Viral OTR Party Video Violating Ohio's Stay at Home Order Sparks City to Reinstate Metro Fares

A video of a large gathering in OTR despite Ohio's stay at home order garnered tens of thousands of views, sparked heated exchanges in court and caused the city to rescind fare-free transit

A Cincinnati Metro bus - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
A Cincinnati Metro bus

A now-viral video of a crowd of people congregating at a gas station in Over-the-Rhine despite orders to stay at home to avoid spreading COVID-19 has led to some serious fallout — and pushback at the way local leaders are handling the response.

The man who filmed the video showing the gathering centered around the Shell gas station on Liberty and Walnut streets in OTR late Friday night and early Saturday morning now faces charges related to defying Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's stay at home order.

At a bond hearing yesterday, attorney Clyde Bennett argued that his client, Rashaan Davis, did nothing to incite violence or perpetrate violence during the incident and that there wasn't probable cause to charge him with a crime.

Davis allegedly mocked DeWine's order and COVID-19 in the 11-minute video, which also shows people congregating at the Shell station. That video has garnered tens of thousands of views. According to WCPO and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the video was originally posted on Facebook and then a longer version was later posted to YouTube.

"These charges really constitute legal terrorism," Bennett said in the courtroom. "When you use the law inappropriately and unnecessarily to terrify citizens."

But Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor David Wood said that the charges are absolutely warranted, given the seriousness of the pandemic that is spreading across the country and in Cincinnati.

“There is absolutely no question that the complaint that has been filed — inciting violence — covers all of the statutory bases and is absolutely justified."

"Twelve hundred people died in New York City alone," Wood continued.

"He's not the coronavirus," Bennett broke in. "He's not infecting people with the coronavirus."

Hamilton County Judge Ted Berry presided over the bond hearing. He called the virus "a very emotional issue for all of us."

“Let’s stop the argument," he said. "This is a hot button issue. A lot of peoples’ lives have been lost, a lot of people are suffering. My own son in New York City has been exposed to the virus."

Berry set Davis' bond at $350,000. Davis is due in court again April 21.

Meanwhile, there have been other repercussions from the viral video.

Greater Cincinnati's Metro bus system is rescinding the temporary fare-free policy it instituted last month. Mayor John Cranley says the city asked the bus system to do so after Cincinnati Police officials told him that some of those at the viral gathering in OTR told officers they arrived at the incident via bus.

"We want to make sure buses are there for the people who need them,” Cranley said yesterday. “It was clear many people took advantage of the free buses to come down and gather illegally.”

That has raised ire among transit activists, who note the large number of cars in the viral video and the late hours during which people gathered — after some of the bus routes serving the area stopped running on the limited Saturday schedules they are running during the pandemic.

"Again, how many buses are in service on a Saturday between 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.," Better Bus Coalition President Cam Hardy tweeted yesterday. "Sorry I don't buy it."

Hardy said that essential workers who rely on the bus will suffer most from the change.

Metro instituted the fare-free policy to minimize contact between drivers and passengers. The bus service is working on installing plastic shields that will serve that purpose, officials say.

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac this week announced that CPD officers will hand out warning notices to those at large gatherings instructing them to go home. If they do not comply, they will be arrested, Eliot says.

Violating the stay at home order is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.

"Issuing warnings is a courtesy, not a requirement," Cranley said yesterday. "We don't want to arrest our way out of this problem. We will enforce and we need people to follow this order because it's life and death."