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July 13, 2012

‘No pants in jail’ false-arrest suit moves forward

Cleveland--A lawsuit against the city of Cleveland and a group of police officers accused of the unprovoked assault, humiliation and false imprisonment of a gay couple is going forward, says the attorney representing the two men.

At one point, police took the couple at dawn from their Edgewater area home to jail without allowing them to get dressed, according to the suit, telling them, “Faggots don’t get to wear pants in jail.”

David B. Malik, a civil rights attorney and host of American Law Radio on WERE 1490 AM in Cleveland, said that the case is getting ready for the discovery process, during which he will take depositions from the police officers involved and other witnesses.

He said they will “try to get some explanation of why these two young men were singled out,” and why there was a “clear denial of equal protection.”

The suit, which was filed in January, stems from an incident last year. Steven Ondo and Jonathan Simcox got in an argument on their way back home from Johnny Malloy’s at West 117th St. and Clifton Blvd. on April 2, 2011. Ondo went to sit on their landlord’s back porch, a few doors from their apartment on the third floor of a house, but when Simcox and a friend who was with them arrived at the apartment, they realized Ondo had the keys.

Simcox started calling for Ondo, knowing he was nearby. He was greeted with a bellow of “Shut up, you faggot. This is my block.”

The neighbor who accosted them was a six-foot, 220-pound off-duty police officer, although neither victim knew this until later. Simcox told him they were in front of their home, and asked him to leave the property. The neighbor blocked Simcox from getting to his porch, and when Simcox, who weighs 130 pounds, tried to push him out of the way, the man allegedly punched him.

Ondo heard the scuffle and came to help, but was swiftly pinned to the ground. Other neighbors emerged from their homes and urged the larger man to leave them alone. Once Ondo, Simcox and their friend were able to get into their house, they called police on a non-emergency number.

However, their neighbor was calling police as well, and officers arrived and arrested Simcox and Ondo.

Charges against the two of aggravated disorderly conduct and obstructing official business were later dropped.

A week later, police with shields and helmets pounded on their door at 5:30 am. They were taken out to a van used to retrieve people for outstanding warrants, but were not allowed to get dressed beforehand. According to the suit, one of the officers said, “Faggots don’t get to wear pants in jail.”

The van then went on its rounds, picking up other people--who had been phoned by police to tell them that the van was on its way.

Simcox and Ondo were left in a holding cell for a day, wearing only their underwear and Tshirts until a female corrections officer took pity on them and gave them pants.

They were later acquitted of the charges of assaulting a police officer.

In addition to the violation of equal protection, cruel and unusual punishment, false imprisonment, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the suit also accuses the officers of making “false and perjured statements” to gain the warrant that produced the 5:30 am arrest.

Interim law director Barbara Langhenry said when the suit was filed that the city would have no comment.

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