A total of 71 people were arrested in Cleveland on Saturday, in protests following a not-guilty verdict in the 2012 case of an officer who stood on the hood of a car and fired repeatedly at an unarmed couple, who died.
Protesters gathered shortly after the verdict was announced on Saturday morning . Earlier reports had put the number of arrests much lower.
“The majority of the protesters yesterday were peaceful, although aggressive at the end of the day, but still peaceful,” Mayor Frank Jackson said. “In the evening, there were others that crossed the the line, and they were arrested.”
Most of the arrests came at the end of the night on Saturday, police chief Calvin Williams said at a news conference on Sunday morning.
“This all culminated later on that evening, in another confrontation [downtown] at West 6th and Johnson Court,” Williams said. “Protesters were ordered to disperse. They refused, at which time we brought in enough additional officers to disperse them.”
Williams said “approximately 39 males, approximately 16 females and also some juveniles and other adults” were arrested. Charges included assault, obstruction of justice and aggravated rioting.
The Cleveland police and the mayor’s office had identified some east side neighborhoods – largely African American in population – as “hot spots” that would require close monitoring. These neighborhoods witnessed no incidents after the verdict. Business were open, with people walking the streets.
The arrests occurred downtown, in areas home to theaters, bars and restaurants. Most arrests occurred in the Warehouse District, a sometimes rowdy bar area a few blocks from the Justice Center where the verdict was read. Those arrested were taken to a specially set-up processing facility at Burke Lakefront airport.
By 11pm, the downtown area appeared quite calm and safe. Police presence was far more noticeable than on a usual Saturday night, but there was no indication that fear of civic unrest had lessened the crowds in the area for holiday weekend partying. Several restaurants had closed, but it appeared they had decided to do so as a precautionary measure.
Williams said there were two violent altercations between protesters and restaurant patrons. “We only moved in to make arrests when things got violent and protesters refused to disperse,” he said. “We want people to understand, we’re going to help you in this process, but if things turn violent in this situation, we will take action.”
Mayor Jackson praised the majority of protesters for demonstrating peacefully. “They served as an example of the peaceful demonstration and dialogue that will allow us to move forward to substantive reform,” he said.
Related: Cleveland acquittal highlights high bar to challenging police use of force
Protesters gathered after Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter as well as felonious assault in the November 2012 killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The couple were shot dead in the front seat of their vehicle following a car chase that started when their car backfired and the sound was mistaken for a gunshot. Police officers fired a total of 137 shots; Brelo fired 49, 15 from the hood of the car.
The incident prompted a federal civil rights investigation of use of force by Cleveland police. The inquiry found “a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force in violation of the fourth amendment”, including “the unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons”; “the unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists”; and “excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check”.
On Saturday at a news conference at Public Auditorium, Jackson called the verdict a “moment that will define us as a city”.
The Ohio-born basketball star LeBron James asked protesters to focus on an NBA playoffs game, between his Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks, scheduled in Cleveland at 8.30 pm Sunday.
Jackson, a Democrat and Cleveland native, was first elected in 2005. He has been re-elected twice by large margins.
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