CLEVELAND (CN) – Three Ohio men and one boy claim in a lawsuit against Cuyahoga County that they were repeatedly forced to participate in organized fights during their incarceration at a juvenile detention facility for the entertainment of guards.
In their lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cleveland federal court, the youths allege detention officers at Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center, or CCJDC, facilitated the fights on Friday nights and referred to the weekly routine as “fight night.”
“This horrific tradition and custom was started, practiced, and encouraged by defendants as a means of entertainment,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs are DaShone Dunlap, Saye Quee Hale, Marcus Jackson and a minor identified by the initials M.D.
The youths claim that detention officers would let the incarcerated juveniles out of their cells and pit them against one another, forcing them to engage in “bloody and brutal brawls.”
If a juvenile refused, the guards would force the biggest and toughest juvenile to fight the frightened juvenile who refused, according to the lawsuit.
Two former detention officers named as defendants in the complaint, Freddie Hodges and Joshua Zimmerman, allegedly told the plaintiffs that fight night was a long-standing tradition at CCJDC and even bragged about the “good old days” when nurses assisted in the coverup of fight nights by providing covert medical assistance.
The complaint also alleges that Hodges suggested the plaintiffs refrain from hitting each other in the face because of the obvious evidence that could be left behind.
In February, Cleveland.com uncovered surveillance videos that showed Hodges standing guard while juveniles fought each other in empty rooms.
According to that report, Hodges and Zimmerman resigned after their conduct was exposed by an internal investigation.
Dunlap, Hale, Jackson and M.D. say that while Hodges and Zimmerman were the ones who facilitated the fights, the other detention officers and medical staff at CCJDC all knew about fight night and either actively participated or acted in concert by remaining silent.
They claim that the sanctioned fights created a substantial risk of harm and caused them to suffer permanent physical and psychological injuries.
The three men and one boy are suing Cuyahoga County, Cuyahoga County Sheriff Clifford Pinkney, Hodges, Zimmerman and 13 other unnamed CCJDC employees on claims of civil rights violations, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.
They seek compensatory and punitive damages and are represented by David Malik, Sara Gedeon and Thomas Perotti.
Charles Hannan, legal representative for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, said in an email Thursday that his office is in the process of reviewing the complaint.
“The Juvenile Court and Cuyahoga County take these allegations very seriously. We will investigate and respond to them in the appropriate forum, which is in court as part [of] the judicial process,” Hannan said.