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Another RNC-16 member files First Amendment lawsuit against Cleveland alleging retaliatory arrest and malicious prosecution

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Complaint alleges officers retaliated against Richard Newburger for participating in a flag-burning demonstration with Gregory Lee Johnson

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Today, Richard Newburger filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit alleging that the City, Chief of Police Calvin Williams, Officer Matthew France, and other police officers violated his First Amendment right to peacefully protest the American government by joining Gregory Lee Johnson’s constitutionally protected burning of an American flag, and peacefully chanting words of protest in a designated free-speech zone. Mr. Newburger was one of 16 peaceful protesters arrested that day.

The complaint alleges that on July 20, 2016, shortly before then-candidate Donald Trump was to take the RNC’s main stage, Mr. Newburger and his fellow-protesters formed a safety circle around Mr. Johnson, who had informed the City that he planned to repeat his famous protest in Cleveland. Mr. Newburger stood peacefully next to Mr. Johnson chanting words of protest. The City’s designated “free-speech zone” quickly became a “constitution-free zone.”

Just before Mr. Johnson began his symbolic speech, Cleveland police officers sprayed the flag with “cold fire” and arrested Mr. Johnson. They forced Mr. Newburger to the ground and arrested him as well. Mr. Newburger was jailed and charged with obstructing official business and aggravated disorderly conduct. The City continued prosecuting him until October 20, 2017, when the Cleveland Municipal Court dismissed all charges under Texas v. Johnson.

Today Mr. Newburger filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Ohio, alleging that the City and its police officers unlawfully prosecuted him for exercising his First Amendment rights, and manufactured false reports and evidence under a policy of pursuing “meritless charges” intended “to create plausible deniability” and “conceal their politically motivated censorship of a lawful protest.”

“The City of Cleveland police have a duty to protect citizens’ exercise of free-speech, not enforce their own politics,” said Subodh Chandra, one of Mr. Newburger’s attorneys. “After the police arrested Mr. Newburger, they publicly celebrated the suppression of free speech. This is the third lawsuit our firm has filed on behalf of the RNC-16 seeking restitution for the Cleveland police’s unconstitutional conduct, and the City of Cleveland has yet to hold its officers accountable for their conduct that day—all captured on video.”

The complaint, captioned Newburger v. City of Cleveland, et al., Case No. 1:19-cv-01684 was filed the U.S. District Court for the Northern DIstrict of Ohio, and can be found here. It includes still images of video footage of the police misconduct against Mr. Newburger and his fellow protestors. The video footage was filed with the court as an exhibit to the complaint.

Subodh Chandra, Ashlie Case Sletvold, and Brian Bardwell of The Chandra Law Firm LLC represent Mr. Newburger.

The previous two suits—on behalf of RNC-16 protestors Gregory Lee Johnson and Steven Fridley—resulted in settlements of $225,000 and $50,000 respectively. (See links on this page.)

Related Practice Areas
First AmendmentGovernment ethics, misconduct, fraud, & abusePolice misconduct & brutalityMalicious prosecution, abuse of process, and false arrest
Tags
retaliatory-prosecutionmatthew-francegregory-lee-johnsonflag-burningfirst-amendmentfree-speechfirst-amendment-retaliationmalicious-prosecutioncalvin-williams

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