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Longtime Cleveland police sergeant violated juvenile’s rights in 2015 interrogation, lawsuit says

September 20, 2018

Longtime Cleveland police sergeant violated juvenile’s rights in 2015 interrogation, lawsuit says

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A black Cleveland man says a now-retired city police sergeant violated his constitutional rights when he illegally removed him from a juvenile jail and interrogated him without his attorney or mother present.

Jayvon Benton, now 19, says former Second District detective Sgt. Thomas Shoulders illegally took him from the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center on Sept. 1, 2015, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Cleveland.

Benton, who was 16 at the time, was being held after being charged with receiving stolen property and obstructing official business.

His lawsuit says Shoulders tried three times between Aug. 28 and Aug. 31, 2015 to remove Benton from the Juvenile Detention Center to interview him, but staff rebuked his efforts. He tried again on Sept. 1, and this time was successful, having found an employee who did not know the rules.

Shoulders worked for Cleveland police for more than three decades before retiring in May 2017. He and other police officers interrogated Benton for three hours about an aggravated robbery without his mother or his public defender, according to the lawsuit.

These actions all violated Benton’s constitutional rights, the lawsuit says. It also violated the Detention Center’s policies, which require an officer to present a warrant or order from a juvenile court judge to remove an inmate.

Benton faced more charges after the interview, though those and the charges for which he was originally held were later dropped, Benton’s attorney Sara Gedeon said. Before that, a Juvenile Court magistrate judge suppressed Benton’s statement as a result of Shoulders’ actions.

The former officer’s behavior in the case are consistent with a racist attitude he has toward young black men, according to the lawsuit.

Benton does not allege that Shoulders made any derogatory statements toward him, but the lawsuit references a 2014 suit filed by Patrick Carner that accused Shoulders and other officers of using racist words during Carner’s arrest.

During the arrest, Carner was able to get his cellphone and call his mother. His mother did not pick up, and a voicemail on her phone preserved some of the racist statements, according to court filings.

Carner dropped his lawsuit in 2015. However, he had filed a complaint against Shoulders with the city in 2013.

Internal Affairs charged Shoulders with making a derogatory and inappropriate statement, but Assistant Safety Director Edward Eckart dismissed that and charges from unrelated cases during a hearing in February 2014, according to city records Gedeon sent to cleveland.com.

Benton’s lawsuit, referencing the Carner lawsuit and recording, said Shoulder’s actions against the then-juvenile “is completely consistent with young, African American men being viewed as a ‘n----r’ and ‘animals’ in the personal and professional eyes of Shoulders.”

Benton, who is now on the football team at Monroe College in New York, also named police Chief Calvin Williams, Safety Director Michael McGrath and detectives David Shapiro, David Lamm, Cynthia Moore and John Lally in the lawsuit.

He is asking for an unspecified amount in damages and an order that would require the city to develop and enforce a policy that prohibits officers from using the n-word.

Cleveland spokesman Dan Williams said the city had not been served with the most recent lawsuit, but said it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Tommy Shoulders and his identical brother Terry, also a retired vice sergeant, were treated as sort-of folk heroes for much of their careers. They were the subject of stories in The Plain Dealer that detailed their latest busts or outlandish cases.

Both men were also sued several times in their career.

Most recently, the city settled a lawsuit in July for $500,000 for the fatal shooting of Danny Withers by detective Daniel Zola in 2010. Shoulders and Shapiro accompanied Zola on a search for Withers, then wanted in connection with a bank robbery.

Records show Shoulders was suspended two days for entering Withers’ grandmother’s house instead of calling for a SWAT team, as they had reason to believe there would be armed resistance to an arrest, records show.

Shoulders also faced other disciplinary cases throughout his career. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge James Gwin.

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

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