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Defendant Called ‘Black Rambo’ By His Attorney

June 16, 1986

CLEVELAND (AP) _ A man accused of wounding eight white people in response to alleged harassment of a neighborhood’s sole black family was described Monday by his lawyer as a ″black Rambo.″

Stanley E. Tolliver, attorney for Michael Spraggins, did not say, however, that his client did the shootings.

″We are not acknowledging anything,″ Tolliver said. ″We are just saying he did what he had to do.″

Spraggins made an initial appearance Monday on a felonious assault charge before Cleveland Municipal Judge George W. Trumbo.

He did not enter a plea, and the judge set a preliminary hearing for June 25.

Spraggins, 23, remained free on $5,000 bond. Tolliver said Spraggins, a restaurant bus boy, has no criminal record.

Police charged Spraggins last Friday, three days after the shootings in a west side neighborhood. Police said the shootings stemmed from resentment over the treatment of Marlene Armstrong and her family, the only blacks in the working-class neighborhood. Spraggins was a visitor to the Armstrongs, police said.

While Mayor George Voinovich has called for a federal investigation to determine whether the Armstrongs’ civil rights were violated, no whites have been charged in the June 10 shootings. Some witnesses said the shootings followed an argument between the Armstrongs and neighbors who were lighting fireworks.

Tolliver questioned the fairness of charging only his client.

″There was a mob out there and, according to the people that were there, they had rifles, they had guns and they were threatening,″ he said.

Annie Black, Spraggins’ mother, also criticized the arrest of her son.

″If my son hadn’t defended himself and the Armstrongs, they all would have been dead today,″ she said.

Spraggins is charged in the wounding of a 15-year-old boy who, prosecutors said, was a bystander to the incident. Six men and one other teen-age boy were also wounded, none of them seriously, when Spraggins allegedly fired four blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun, police said.

″When he came out, this mob thought they had a black Sambo,″ said Tolliver, ″and it turned out they had a black Rambo, and I think that kind of shocked them.

″And perhaps that news will come out and go out to some of these other thinking people that they might have some more of these black Rambos out there and that might discourage them since the police don’t seem to be interested.″

The Armstrongs left the neighborhood under police escort after the shootings and have since moved.