Williams and his group from the Velvet Dog refused to permit the group into Panini, allegedly because they had been previously excluded from the Velvet Dog. Panini has no dress code and the group was neither belligerent nor disruptive. Non-African Americans were permitted to patronize Panini although Alvin Williams and his group were not permitted entry.

In addition to Alvin Williams, five other persons were also arrested and charged with crimes involving obstruction of official business, aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. We represent Mr. Williams and are working with counsel representing the other defendants.

Legal Theory

Cleveland Police appear to be engaged in racially biased policing in the Warehouse District targeting African American men. As a result, Williams’ 14th Amendment rights to Equal Protection and Due Process have been violated.

Status Update

On March 28, 2011, we filed a joint motion to dismiss the cases against Alvin Williams and Chanel Christian on speedy trial grounds, asserting that the time within which to try them had expired. The court denied the motion and set trial to commence on April 6, 2011 Our client, Alvin Williams, chose to take diversion rather than go to trial. Counsel for Ms. Christian asked us to stay on as co-counsel for her trial, and the General Counsel approved. Trial was held April 6-8, 2011, and Ms. Christian was found not guilty.

In the end, of the five West 6th Street defendants, four were exonerated and one took diversion. Alvin Williams was referred to the Selective Intervention Program (diversion). Chanel Christian and Gabriel Gonzales were found NOT GUILTY. Donald Black and Craig Garner had their charges dismissed on Speedy Trial Grounds.

Date filed

July 17, 2010