On April 16, 2016, Lamar Wright pulled into a driveway to make a phone call when Officers Kyle Flagg and Vashon Williams rushed Wright and tried to pull him from his car. Because he was wearing a colostomy bag, Wright was slow to comply, and officer Flagg tased him before he could explain his condition. Moreover, Wright was initially charged with obstruction, resisting arrest, and criminal trespassing—but those charges were all eventually dropped. On March 27, 2017, Shajuan Gray was arrested over a noise complaint by Officer James Aoki. Gray was dragged outside without her clothes on and charged with resisting arrest and obstruction. Far from being exceptional cases, Gray and Wright’s treatment is part of a demonstrated pattern of brutality and excessive use of force by officers with the Euclid Police Department in Ohio.

In the second installment of the mini-documentary series State of Injustice, executive produced by Black Lives Matter Cleveland, filmmakers Roger Glenn Hill and Brian Douglas examine several instances of violent arrests by Euclid PD officers, including the arrests of Gray and Wright. These arrests occurred both before and after the death of Luke Stewart, the subject of the first installment in this series.

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.


Transcript

Speaker 1:    Good evening, Mr. Chairman, members of council, and those joining us in the audience. It’s good to have so many people with us tonight. As we do every year, we have annual awards for our police department.

Chief Scott Meyer:    I am Scott Meyer, the Chief of Police of the Euclid Police Department. I am very proud of this officer and all of our officers who, every day, risk their lives for the citizens of this city.

Speaker 2:    Can I put some clothes on?

Speaker 3:    Come on.

Speaker 2:    This man is arresting me for my music, because I won’t give him my name. He can’t do this.

Speaker 3:    Come on.

Speaker 2:    You’re hurting me! You’re hurting me!

Chief Scott Meyer:    Every day they show up to work, ready to work.

Speaker 2:    I asked him to let me put my clothes on. He handcuffed me.

Speaker 4:    Okay. Scoot that way.

Speaker 2:    I need my phone and my clothes.

Speaker 4:    Clear [inaudible] custody. Do you want me to go check the apartment?

Speaker 2:    I want to check my own apartment.

Speaker 4:    Ma’am, you can’t check the apartment right now. Do you want me-

Speaker 2:    Why not? Why am I being violated? Why am I in handcuffs? Tell me. Tell me what’s going on.

Speaker 4:    Watch the light.

Chief Scott Meyer:    We have an uptick in violent crime, in guns, in violence, in drugs. And these officers will continue to address those issues. Not only will they address those issues, they will continue to positively engage the public, day in and day out.

Speaker 5:    Get out of there! [tapping sounds] Cover your head! Now!

Speaker 6:    Shut the car off.

Speaker 5:        [soft music] Don’t shoot him. [car horn honking]

Speaker 7:    Man, you’re hurting my arm.

Chief Scott Meyer:    This is their city. This is their police department. They work for the residents of this city, and they take that to a level that most people wouldn’t understand.

Speaker 7:    You’re hurting my arm!

Speaker 6:    Let me see your hand.

Speaker 7:    You’re hurting my arm, man!

Speaker 6:    Let me see your-

Speaker 7:    You’re hurting my arm! You’re hurting… I got a what’s the name… [speaker 7 shouts, sound of taser]

Speaker 6:    Taser deployment, taser deployment.

Speaker 5:    Come on.

Speaker 6:    Get down. Get down. Lay on the ground now.

Speaker 5:    On the ground, now.

Speaker 7:    I got the [inaudible].

Speaker 5:    Don’t move!

Speaker 6:    Put your hands behind your back. Both hands behind your back. Now.

Speaker 5:    Reyer… Reyer and 210.

Chief Scott Meyer:    I couldn’t be more proud of this group of officers, and I couldn’t be more proud to be the Chief of the Euclid Police Department. Thank you. [applause]

Tara Stewart:    My name is Tara Stewart. I am the sister of Luke Stewart, who was murdered by Euclid police. We had gone to one of the city council meetings, trying to demand, at this point, because the officers were still working after this, we had to go to a city council meeting to demand they be taken off the street until the investigation is complete. At this city council meeting, the officer that killed my brother was receiving a recommendation.

Speaker 8:    How did that feel?

Tara Stewart:    [snorts] Like a knife to the heart. This man just roughly killed somebody, and you guys are going to say… And give him a recommendation. So it was like, “Well, did you guys want him to kill him?”

Chief Scott Meyer:    Next is Sergeant Besi and Officer Catalani. [applause]

Speaker 9:    Yo Chief, you giving awards to murdering cops? You giving awards to the- [inaudible]

Chief Scott Meyer:    Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir. You’re out of order. I’d ask you to please… Sir.

Speaker 9:    [crosstalk] You’re not doing anything for the citizens! [Crosstalk]-

Chief Scott Meyer:    Sir. Sir.

Speaker 9:    [inaudible].

Chief Scott Meyer:    Officers… Can you please remove the resident.

Speaker 10:    All right. Can you introduce yourself?

Christopher McNeil:    Certainly. My name is Christopher McNeil, and I am an attorney, licensed in the state of Ohio, in the northern district of Ohio. Michael [inaudible] is a defendant in a case I’m currently presenting, against himself on behalf of Mr. Richard Hubbard and [inaudible].

Speaker 11:    Can you cut it off, just while we’re talking? You can just hand me the keys.

Speaker 12:    [inaudible]?

Speaker 11:    Hand me the car keys. That’s it.

Speaker 12:    [inaudible]?

Speaker 11:    You have to stop behind the white stop bar.

Christopher McNeil:    Officer [inaudible] had observed Mr. Hubbard commit what he described as a stop bar violation. There is typically a white line on the pavement, right before the stop sign, that you are supposed to stop completely at, and come to a full stop. It’s important to note that all of the Euclid police officers at that time had been advised by their superior officers not to stop anybody for committing a stop bar infraction. Based upon this traffic violation, officer [inaudible] decided that he wanted to perform a stop on Mr. Hubbard, and upon him stepping out of that vehicle, that’s where the controversy really ensues, there’s some video that’s been widely circulated, which in my view indicates that Mr. Hubbard did everything he could to comply with the officer’s instructions. Officer [inaudible] would have you believe that Mr. Hubbard resisted that arrest at that time, and it was then that he began to use physical force against Mr. Hubbard, striking him with his knees, slamming him to the ground. Mr. Hubbard was tased by officer [inaudible]’s partner, officer Pavkov. The video also indicates that Officer [inaudible] mounted Mr. Hubbard and began pummeling him.

Ultimately Mr. Hubbard sustained some pretty egregious injuries as a result of that encounter. In my legal opinion, yeah it was a textbook example of an excessive use of force. Hence why we’ve brought this action against the city of Euclid, and its Police Department.

Speaker 13:    I would like to read a brief statement regarding Euclid police officer [inaudible], badge 63. Officer [inaudible] has been suspended without pay for the maximum amount of time that I may suspend per our rules. I am also recommending to the mayor that she review the matter and impose additional suspension without pay. During the time of suspension, Officer [inaudible] will not be permitted to perform any functions as a Euclid police officer. Moving forward, the Euclid police department reaffirms its commitment to serving all of its citizens with fairness and compassion. This, along with protecting the public, is our highest priority. Our efforts to address these issues begin immediately.

Speaker 10:    So he is still on the force?

Christopher McNeil:    He is still on the force, despite the fact that the city did move to fire him after this incident occurred. However, after going through the binding arbitration, he was given his job back. These collective bargaining agreements that these cities and municipalities enter into with these police unions, it manifests itself as such that you have a body of unelected officials. Arbitrators. These guys haven’t been elected by the citizens. They haven’t been appointed by any of the government officials, and yet they have the power to overturn discipline, including terminations. And because of that, we have these situations where officers who have been determined to be problematic, who have been determined to be toxic, they get their jobs back and they’re allowed to keep that badge, they’re allowed to keep their gun and they continue their unconstitutional behavior. And it’s one of the biggest obstacles, along with qualified immunity, that we see in actually having police accountability in this country.

Dr. Richard Montgomery:    My name is Dr. Richard Montgomery, and I’m a resident of the city of Euclid. The death of Luke Stewart got to an inflection point when Richard Hubbard got beat. Because in March, when Luke got killed, yes, there was outrage. Yes, there was disbelief and shock. But now, here, it’s a few months later, and now you’ve got this viral video going around, which led people to believe that it’s time to go to city hall and talk about how upset we are. But the problem has been, and it is in the movements across this nation, is we go out and we protest. We fill up city hall. We talk about how not satisfied we are. And then we let the politicians off the hook to go back to doing the same things that led to this situation in the first place.

Speaker 13:    [applause, knocking of gavel] Ladies and gentlemen, we have business on the agenda this evening. If you continue to clap, you’ll be removed from the room. Thank you.

Speaker 14:    [inaudible].

Speaker 13:    Excuse me. Excuse me! We are in a meeting. [applause] You will be removed from the room. There is an opportunity to address City Council. It’s called committee of the whole, and it is… The 15th item on our agenda.

Christopher McNeil:    I’m glad that I have the opportunity to address you Chief Meyer. I want to make it clear that I have no ax to grind against law enforcement in general. Before I was an attorney, I was a soldier. I served with the third armored cavalry regiment, based out of Fort Hood, with many men and women far braver than I am. I remember our status of force agreement and our unit’s SOP was that we were not to fire unless we were fired upon. I find it incredibly ironic and heartbreaking that our brave men and women in uniform serving overseas in combat zones, afford greater deference, dignity, and respect for human life, than many of our police departments provide for our own citizens of the United States of America.

Speaker 15:    [radio] Radio 28878.

Speaker 16:    [inaudible] What is that in your bag [inaudible]?

Speaker 17:    Bra, don’t touch my bag, bra! Don’t touch shit in it, bra.

Speaker 16:    Bra?! Sit down!

Speaker 17:    Excuse me.

Speaker 16:    Sit down. Let me get your ID. Where’s your ID at?

Speaker 17:    In my bag, bra. You’re not touching my bag!

Speaker 16:    Listen. Where’s your ID?

Speaker 17:    You’re not touching my bag.

Speaker 16:    Can you get it out of your bag?

Speaker 17:    No! My mother will get it out of my bag.

Speaker 16:    All right. We’re going to take it out. Just don’t-

Speaker 17:    Bra, you cannot touch my- Bra, what the fuck are you doing?

Speaker 16:    Lay her down. Let me lay her down. Yeah.

Speaker 17:    I swear to God! [shrill screaming, wails]

Speaker 16:    On the floor. Lay down.

Speaker 17:    [shrill screams] Fucking bullshit man. I swear to God, bra, this shit not even right, y’all!

Speaker 18:    The fact that the Chief of Police has never once found any civilian complaint against any officer, to have any merit, is ludicrous.

Dr. Richard Montgomery:    When they decided to re-look at Lamar Wright’s case, part of it was because when you look at the complaints that the Chief reviews, he’s never found any of his officers guilty of anything!

Speaker 18:    The Euclid Police Department has been shown to have a complete disregard for the people who they police, to have a disregard for, frankly, constitutional and legal policing, and that they treat the use of force as a laughing matter. The appellate court just issued a scathing decision, recognizing all of these things from the Police Department.

Dr. Richard Montgomery:    Well, I hope that the appeals court reversing Lamar Wright’s case, will turn into a reversal for Luke Stewart. There’s just too many things that went wrong in the events that led to Luke’s death, for his family not to receive justice.

Speaker 18:    I think what’s so significant about the Lamar Wright ruling, is that the court recognized how problematic the department on a whole is. The [inaudible] theory is a difficult claim to make, to prove that a constitutional violation, a use of force, is the result of a customer practice, is a big leap in the legal world. And so for the sixth circuit, and a fairly conservative panel on the sixth circuit, to recognize that this department is so infused with inappropriate training, lack of discipline, lack of supervision, just across the board problems, I don’t believe that there’s any way for us to then look at the Luke Stewart case in a vacuum. This is the department that caused that violation, as well.

Tara Stewart:    Luke Stewart was shot five times. Three times to the chest, once to the neck, and once to the right wrist. That should be traumatic for anyone, even a police officer. I’m not surprised by some of the things that the Chief of Police got up and said today, but I’m disappointed. As a business owner in Euclid, I’m afraid. The community should be afraid. Somebody at city council should be required to make sure that officer Rhodes is okay, because he’s back on the force, patrolling with a gun after taking somebody’s life. You guys are all elected officials. Somebody voted to put you in this position. Someone took the time out to support you guys. The family of Luke Stewart is asking for your support. We’re asking for your answers to the questions. Chief, do you have an answer?

Chief Scott Meyer:    The loss of any life is tragic, it’s devastating, and it’s sad. This is my first opportunity to say to you and to the family that I do send… You don’t know what’s in my heart, so you can snicker and we can have that type of thing. I send my condolences for the sad events that took place. I don’t know what else to say.

Tara Stewart:    Would you consider reviewing the policy of reinstating someone back to work even 14 days after taking someone’s life? I don’t know what the grieving process looks like, Chief, but I do know that when you shoot someone that many times, I’m a CCW carrier, if I ever had to take someone’s life to protect myself, I would be traumatized. I [hollow thumping] definitely can understand returning officer Rhodes back to work, but maybe desk-duty. Maybe this policy needs to [hollow thumping] be re-evaluated.

Speaker 19:    Thank you ma’am, we appreciate your comments. I believe the Chief has answered the question, at this time, to the best of his ability, in light of the pending investigation. So, thank you.

Roger Glenn Hill

Roger Glenn Hill is a photographer, documentarian, and filmmaker based in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to the mini-documentary series State of Injustice, his titles include the award-winning narrative feature Huckleberry (Best Narrative Film 2019 QFLIX) and the documentary Flying Paper (Jury Prize 2015 Baghdad International Film Festival), among others.

Brian Douglas

Brian “BZ” Douglas is an independent journalist based in Cleveland, Ohio, covering corruption in Cleveland politics and abuse by police. For the past three years, he has hosted "BZ Listening," an eclectic podcast featuring journalists, musicians, activists, filmmakers, and more.