Cleveland--A gay man with AIDS says a mental health agency insulted him before having him arrested. The agency says it is not aware of the alleged incident.
Earl Rizzo, 40, was arrested September 26 at his home by Cleveland police after telling a Center for Families and Children receptionist on the phone that he would �pound your face� after he says she called him a foul name.
He has been in jail since his arrest.
According to Rizzo, the exchange took place after he had unsuccessfully tried to obtain services from the agency during a recent illness. A friend in the room with Rizzo during the conversation says he heard part of it on September 19.
�He put down the phone and said, �She just called me a dirty, diseased, cocksucking faggot�,� said the friend, who asked not to be identified because he is a client of the agency.
According to the friend, who says he could hear �half the conversation,� Rizzo was telling him what he was being told on the other end of the line as it happened.
The two say that Rizzo, also a center client, was trying to get an appointment for an assessment to resume treatment and social services after he had discontinued them several years ago.
Rizzo says he had trouble getting a good phone connection and felt like he was being put off by the agency, and that his requests to speak to managers about it had not gotten any response for almost three weeks.
Rizzo said that before the call, he had showed up for scheduled appointments but was told to leave because they had been cancelled due to meetings. He added that it was getting to the point where he had no gas in his car to continue coming to cancelled appointments.
He was particularly offended that the agency wanted him to go to their Euclid Avenue office, far from his west side home, in order to talk to a supervisor about the phone incident.
�I told them I don�t want to go downtown,� said Rizzo. �She�s the one who degraded me. Send her downtown.�
Rizzo said he had been a client of the agency since age 11, and that they have known he is gay since 1993 or 1994.
Rizzo said he never had the impression of homophobia from the agency before then.
The woman Rizzo said was at the other end of the phone was Kelly Gent.
She and employee Laura Flemming filed charges against Rizzo for telecommunications harassment, presumably for the �pound your face� comment and his repeated calls demanding to speak to a manager.
The charges do not outline specific behavior. Instead, they say that Rizzo �knowingly permit[ted] a telecommunication to be made� stating that he intended to �cause damage to or destroy public or private property,� or a member of their family at their workplace or home �after a request to desist.�
They also charged Rizzo with menacing by stalking for allegedly �engaging in a pattern of conduct� causing the two to believe that he would cause them �physical harm or mental distress.�
The indictments also don�t specify where the alleged offense took place, suggesting it could have been where they live, work or attend school.
The charges are felonies.
�I don�t even know where they live,� said Rizzo.
Flemming is the assistant to the agency�s director, former Ohio attorney general Lee Fisher.
Fisher said that a call from this reporter was the first he had heard of Rizzo�s complaints.
�If any member of our staff ever denigrated a client, they would be disciplined or likely terminated,� said Fisher.
Fisher said all clients have the opportunity to discuss complaints with a client rights officer, and that all complaints are taken seriously.
Asked if Rizzo had that opportunity before he was arrested, Fisher would not say, suggesting that the agency�s attorneys have advised him not to answer such questions.
�The bottom line is, from time to time we have to take legal actions to protect our staff,� said Fisher. �We would not take legal action until the person is given the opportunity for grievance or to express views. I know of no exceptions.�
Again, Fisher declined to say whether Rizzo had that opportunity, when pressed.
Fisher said the agency has openly gay staff and includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy.
Rizzo remains in the Cuyahoga County jail, and has been ordered psychiatric services. He has a pretrial hearing scheduled for November 9 before Judge Nancy R. McDonnell.
He is represented by public defender Daniel Corrigan.
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