Top of police car – red lights

CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is looking into a Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority police officer’s response to a confrontation with a crowd of individuals, who were attending the Movement for Black Lives Convening Sunday, July 26 at Cleveland State University. The transit officer in question indiscriminately and continuously discharged pepper spray into the faces of people blocking a police car.

“The use of pepper spray by law enforcement as a means of crowd control is questionable,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.  “No use of force should be applied to groups of people. We will look into this matter further and will review both the RTA’s use of force policy and the actions of the officer. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about what happened.”

According to Link, the inquiry will seek to determine:

  • Whether the Greater Cleveland RTA has the appropriate policies in place on the use of force, particularly in the application of pepper spray, as well as provided specialized training to its officers in its use.
  • If the transit officer correctly followed RTA procedures in the use of pepper spray.
  • If multiple warnings to disperse were given, and if the warnings could be heard by the crowd.
  • Whether enough time was given for the crowd to disperse before the use of the pepper spray by the officer.
  • Whether the officer’s records indicate a past history of incidents with individuals of color.

The ACLU has requested various records from several Cleveland area police departments who were involved in the incident, including Greater Cleveland RTA, Cleveland Division of Police, Cleveland State University Police Department, and will subsequently request records from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, the Cuyahoga County Community College (Tri-C) Campus Police, and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department. The records will be key to making a determination on the appropriate use of force in this incident.

Link said, “Law enforcement officers should follow specific guidelines when using pepper spray. Whenever possible, police officers should always choose to de-escalate a situation before employing force.”