CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has filed a lawsuit today on behalf of four individuals arrested at the Brelo verdict protest and its members against the city of Cleveland and Cleveland officials Mayor Frank G. Jackson and Chief of Police Calvin Williams. The plaintiffs are seeking damages for their unlawful arrest and detainment.
The demonstrators were jailed longer than necessary, so they couldn’t go back to the streets to protest—a clear violation of their First Amendment right of free speech and assembly. In an effort to protect future protesters from the same treatment, the ACLU is asking for the judge to issue a preliminary order for police to end this practice immediately.
ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Freda Levenson, said “It’s questionable whether any order to disperse was given and it’s clear that even if an order had been given the protesters had no opportunity to leave. The police surrounded and trapped them in an alley. This violates their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable seizures. What’s more, the police detained most of the protesters for two nights, much longer than what was reasonable, just to keep them from engaging in further protest activities.”
On the morning of May 23, Cleveland Division of Police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty on two counts of voluntary manslaughter for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Protests followed the announcement and by the evening well over 100 demonstrators had gathered in downtown Cleveland, peacefully marching together in the streets. Police funneled a group of the protesters into Johnson Court, a small alley between West 6th and West 9th streets, and trapped the protesters inside. More than 70 individuals were arrested and many were eventually charged with failing to disperse, including plaintiffs Stephen McNulty, who was photographing the event, and Khalil Weathers, Jason Rodney, and Robin Goist, who were protesters.
A month later, during a meeting about the arrests among city and police officials and civil rights groups, CDP Deputy Police Chief Dornat “Wayne” Drummond stated that the demonstrators were held so that they would be unable to continue protesting.
Levenson said, “Arresting and detaining these individuals for so long sends a message to any would-be protesters that they will be punished if they engage in their constitutionally guaranteed right. The freedom to peaceably protest and assemble is critical to a working democracy.”
Joseph Mead is a cooperating attorney on the case.