Two gay men have filed a federal lawsuit claiming officers from the Cleveland Police Department beat them and humiliated them in two separate incidents last April.
Jonathan Simcox and Steven Ondo say they were walking home from a restaurant on April 2, 2011, when they had a disagreement. As a result, they temporarily parted company. When Simcox reached their home and found he did not have the key to the front door, he began calling out for Ondo. It was then that he was confronted by a neighbor who, unbeknownst to them, happened to be an off-duty police officer. The man was shouting that he should shut up and stop disturbing the peace. Simcox denied he was doing so.
Simcox claims that the man, physically much larger than him, then became increasingly aggressive. After repeatedly asking the man to leave his property, Simcox claims he was “cornered” by the off-duty police officer. Simcox says that he then attempted to push by the off-duty officer, whereby the man knocked him to the ground and, he claims, punched him repeatedly. Steven Ondo, hearing Simcox call out to him, came to Simcox’s aid and began struggling with the neighbor but, because of his slight build, was physically unable to restrain the off-duty officer. Then, when another pair of neighbors came out and the off-duty officer was distracted, the struggle was finally broken up.
The two men claim that, a short time later, a number of officers showed up at their home and they were arrested and taken into custody. They learned that the off-duty officer had called the department alleging that the two men were the ones to have assaulted him.
Simcox claims that during the process of arrest he received more injuries to his arms and that by the time he got to the station they were “covered” in blood. Requests to have their injuries documented were, according to the suit, denied. However, a scrape sustained by Simcox was so severe that the jail nurse had to administer a tetanus shot, of which there is a record. The pair spent three days in jail for their alleged offenses but all charges were later dropped.
They left jail feeling lucky that at last their ordeal was over. However, a week later, the pair faced a rude awakening when there came a loud knock at the door.
According to the lawsuit, “6 or 7 members of the SWAT/and or Warrant Team” were on a sweep that day. Ondo and Simcox said officers then informed them they were wanted on a warrant that was issued for, “assaulting a peace officer.”
The men said each time they tried asking questions, the officers became increasingly violent.
“The officer in the glasses grabbed me by my shirt, and punched me twice in the face, after he punched me, he threw me up against the wall,” said Simcox.
Simcox says at the time of the arrest, he and his partner were wearing only underwear and t-shirts. When Simcox’s brother asked police if he could get them some pants and shoes, one of the officers allegedly responded by saying, “You can go get them shoes, but faggots don`t deserve to wear pants in jail.”
Regarding this, the suit claims:
[Police forced] Steven and Jonathan to wear only their underwear during their forced removal from their home, seizure, and subsequent transport in the Cleveland police van that took them to jail. Members of the Cleveland Police continued to refuse Steven and Jonathan their pants during transport and while they were prisoners in jail. Despite repeatedly pleading for pants to cover themselves, the jail staff finally relented and provided each a jumpsuit after more than a day had passed.
The suit goes on to say:
Confident that they had done nothing wrong, Steven and Jonathan each refused any plea agreement from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office. The Prosecutors were aware of the derogatory and prejudicial conduct of the officers during their arrest but turned a blind eye to the officers’ conduct. The case proceeded to trial and Judge Stuart Friedman found Steven and Jonathan Not Guilty on each of the contrived charges brought against them.
The firm representing the pair, David B. Malik & Associates, says it believes the pair’s rights were violated, in part, because of their sexuality. The suit says the pair wish to file against the police department in order to ensure that this treatment does not happen again. It notes that Cleveland will host the Gay Games in 2014 and that it is paramount the public have confidence in the police department.
The police department, citing general procedure where lawsuits are concerned, has declined to make a comment to the media.