Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Flagrant Abuse of Police Power in Cleveland

Yesterday I was alerted to a flagrant abuse of police power that involved a fraternity brother of mine in Cleveland, Ohio on March 1.

Let me state here that I am not anti-police; well, at least no more so than any motorist who has been pulled over and issued a ticket he didn't deserve. (They all say that, don't they?) It has happened to me more than once, and consequently, I view cops with a jaded eye. Like a pit bull, they are good to have around when someone breaks into your house, but they should be kept on a short leash and not entirely trusted otherwise.

It is a fine line indeed that separates the power to protect from the power to abuse. That abuse is only avoided when the "protectors" have the emotional discipline and personal integrity to wield that power judiciously. Evidently such is not the case in Cleveland.

Here are the bare bones of the incident as reported in several articles in Cleveland's The Plain Dealer:

An off-duty police Sgt. was struck by a black Acura SUV outside a parking garage in downtown Cleveland as he was working a side job in special-events traffic control. My fraternity brother owns such an SUV, and indeed it had been parked in that very garage that very evening.

The Sgt. claimed he jotted down the license number after the SUV brushed him, knocking him to the pavement as it left the garage. A few hours later several police cruisers and cops descended on my fraternity brother's home. My fraternity brother was dragged out of the house and into his front yard where the Sgt. positively identified him as the driver of the SUV. My fraternity brother was cuffed and loaded into the back of a cruiser. For good measure, his wife was also arrested for obstructing justice when she volunteered to police that her husband hadn't been driving the Acura that night.

Hauled to the Cleveland City Jail, they spent the next 20 hours handcuffed to assorted miscreants, or languishing in holding cells with drunks and other dregs of Cleveland society.

Doesn't sound like there is much room for doubt, right?

Here are the facts, according to The Plain Dealer reports:

During the time of the incident, my fraternity brother was having dinner with one of his daughters in the restaurant next door to his retail clothing store. There is time-stamped security video from the restaurant showing them leaving. After which, my fraternity brother walked next door to his business where he closed out the registers for the night. Not only is there video of him in the restaurant at the time of the incident, but members of the restaurant's staff, as well as employees of his store place him there rather than miles away running down a cop. There is also a credit card receipt for the dinner.

Oh, this is the best part...

He wasn't driving the Acura that evening. His wife and a group of her friends took it to the theater to watch a show. Yes, she parked in that garage, but she was driving the vehicle. The women with her have since made sworn statements to that effect, as well as the fact that the SUV they were in was involved in no such incident.

How could a police officer -- a trained observer -- make such an error? He positively identified my fraternity brother as the driver.

The answer?

There had been some sort of altercation between the garage parking attendant and the male driver of a black Acura SUV when that driver insisted on parking in a space with a "Reserved" sign on it. The parking attendant reported it to the Sgt. when he arrived for traffic control. The Sgt. found a black Acura SUV in a reserved space and wrote down the license number, but it was the wrong SUV. My fraternity brother's wife had also parked in a reserved space, which she says she always does without incident when attending shows at that theater.

Later when he was struck by a black Acura SUV driven by a man, he apparently assumed it was the same one belonging to the license number he had written down earlier. Evidently it never occurred to him that there might be more than one black Acura SUV parked in that multilevel garage. It seems that he didn't really catch the license number of the SUV that struck him, but simply pulled it out of his pocket after the incident.

What's more, security video from the parking garage that shows the incident, indicates several differences between the SUV involved and my fraternity brother's SUV.

It looks like the Sgt.'s reasoning was that it was a male driving the SUV that struck him and a male with whom the parking attendant had engaged; ergo, it must have been my fraternity brother. Remember, he positively identified him as the driver. I went to college with my fraternity brother and his wife. I've know them for nearly 40 years. I can tell you without equivocation, they look nothing alike. Even if it had been their SUV involved, she was driving it that night.

Although once my fraternity brother's attorney did the investigative work the police wouldn't do -- rounding up the video, securing statements from the restaurant staff and so forth -- both my fraternity brother and his wife were released and the charges eventually dropped (for lack of evidence), they have yet to receive any sort of apology from the Sgt. involved or the Cleveland Police Department.

Seems like a small gesture to make after mistakenly tossing two law-abiding citizens into the clink for nearly a full day and night.

Unfettered power run amuck? Sure looks that way to me.

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