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Lawsuit: Garfield Heights man’s free-speech rights violated after he was arrested for making fun of officers

July 31, 2018

Lawsuit: Garfield Heights man’s free-speech rights violated after he was arrested for making fun of officers

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A man suing the city of Garfield Heights says police officers fabricated a story that he threatened officers in July 2017 after he laughed and insulted them.

Robert Spencer, a resident of the inner-ring suburb, says officers Kenneth Falzini and David Simia approached him outside his home on Christine Avenue while he was around some neighborhood children, according to lawsuit filed Monday by attorneys Subodh Chandra and Patrick Kabat.

The officers told Spencer they heard someone threaten them. Spencer said he and the children were joking around, or “ranking,” the lawsuit says. He told the officers he would rank them as well, according to the suit.

When Falzini asked for Spencer’s identification, he told the officers to leave his property and insulted them. While Spencer never threatened the officers, he did call Falzini “Beavis & Butthead” and Simia “Elvis,” according to the suit.

Those insults and others set off a series of events that led to Spencer’s arrest, according to the suit. A Cuyahoga County jury in November acquitted Spencer of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Spencer, who has prior felony convictions on weapons charges, says in his lawsuit that the case against him was fabricated because he dared to laugh and make fun of police officers.

“Robert Spencer was arrested and prosecuted for laughing while black,” the lawsuit says.

The 30-year-old Spencer’s lawsuit brings 27 claims against the city and the officers, including violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. He is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

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The account of the officers who arrested Spencer differs, though.

Simia wrote in a police report that Spencer shouted that the officers were “about to get they ass whooped.” The report says Spencer appeared either drunk or high.

Spencer acted aggressive as the officers parked their car and said “step out that car and get your ass whooped! I’ll f-----g rank ya’ll ...,” according to the police report. He was combative as the officers told him that it was illegal to threaten officers. They arrested him after he refused to provide information and Spencer resisted, shoving Falzini, according to the officers’ account.

Officers found a bottle of Xanax prescribed to somebody else in Spencer’s pants pocket. Spencer remained combative after the officers took him to the police station, the report says.

The reports says the officers used body cameras, but Spencer’s lawsuit says the department never provided any footage.

Garfield Heights Law Director Tim Riley declined comment because he had not yet reviewed the lawsuit.

In Spencer’s recounting, Falzini asked for Spencer’s ID and told Spencer he would go to jail if he didn’t comply. Spencer replied: “Motherf----r, for what? I’m on private-ass property and you ain’t got no reason to sit here and talk that bulls--t to me,” according to the lawsuit.

Spencer did not threaten them, though, the lawsuit says.

“No reasonable officer would believe that ‘ranking’ police officers constitutes a true threat,” according to the suit.

Once handcuffed and in the patrol car, Simia told Spencer “All you had to do was shut the f--k up. We weren’t even going to arrest you,” the suit states.

Spencer was in jail for three days before he posted bond. While in there, an unnamed female officer forced him to clean his and other cells, according to the suit. He objected but says he relented after the officer threatened to use pepper spray on him.

The case is assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent.

If you would like to comment on this story, please visit Tuesday’s crime and courts comments section.

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