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Cops’ Immunity Defense Is ‘Ridiculous,’ Judge Says

CLEVELAND (CN) - Police officers must face claims that they beat and arrested a corrections officer who was trying to keep them away from an opening in the fence to a state prison, a federal judge ruled.

The confrontation erupted after a car drove through the fence of the Northeast Pre-Release Center, a women's prison facility in Cleveland.

While Martin Robinson and a partner, Jennifer Jones, were guarding a hole in the prison fence, two unmarked cars parked in front of them at 1 a.m.

Anthony Spencer and Jerome Barrow allegedly got out of one car and shouted, "What the fuck are you doing out here?" The pair were Cleveland police officers but dressed in black plainclothes.

Unaware that the men were cops, Robinson placed his hand on his gun and asked them to back away. Barrow in turn pulled his firearm and pointed it at Robinson.

Two detectives, Erin O'Donnell and Michael Demchak, then got out of the second car and helped the officers restrain Robinson. "Barrow placed his forearm across Robinson's throat to cut off Robinson's air supply; Demchak seized Robinson's gun; and Spencer and O'Donnell handcuffed Robinson, who, at some point, lost consciousness," according to the court. "When Robinson regained consciousness, he was lying on the ground. He attempted to get to his feet and Spencer slammed him to the ground. Twice."

Robinson's supervisor and another guard witnessed the officers forcibly place Robinson into a squad car, taking him to a hospital for treatment and then to Cuyahoga County Jail for processing.

Cleveland, the two officers and the two detectives moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge James Gwin scoffed at the maneuver Tuesday.

"The motions are ridiculous," Gwin wrote, adding that the claims of qualified immunity "ignore the well-established rule that this court views the facts in the light most favorable to Robinson."

"According to Robinson and Jones, Barrow and Spencer jumped out their vehicle and yelled obscenities as they advanced on Robinson," the nine-page decision states. "And, Robinson and Jones agree, Lt. Barrow was the first to draw his weapon, necessitating Robinson's defensive stance with his hand on his firearm. Moreover, Spencer testified that he was fully aware that Robinson was a fellow law-enforcement officer when he and Barrow pulled up at the [prison]. Yet the police officers proceeded to advance on Robinson ... and now claim that their use of force was reasonable." (Italics in original.)

The officers claim they were threatened with deadly force, but Gwin says the contradicting testimony of Robinson and his partner creates a "factual dispute."

Cleveland failed to challenge the failure-to-train claim, citing a 2006 training course for plainclothes police officers. "Only Detective O'Donnell recalls instruction on plain-clothes interactions with uniformed officers ... [and] the parties wholly disagree on the officers' actions; it is impossible to determine, therefore, whether the officers did violate well-established plain-clothes law enforcement procedures," he wrote.

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