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February 10, 2012

‘F--s don’t get to wear pants to jail’


Couple sues Cleveland police over beatings and two unneeded arrests

Cleveland--Two gay men are suing the city of Cleveland and 27 police officers after being assaulted, humiliated and targeted with anti-gay epithets on two separate occasions last April, including being taken to Cuyahoga County Jail without being allowed to put on pants.

Officers with a SWAT or warrant team that burst into their apartment house told them, “Faggots don’t get to wear pants to jail,” according to the complaint.

Steven Ondo and Jonathan Simcox filed a federal civil rights suit on January 18 which cites “excessive force and undisguised prejudice inflicted upon two gay men.”

They were walking home from Johnny Malloy’s at West 117th Street and Clifton Blvd. with a friend on April 2, 2011, when they got into an argument over a text Jonathan sent to another friend. Ondo went to sit on their landlord’s back porch, a few doors from their apartment on the third floor of a house. Simcox and their friend went on to the house, only to realize that Ondo had the keys.

They did not know where he had gone, so Simcox started calling for him. According to the suit a man who lived nearby came barreling towards Simcox, saying, “Shut up, you faggot. This is my block.”

The neighbor, who none of the three knew was an off-duty Cleveland police officer, is around six feet tall and 220 lbs. Simcox weighs 130 lbs.

Simcox told the larger man that they were in front of his and Ondo’s home, and to leave the property. He refused. The friend they were with had already gone to the front porch of the house. Simcox tried to follow her, but the neighbor allegedly blocked his way. When Simcox tried to push him out of his way, the larger man punched him, then grabbed him and dragged him across the driveway, where Simcox cut his hand badly.

Ondo heard Simcox calling for help and came to help, but was pinned to the ground by the larger man. When their friend tried to intervene, the neighbor pinned her arm behind her back.

At this point, Ondo and Simcox’s other neighbors came out, and seeing then being manhandled, yelled, “Get off of them! Those are little guys! Leave them alone!” Ondo, Simcox and their friend were able to retreat inside the house. They told their assailant they were going to call the police, and he told them that he was a police officer. According to the suit, it was only time he identified himself as a police officer.

While they were calling the Cleveland Police Department’s non-emergency number, thinking the incident was over, their assailant apparently called the police himself. When officers arrived, Ondo and Simcox were arrested. Simcox was still bloody from the gash on his hand, and Ondo had a black eye. As they were escorted into separate squad cars, the neighbor stood outside chatting with officers, who refused to take the friend’s statement.

In jail, the couple were booked and fingerprinted, but officers refused to take their mug shots or take photographic evidence of their injuries, although Simcox had to receive a tetanus shot from the jail nurse for his hand.

They were released three days later, and the charges of aggravated disorderly conduct and obstructing official business were dropped.

A week after their encounter, they were awoken at 5:30 am by police with shields and helmets. Ondo responded to the loud pounding on the door, was punched in the face and shoved into the vacant apartment on the second floor. When Simcox came out to the stairwell, he put his hands up and asked what was going on.

He was asked if he was Jason. He responded that he was Jonathan and did not know who Jason was. This earned him two punches in the face. The police officers eventually decided that Ondo and Simcox were the men for whom they were looking, and told them they were being arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Simcox’s brother Jesse asked if he could at least bring them pants and shoes. The police let him go back upstairs twice, since he first returned with shoes with laces, but refused to let him give them pants. “Faggots don’t get to wear pants in jail,” he was told.

In the van used to retrieve people for outstanding warrants, they were the first people picked up. The next man laughed at them, saying they must have done something really bad, since the police had called him first to let him know they were on their way so he could get dressed.

They were left in a holding cell for a day, wearing only their underwear and Tshirts, before a female corrections officer gave them pants.

At trial, Ondo and Simcox were found not guilty of all charges.

The complaint cites numerous grounds for the suit, including violation of equal protection constitutional clauses, cruel and unusual punishment, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault.

It also accuses officers of making “false and perjured statements” to gain the warrant the produced the second, 5:30 am arrest.

Their off-duty neighbor is named as one of the defendants, along with the city and six other officers, along with 20 unnamed male and female police department and jail employees.

The Cleveland Police Department did not return requests for comment by press time. Interim Law Director Barbara Langhenry told WJW Channel 8 that the city has no comment.       |















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