Controversy Continues Over Protesters Held in Hamilton County Justice Center

Protesters and their advocates are decrying the fact they spent hours in zip ties in an unroofed part of the Hamilton County Justice Center. But county jail officials take issue with their descriptions of treatment.

Jun 3, 2020 at 4:21 pm
Hamilton County Justice Center - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Hamilton County Justice Center

Controversy continues over protesters held outside in the so-called "sally port" of the Hamilton County Justice Center after they were arrested at a George Floyd protest in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Arrested protesters interviewed by CityBeat say they were held for up to 10 hours in the exposed courtyard and that they were not given food, water or blankets until the morning hours. Those interviewed also described at least one arrestee who suffered what they believe to be a serious medical episode that required resuscitation. Video from the courtyard shows a nurse attending to an arrestee who is lying on the ground, but does not reveal whether that person required CPR or other emergency measures.

“There was no water available to anyone outside until the morning," protester Danny Meeks says. "We were asking for food and water and blankets. People were chanting 'We want food. We want water. We want blankets.' They just stared at us.”

Meeks says he wasn't given food or water until 10 hours into his detention.

The arrested protesters and their advocates have decried those conditions as inhumane. Officials with the Hamilton County Sheriff's office and the city of Cincinnati acknowledge that a group of about 100 protesters was held in the unroofed area, but take issue with descriptions of conditions there, saying water and breakfast were provided. They also say there was only one minor medical incident in which a person was taken to a local hospital as a precaution.

Officials also say that the large number of arrests — there were 307 Sunday night, when the jail's intake capacity is about 50 a night — and safety precautions around the COVID-19 pandemic caused difficulties.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said at a news conference today that some of the allegations made by protesters are "concerning" and that he wants to see the results of an investigation into the situation. But he also said that being arrested is not a pleasant experience and urged protesters to avoid arrest by staying inside after the city's curfew — currently set at 11 p.m.

"I don't want to prejudge the situation," he said. "It was obviously a very difficult situation for everyone including our officers. I'm not suggesting that everything was handled perfectly."

Most of the protesters were part of a large group detained near Green and Pleasant streets in Northern Over-the-Rhine about 9:30 p.m. Sunday night. Videos of the arrests shows protesters gathered on the ground and being zip tied. They were later loaded onto four Cincinnati Metro buses. Protesters on one Metro bus say they were kept there for three hours and that at least four urinated themselves in that time because they were not permitted access to a restroom.

The rally originated at the courthouse and was part of a series of protests against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes during an arrest May 25.

Local protests have been largely peaceful. Some windows were broken in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and CUF in the aftermath of two previous nights of protesting, though in news conferences, Mayor Cranley has taken pains to stress that those acts were not believed to have been committed by protesters.

After his arrest, Meeks says he was held at the Justice Center until about 1:30 p.m. Monday and never made it inside the facility. He and others were charged with misconduct during an emergency, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

Catherine Viox was also arrested, though she was eventually admitted into the justice center. She says conditions were crowded there as well.

“They were just wedging us body to body, trying to get as many people in as possible because they were so backed up," she says. "No water was provided. A girl with me got strip searched because they said she smelled like pot. They took our masks and provided us with bandanas. We don’t know where they came from."

A number of videos have surfaced with arrested protesters making the same complaints. CityBeat has reached out to both CPD and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office with further questions about the videos.

Others arrested on earlier nights have their own frustrations with their treatment at the justice center and their experience with Cincinnati's curfew in general.

Jody Cunningham was arrested Saturday and charged with criminal damaging following a rash of vandalism after a protest. She claims she didn't do any of the damaging. Cunningham says she was held until after 7 p.m. Monday, when she bonded out. But that wasn't the end of her stay at the justice center.

"I posted bond Monday night and got arrested again just as I was getting out, with my bond papers in my hand,” she says. She was released again Tuesday afternoon.