A jury in Ohio awarded an East Cleveland man $50 million. The man claimed after he was arrested in 2012, cops beat him and then locked him without food in a concrete storage room.
The incident occurred in 2012. It took 7 long years for Arnold Black to receive justice. He originally won $22 million however an appeals court tossed the award. A second jury found the police liable and this time awarded $22 million. (The City of East Cleveland is the party that appealed, a move that they regret now.)
Black’s historic victory is one of the largest civil rights verdicts in Ohio history. It may be the largest. $30 million of that represents punitive damages. Typically, government agencies are immune from punitive damages and the officers involved are not likely to have that much in assets.
The victory is somewhat hollow as Black suffers from permanent injuries sustained in the beating.
His story begins in 2012. Black was driving down Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland, a city known for abusive police practices. He was pulled over and his car searched. There is some discrepancy as to whether there was any cause for the stop or whether the police thought his vehicle was involved in a crime.
Whatever the reason for the stop, when the cops realized they had the wrong guy, Black suffered a horrible beating. After Black repeatedly told one of the officers, Detective Randy Hicks, that he had no drugs, Hicks allegedly said, “You messed my night up.” And then Hicks punched Arnold Black in the head.
Black was then arrested and brought to the station. That was on a Friday night. He wasn’t brought to the Cuyahoga Jail until Tuesday.
During his stay at the East Cleveland Police Department he was kept in a concrete storage room – a closet – with no food and no toilet. He says he was given just one carton of milk as food during those 5 days.
Black was ultimately charged with possession of crack and tampering with evidence but prosecutors would soon drop the case because the police failed to produce any evidence. [In our experience, corrupt cops will plant drugs as part of a cover up of a beating. Three East Cleveland cops went to prison for planting drugs on suspects although not Det. Hicks.]
Black says the beating was so severe that years later he continues to need surgery to drain his skull of excess fluids. Family members say his memory is poor, speech slow and his personality has changed, symptoms common with traumatic brain injuries.
In a rare turnaround of events, the officer that delivered the beating had a change of heart. He resigned from the force and testified on behalf of Black. During his testimony he claimed the East Cleveland Police used fear and submission against suspects. He also said the then police chief had a practice of roughing up suspects.
Chief Spotts retired in 2014 although some questioned whether his retirement was voluntary. East Cleveland police and city government have been shrouded in an almost constant cloud of corruption inquiries. Several cops there not connected to Arnold Black’s case went to prison for framing suspects.
The city continues to deny any wrongdoing. Former police chief Randy Spotts predictably said there was no pattern of altering evidence or hiding abuse. [Both Spotts and Arnold Black are African American.]
Many interesting things emerged between the arrest and the recent $50 million verdict. For example, the dash cam video that allegedly showed police finding cocaine in the vehicle mysteriously has a gap.
Prior to trial, the City of East Cleveland offered $50,000 in settlement. Sadly many poor residents accept these settlements simply because they need money to feed their families. Arnold Black said no and the rest is history.
Our fear is that Arnold Black may never receive much money. The city once before considered bankruptcy protection. Now the judgment is even large than before.
Takeaways from the Arnold Black Case
It’s rare for a jury to award $50 million in a police brutality or false imprisonment case.
This case was tried before a Cuyahoga County jury instead of a federal jury which would have pulled in people from all over Northern Ohio. That is significant because we believe that local jurors were familiar with East Cleveland and its corruption problems. The jurors in this case probably just had enough.
It’s also an important lesson for victims of police brutality cases. If you good evidence and a good lawyer, going to trial is often the best strategy. We know, however, that the police will frequently “low ball” a settlement offer.
The lure of fast money is great for some. We are aware of a City of Milwaukee case where cops had allegedly beat up a passerby who took too close an interest in a raid. There is nothing illegal about filming cops, however some cops don’t like it. [Body cams is changing that dynamic and for the good.]
The victim suffered serious injuries but the city was able to tempt him with an extremely low offer after learning his car has just been repossessed.
The lesson here? $50,000 now or the possibility of collecting millions. We think Arnold Black made the right choice even if not every dollar is collectable.
Residents have the right not to be abused, beaten or wrongfully imprisoned. If you or a loved one has suffered mistreatment in jail or prison, you have legal options and may be entitled to compensation. CALL US at 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn how we can help you file a federal civil rights lawsuit.*
*Our practice is limited to serious injuries, wrongful imprisonment and death cases. We regret that we cannot accept every case.