CLEVELAND, OHIO – Two gay men who say they were punched and pinned to the ground by an off-duty police officer before being called offensive names and jailed without their trousers have sued the city and its police over what they call anti-gay bias.
Steven Ondo and Jonathan Simcox said the off-duty officer, who was a neighbor, complained about a noisy argument on the street and attacked them last April and had them arrested. A week later, they said, they were arrested by SWAT officers and were punched again at their home while lounging in T-shirts and underpants. They said they were denied a chance to get their pants and weren’t provided with any in jail for a day.
The men were charged with assaulting the officer but were acquitted Oct. 20 in a non-jury trial.
Ondo, 22, and Simcox, 25, filed the U.S. District Court lawsuit against the city and its police last month and asked for unspecified damages. They said their goal was to deter biased treatment by police.
During the second arrest, the lawsuit says, the officers repeatedly referred to Ondo and Simcox as “faggots” and said “faggots don’t get to wear pants to jail” when they were transported to the city lockup. Simcox’s brother was at the house and asked if he could get the pants for them, but police refused, although he was allowed to get their shoes, the lawsuit says.
Police usually allow cooperative arrested people to retrieve their clothing.
A top city official said Friday the city wouldn’t discuss details of the litigation.
“The city of Cleveland is aware that the lawsuit has been filed and will appropriately address this legal matter in court,” interim Law Director Barbara Langhenry said in an email.
Ondo and Simcox could not be reached Friday. No phone was listed for Ondo in court records, and a phone number for Simcox provided by his attorney wasn’t accepting calls.
Attorney Dan Chaplin, who represented Ondo in the criminal case, said each man weighs about 120 to 130 pounds and they were tossed around like rag dolls by their 225-pound neighbor.
About a week later, he said, a SWAT team calling them “fags” and “queer” arrested them at their home at about 5:30 a.m. on a warrant accusing them of assaulting a police officer. The team then put them in a police van and drove around for a couple of hours making other arrests, he said.
“They were humiliated and embarrassed. They were shackled to strangers while they were in their underwear and they couldn’t leave,” Chaplin said. “And the other guys that were arrested were allowed to get clothes on.”
At the jail, he said, police mocked them, telling them “fags don’t deserve to wear pants” and asked them questions about their sex lives.
“It was just real old-fashioned gay bashing by the Cleveland police department,” he said.
Cleveland police and the city’s Office of Professional Standards said no complaint had been filed in the case, mayoral spokeswoman Andrea Taylor said.