In late 2017, Erimius Spencer was knocking on a neighbor’s door in his apartment building when officers Michael Amiott and Shane Rivera approached him. Without probable cause, they asked Spencer if they could search him for weapons and, having no weapons on him, Spencer allowed the search to proceed. Then the officers told him he was under arrest. When Spencer asked why he was being arrested, he was kicked in his eye and groin, and tased several times while lying on the ground handcuffed.
Along with the cases investigated in Part I and Part II of the State of Injustice mini-documentary series, Spencer’s arrest is yet another tragic example of a demonstrated pattern of brutality by local police against Black residents of Euclid, Ohio. In the third and final installment of this series, executive produced by Black Lives Matter Cleveland, filmmakers Roger Glenn Hill and Brian Douglas continue to document this pattern of brutality by investigating Euclid PD’s treatment of Erimius Spencer as well as multiple cases of officers callously deploying pepper spray on large groups of unsuspecting teenagers. These cases provide further proof of the extent to which Black residents in Euclid, Ohio, routinely find themselves over-policed in their homes, schools, and even their skating rinks.
This TRNN special premiere also includes a panel discussion, hosted by TRNN’s Jaisal Noor, on the State of Injustice series and the ongoing struggle for justice and police accountability in Euclid. Panelists include Terra Stewart, the sister of Luke Stewart (whose killing was the subject of Part I of the State of Injustice series); Christopher McNeal, attorney for Richard Hubbard III and board member of BLM Cleveland; and Kareem Henton, co-founder of BLM Cleveland.
State of Injustice is a documentary series showcasing the systemic failures of Ohio law enforcement across the state. With permission from the filmmakers, TRNN is honored to share the initial three-episode season, which explores police abuse in the city of Euclid, Ohio, with our audience.
Speaker: You were positioned as mayor. You were also the safety director. Is that correct?
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: That’s correct.
Speaker: What does that mean to you? What does that entail?
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: That means I am the executive who oversees the police and fire departments. I am responsible for the safety and well-being of the community, responsible to make sure our ordinances and laws are upheld.
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: This roller rink is not the family-oriented roller skating rink that would be an asset.
Speaker: You are supportive of this motion to shut the business down temporarily?
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: Yes.
Miguel Sanders: Hi, my name is Miguel Sanders, owner of MIG’s PLA-MOR family roller skating rink. People enjoy this place. They love this place. And like they say, after a long, hard day of work, they want to come to the skating rink and leave it on the wood because it makes them feel so good. The city of Euclid and I seem to have a tenuous relationship at best.
Kelley Sweeney: The current operation of the PLA-MOR does substantially interfere with public decency, sobriety, peace, and good order of the city of Euclid, and that nuisance needs to be abated immediately for the life and safety of its residents, visitors, and businesses in the city.
Miguel Sanders: The Wednesday courtroom session was very intimidating, and all I could do was tell my side of the story and be truthful, and hope and pray that the judge is fair. And understands that they really, in my opinion, have no merit for bringing the claims against me and trying to criminalize this skating rink.
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: You received a letter from the law department declaring your property a nuisance back in June of ’19. Is that correct?
Miguel Sanders: When you provide me a public nuisance charge for a car being broken into by somebody, God knows who, I just don’t think those sort of public nuisance charges are right, because they had nothing to do with people that was in our skating rink. I’ve even identified people breaking into cars, and we’ve contacted the police department when this has occurred. I even have some of this footage on videotape. I was hoping to get an actual appeal hearing in light of the fact that you guys were not willing to sit down and find some type of resolution.
Kirsten Holzheimer Gail: Mr. Sanders, are you aware the reputation of PLA-MOR amongst the teens as being a place to go to fight?
Sanders’ Attorney: I will object to that.
Miguel Sanders: People have families. They need outlets for their kids. City recently tore down the YMCA. They are in the process of demolishing three swimming pools. If we can’t find a way to accelerate the minds of these teenagers and youth, then that’s going to be a problem.
Diana Hamblin: Hi, my name is Diana Hamblin. I’m a student currently at New York University studying film with a concentration in storytelling of Black experiences, and I’ve also been a resident at Euclid, Ohio, for the past 19 years. And I’ve been in Euclid public schools. No, I do not think the police officers in the high school did anything for the students besides intimidate the students and overpolice the Black students that were at the high school. This girl logged her little basketball game where they pepper sprayed people. Do y’all want to include that?
Interviewer: I would love to get that.
Diana Hamblin: Okay. I’ll try to look it up right now for y’all.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Girl in YouTube video: 5:49. I’m going to an event. It is called the All-Star Game. Basically, high school basketball teams in our city all playing the game versus each other, boys and girls. [sounds of loud crowd in a gymnasium]
Girl in YouTube video: [screams] Y’all, they just pepper sprayed. People is jumping the fences.
Girl in YouTube video: Oh, my gosh.
Girl in YouTube video: They is tweaking, though. The police might be in the recording, so if something happen to me, just know. Just know, okay.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Diana Hamblin: I did soccer in high school, and I saw the police officers kind of interact with the white high school soccer players. Some residents in Euclid are white, and they do bring their kids to Euclid-run events. And I remember the soccer program. They were really nice. They were really cordial, but then I also see students getting stopped, students getting frisked, students getting abused by the police officers at the high school.
Speaker: [Playing from laptop] But we start with breaking news from the Five on Your Side investigators. A Euclid police officer fired over domestic violence charges just got his job back with back pay.
Ivory was fired last summer after he was charged with assault, domestic violence, and aggravated menacing against a woman he was dating. The victim told police Ivory bit, choked, and hit her. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. A second woman accused Ivory of domestic violence twice in 2017. Police say Ivory admitted he slapped the second victim several times. Despite the domestic violence cases, Ivory has his job back tonight.
Diana Hamblin: I’m trying to collect my thoughts about that. Don Ivory getting his job back shows that we have aggressive and we have overly violent cops in the system of Euclid. And even when we try to get rid of the bad cops like Don Ivory, we can’t because of binding arbitration in the contracts that hold him in place.
[VIDEO OF DON IVORY INTERSPERSED]
Don Ivory: Hello boys and girls, welcome to today’s episode of Books for Badges.
Diana Hamblin: This is Don Ivory?
Don Ivory: My name is Officer Ivory, and we are going to be reading Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer.
Diana Hamblin: I feel like that’s a joke. That’s literally a joke. I think it’s just a joke having him read to the kids on their YouTube channel. He’s not a family-friendly person.
[INTERSPERSED VIDEO CLIPS END]
Erimius Spencer: My name is Erimius Spencer. Well, I was going to go visit a friend, another resident in the building I was a resident in. I was going to go smoke with them, of course. And the police just pulled up on me while I was knocking at their door. And as they approached me, they asked me if they could search me for weapons. And I said, “I know I don’t have any weapons on me. I’m a resident of the building.” They said they were getting a call about suspicious activity, and they searched me.
They searched me for the weapons. They didn’t find any weapons. And all of a sudden they come up, they find the weed and they tell me I’m under arrest. So I ask them, “What am I under arrest for?” They don’t tell me what I’m under arrest. They proceed to knee me in my groin, throw me to the ground, and I’m thinking the original procedure is to cuff you while you’re down, apprehend you and bring you back up. But in this case, they kicked me in my face multiple times while the other one was holding me down and tasing me. And he fractured or broke an orbital bone by my eye, because he was kicking me close to my eye.
That kind of healed with time, but still the mental anguish doesn’t go away. I have to live with that forever. If you look at a police report, he lied at a police report and said I broke his glasses. Come on. And he said I reached for his taser. All of this was supposed to be the things that he made up to justify what he did. It’s not justifiable, did not happen. It was not justifiable. You know what I’m saying? And I still have to live with this.
Christopher McNeal: Euclid, historically, has been a majority white suburb. Though Euclid now is almost 50% African American, their police force doesn’t reflect that.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Armontay Anderson: Hey, what he do? What he do? What he do? He a innocent civilian. What he do? Hey, get rough with him if you want. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. It’s on camera. I promise you. He kneed him. He kneed him.
Police Officer: He’s resisting arrest, man.
Armontay Anderson: He’s not, he was just standing there. It’s all on camera. Don’t even worry about it. No, don’t even worry about it.
Christopher McNeal: Historically, in this country, we’ve seen that police forces have been used to punish new and diverse individuals as they enter into new communities in America. It’s almost as though the desire is to make sure that these new citizens and inhabitants know their proper place as it relates to the stratification of society. And I believe that the police and their discretionary functions, when it comes to who they want to arrest, who they want to target for law enforcement and how much force they want to use, ultimately, are where the rubber means road in terms of this racial transition in the city of Euclid.
Armontay Anderson: Can I get your badge number?
Man being arrested: For what reason am I being detained?
Armontay Anderson: Can I get your badge number?
Man being arrested: You’ve got to read me my rights. For what reason am I being detained? For what reason am I being detained?
Armontay Anderson: Look, I… Hey, thank you. Thank you. Hey, excuse me. He told me to stand right here. Please, don’t pepper spray me. He told me to stand right here.
Dr. Richard Montgomery: The white people say, “Well, the police aren’t that bad.” Because you’re not having the same experience. You’re not getting pulled over for that BS. The police have not had this clean slate ever. You know what? I study organization. So when an organization begins, it develops a history, norms and culture and basic rituals that are part of that organization. And without some major paradigm shift, they don’t change. So since we know that police organizations were started originally to patrol and control the freedom of movement of Black people in major society,
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Dr. Richard Montgomery: The question is, in the last 120 years, when was there a paradigm shift that said, “That’s not what we do here”?
Kareem Henton: There was at one time during the Jim Crow era, in which it was unlawful for more than two Black people to stand with one another or congregate on any city street. So when you understand that even though we changed those laws, and thank goodness that we did, the attitude still remained. People tend to get in a panic when they see amounts of Black people congregating. So understand that for a lot of folks, this business owner’s business, because it tends to draw in larger crowds of Black people, it’s not going to be something that a lot of folks want.
And it’s obviously something that officers tend to go in and deal with, with that ancient or historic frame of mind. We got to bring them to heel. If they’re using chemical weapons on children and they found it necessary to do so because the kids would not disperse, think about this logically for a minute. If they were dropped off by parents, where were they supposed to disperse to? When law enforcement is interacting with–
Kareem Henton: Yes?
Speaker: I’m sorry, but your time is up.
Kareem Henton: When law enforcement’s interacting with young people, you should act in the proper way, and you didn’t do that because you don’t value our children.
Chief Scott Meyer: I would disagree with you. I value your opinion, but I would disagree with you. I and the officers that work for this police department care very deeply about children. I understand that we need to find some common ground. I understand that, and I’m willing to have those conversations, but please, I do want everybody to understand that. I think that’s a commonality amongst us all. I would hope obviously that we all care deeply about children and each other.