Cleveland cop caught pepper-spraying Movement for Black Lives protesters suspended
Investigation under way after crowd gathered while youth was arrested and Robert G Schwab responded with canister of irritant
The Cleveland transit officer who pepper-sprayed a crowd leaving the Black Lives Summit has been placed on administrative leave.
Robert G Schwab, a sergeant with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, used the irritant spray during a confrontation over the seeming arrest of a black teenager. A video of the white officer spraying the crowd on Sunday quickly went viral.
Schwab – described as a 25-year veteran of the force – was being assigned to administrative duties while the agency investigated the incident, said GCRTA spokesman Jerry Masek, who did not know how long that investigation would take.
Earlier social media had mistakenly identified Lieutenant Sean O’Neil as the police officer involved. O’Neil, who is white, successfully sued the GCRTA for discrimination when a black candidate with lower test scores was promoted and he was not.
The confrontation provided an ironic ending to a conference birthed from protests over police violence. More than 1,200 black activists spent a weekend organizing and discussing police use of force and other social just issues.
According to a GCRTA statement Schwab and his partner had taken the intoxicated 14-year-old off the bus and were questioning him at a shelter at the edge of Cleveland State University, where the conference was held.
When the crowd gathered the officers moved the youth to the car for “the safety of the juvenile”, the statement said. Protesters surrounded the car and blocked it from leaving.
According to the statement Cleveland police reported a tip that “four armed individuals were en route to the scene in a white Oldsmobile”. The GCRTA and Cleveland police departments are separate agencies.
Schwab began spraying after the crowd began chanting. The teenager was treated by paramedics and released to his mother.
No shots were reported fired, nor was anyone arrested.
The incident upset a city already unsettled over law enforcement conduct. A few hours after the incident on Sunday a Cleveland city council member, Jeff Johnson, demanded the GCRTA release the officer’s name and remove him from its police force pending investigation.
Johnson, who has been outspoken on police violence, emailed the GCRTA chief executive Joe Calabrese when news of the incident broke on Sunday. Johnson asked for “a full use of force investigation into the original arrest of the 14 yr old youth [sic] and the actions taken by RTA officers with the nonviolent protesters”.
Johnson said he was pleased with the authority’s decision to identify Schwab and place him on leave but the confrontation raised questions about the authority’s use of force policies. “I think the bigger question is does the RTA have sufficient rules and procedures to deal with non-violent protests.”