Cleveland Ridiculed|for Brelo Protest Arrests

     CLEVELAND (CN) – Four activists arrested for protesting the acquittal in May of a Cleveland police officer in the deaths of an unarmed black couple have filed a federal civil rights suit against the city.
     Protests overtook the city on the Saturday in May when Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell acquitted Michael Brelo of voluntary manslaughter for the Nov. 29, 2012, killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
     Brelo had claimed he had feared for his life when, after a high-speed chase that lasted for 22 minutes, he jumped onto the hood of Russell’s car and fired 15 shots through the windshield.
     As in other incidents raising questions around the country about the use of excessive force by police, Brelo is white and the two people he killed were black.
     Stephen McNulty, Robin Goist, Khalil Weathers and Jason Rodney claim in their July 13 lawsuit that the case struck a chord with them and that they joined the protests on May 23.
     As the protesters marched through Cleveland’s Warehouse District, a popular area known for its bars and restaurants, police allegedly ushered them into Johnson Court, a small alleyway that extends for only one block.
     There, a horde of officers clad in riot gear blockaded both ends of the alley and promptly arrested approximately 70 individuals for “failure to disperse,” a misdemeanor, according to the complaint.
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, which is the lead plaintiff in the July 13 lawsuit, claims that none of 70 arrested had heard any police order to disperse.
     Even if such an order had been given and heard by the demonstrators, the police made compliance impossible by trapping the demonstrators inside the alley, the complaint states.
     Some protesters had formed a line to exit through a small gap in the line of police officers, but the arrests curtailed their attempt to disperse, they say.
     Cleveland detained those arrested for nearly 36 hours before charges were formally filed and they were released, according to the complaint.
     The protesters allegedly spent a third of that time sitting on the concrete floor of an empty hangar at Burke Lakefront Airport covered with rats and rat feces.
     In the city jail, the protesters say some were forced to share cells designed to hold only one inmate each.
     Goist claims she was denied vegetarian meals and given nothing but cereal and lettuce scraps to eat. She described the ordeal as “one of the scariest situations of my life.”
     Judge O’Donnell has conceded that he announced his not-guilty verdict during Memorial Day weekend as a calculated move to minimize any disruptions that protests might cause.
     The protesters note that Cleveland and its police anticipated the protests as well and even instructed the Cleveland Municipal Court to ensure that judges would be on call and available as needed to process any arrestees without delay.
     For the ACLU, the arrests were retaliatory and Cleveland unnecessarily extended the detention of those arrested to deter further protests.
     Officers allegedly told several of its detainees that they would not see release the next day because the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indians were playing home games.
     The complaint notes that Cleveland Police Deputy Chief of Police Dornat “Wayne” Drummond made the intent unmistakable when asked why protesters charged with low-level misdemeanors were arrested instead of cited and immediately released.
     “From my perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to cite and release the protesters and let them back on the streets to protest again,” Drummond said on June 24, according to the complaint.
     The ACLU of Ohio and the other plaintiffs claim that the arrests had a chilling effect on protest.
     A number of ACLU of Ohio members who planned to attend protests at the upcoming Republican National Convention now fear that, “despite the fact that they would not break any laws, they would be retaliated against by the Cleveland police simply for attending a protest,” according to the complaint.
     The lawsuit names Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams as defendants.
     ACLU attorney Freda Levenson signed the 23-page complaint.

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