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"All you had to do was shut the f—- up."

Monday, July 30, 2018

Garfield Heights and police officers sued for First Amendment retaliation and enslavement after arresting, beating, and prosecuting man for 'Laughing While Black'

Complaint alleges that white officers arrested a black man for joking with neighborhood children in his yard, falsely accused him of criminal threats, beat him, destroyed evidence of their misdeeds, and bragged about punishing his speech.

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Today, Robert Spencer filed a civil complaint in federal court alleging that the City of Garfield Heights, its white police officers, and an as-yet-unidentified corrections employee violated his constitutional right to be free of retaliation for protected speech, jailed him, beat him, destroyed evidence of their misdeeds, bragged about punishing his speech, and forced him to clean fecal waste or get Maced.

The complaint alleges that in July 2017, Garfield Heights police officers drove a patrol-car down Mr. Spencer’s street, and passed him in his yard with local children. After confronting Mr. Spencer with false and rapidly evolving accounts of “threats” he supposedly made as they drove by (with their windows up), they resorted to violence without provocation when he insulted them, arrested him, beat him at the police station where he was unconstitutionally pressed into labor, and threatened to destroy evidence.

According to the complaint, the officers confirmed their motivation on videotape: to punish Mr. Spencer’s speech. “All you had to do was shut the fuck up,” one officer said. “We weren’t even going to arrest you.” They told Mr. Spencer that “saying stuff to us when we drive by” justified investigation, arrest, detention, beatings, and prosecution—all of which he could have avoided by “keep[ing] his mouth shut when we came out.”

“The brazen abuse of power is extraordinary enough, even without its racial overtones,” said Patrick Kabat, one of Mr. Spencer’s attorneys. “The video footage that hasn’t disappeared shows the officers proclaiming their retaliation against Mr. Spencer’s protected speech, and captures their violent actions. But the City’s indifference to its citizens' First Amendment rights is compounded by its officers’ attempt to criminalize the idiom of the community they swore to protect. Mr. Spencer’s ordeal sheds harsh light on the danger of walking, talking, or 'Laughing While Black' in Garfield Heights.”

Mr. Spencer’s claims include numerous alleged violations of the First, Fourth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as federal and state-law claims for falsification and other claims.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and captioned Spencer v. Falzini, et al, The case was captioned Spencer v. Falzini, et al., Case No. 1:18-cv-01764. It is assigned to U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent.

The complaint may be found here.

Subodh Chandra and Patrick Kabat of The Chandra Law Firm LLC,, represent Mr. Spencer.

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentPolice Misconduct & Brutality

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