Marchers, Attorneys Push for City of Cincinnati to Drop Curfew Charges Against George Floyd Protesters

Attorneys with the Cincinnati Mass Defense Coalition delivered a motion to city solicitors seeking dismissal of charges against protesters arrested for being out after curfew during the city's George Floyd protests

Jul 7, 2020 at 6:34 pm
click to enlarge Marchers proceeding from the Hamilton County Courthouse to Cincinnati City Hall July 7 - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Marchers proceeding from the Hamilton County Courthouse to Cincinnati City Hall July 7

On July 7, roughly 70 people rallied outside of the Hamilton County Courthouse and marched through downtown to Cincinnati City Hall demanding first degree misdemeanor charges be dropped against roughly 500 people who protested racial disparities in policing in the Queen City in late May and early June.

Protesters and their advocates, including several attorneys, say the arrests constitute a violation of the First Amendment. The city, however, says it was keeping the peace after a few individuals broke windows following some protests. The city points out it has offered several options for protesters to drop or reduce their charges, albeit with conditions.

At City Hall, attorneys representing the Cincinnati Mass Defense Coalition served a motion to the city solicitor's office now before Hamilton County Municipal Court seeking the dismissal of the "misconduct at an emergency" charges the city has levied against the protesters and others arrested after curfew. Those charges carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines.

"Cincinnati claims to believe Black lives matter? I don't see it, and I'm tired of lip service," said Mona Jenkins, a member of Cincinnati Mass Action for Black Liberation and an organizer of the event outside the courthouse. "These charges must be dropped. We have a right to be on these streets."

George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died May 25 after white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. The incident, caught on video, sparked protests around the world and prompted the eventual firing and criminal charges for Chauvin.

The protests in Cincinnati drew thousands — and heavy police presence, with officers sometimes in riot gear and deploying pepper spray and flash bang explosives. In the aftermath of marches the first two nights, small groups broke windows downtown and in Clifton Heights. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley instituted several curfews in response, leading to the arrest of roughly 500 people on charges related to the curfew.

More than 100 of the arrested protesters decried their treatment during and after their arrests, documenting via smartphone hours-long waits being held without restroom facilities, water or food.

Arrested protesters interviewed by CityBeat say they were held for up to 10 hours in an exposed courtyard at the Hamilton County Justice Center 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 said. "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.

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac says the arrests were the right move.

""This curfew didn't happen because everything was going great," he told council last month. "We had to do this because of the amount of damage. We have over 100 businesses that have been damaged, looted, shots fired into them."​

However, the vast majority of protesters — 513, according to the city — don't have charges related to those incidents against them and are simply charged for violating curfew. 

Subsequent to the arrests, the city has offered at least three options for protesters — dropping their charges in exchange for an agreement they won't sue the city, participation in a diversion program after which the charges are expunged after 30 days or reduced charges in which fines and court costs are waived.

The city solicitor's office told Cincinnati City Council last month that simply dropping the charges outright could make future curfews less effective as a deterrent.

But Cincinnati Mass Defense Coalition attorney Jacqueline Greene says the options on offer aren't good enough and that protesters' constitutional rights were violated.

"In terms of the options, what they're essentially asking people to do is enter into a plea deal. Don't be confused by the dismissal option. You'd have to waive your rights to engage in any kind of civil rights litigation after this — people who were wrongfully targeted, wrongfully arrested and jailed in horrendous conditions, some of them. That's not right."

Greene, who is also part of the National Lawyer's Guild, a group that is part of the coalition, says the city prosecutor could opt not to oppose their motion. If the city does, the Hamilton County Municipal Court must decide if it has merit.

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