Ohio Residents March Against Police Brutality After Exoneration Of Police Who Brutalized Black Man

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[Speaking Truth To Empower]
Sandusky Police Chief John Orzech: excuses police brutality in Sylvester Lewis case
Photo: Facebook faceshot

How can police in Sandusky, Ohio claim they didn't use excessive force against Sylvester Lewis last March?

On Saturday, residents in Ohio’s Erie County, marched to protest police brutality after several police officers were exonerated for brutalizing an innocent Black man in March.

Saturday’s “Sandusky March Against Police Brutality” was organized by Ohio State University students Cameron Jones and Alexa Cipolla.

Protesters carried various signs during the march in downtown Sandusky, Ohio. One sign read “Justice not justification #policethepolice.” Another said, “If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor.”

The demonstrators marched in front of the Sandusky Police station to protest the recent decision which absolved the officers who brutalizing Sylvester Lewis on March 21. Sandusky Police, officers from the Perkins Police Department, and deputies from Erie County Sheriff’s office were all involved in the beating of Lewis. All three law enforcement agencies claim officers didn’t engage in excessive force. The assault of Lewis was videotaped by one of his neighbors. A separate video from a police body-cam was also taken.

Alexa Cipolla spoke to the Sandusky Register newspaper about why she helped organize the march.

“I was upset to see that all three law enforcement agencies thought the arrest was handled properly,” Cipolla said. “I understand that the officers were just doing their jobs, and neither of us think those officers should be fired or anything of that nature, but it was just upsetting to see the law enforcement agencies think there was absolutely no issue with what had happened.”

Co-organizer Cameron Jones say they aren’t trying to “bash” police. But Jones said he thinks the Sandusky Police didn’t take the “correct course of action.” “We just want those sworn to protect and serve us to be doing the best they can do,” he said.

Lewis, 24, and Kalvin Wickliffe, 25, were allegedly suspected of being involved in an armed robbery at the local Convenient Food Mart. Police body-cam footage shows Lewis being confronted by police inside a stairwell where he lives at the Pioneer Trail apartment buildings. Lewis becomes enraged by the officer who suspects him of the robbery. He tells that officer “I’m just coming off of work.” Lewis complains about seeing the officer pull his gun before coming into his apartment complex.

Both Lewis and Wickliffe object to the suspicions of the officer. Wickliffe starts videotaping the officer. The officer calls for backup. For some unknown reason, a responding officer, upon arrival, quickly handcuffs Wickliffe. After he is placed in handcuffs, Wickliffe says “so now I’m being illegally detained?”

Not long after, an officer [Briggs] asks Lewis to “turn around and put your hands behind your back.” Lewis resists. He is then choked, throwed to the ground, beaten, and Tasered while being arrested.

Lewis’ neighbor, Teegan Shumate, videotaped the tasering and beating of Lewis. “I think it’s wrong for police to do what they’re doing,” Shumate said. “They’re not protecting and serving, they’re just doing what they want to do.”

Shumate’s videotape shows Lewis first being choked by one officer, before being hit with a knee by another officer. Lewis was then thrown to the ground where he was repeatedly Tasered. Then, another officer is seen punching Lewis—while he is on the ground subdued by other officers. At least five officers are seen on the tape holding Lewis down. One unknown officer, on the videotape, justified the repeated Tasering of Lewis by saying they were trying to handcuff him.

Lewis and Wickliffe were cleared of being involved in the armed robbery.

But Sandusky Police Chief John Orzech said he though police were not excessive in the force they used. “We have to make sure force was reasonable and we believe the force was reasonable and not excessive,” Orzech said. Chief Orzech says this in spite of the fact that one officer hit Lewis with a knee, while another repeatedly punched Lewis—while he was restrained by other officers on the ground.

Assistant Perkins Police Chief Vince Donald also excused the police brutality shown on the video.

“Officer Briggs attempted to place the suspect in restraints,” Donald said, “but the suspect resisted at which time multiple officers from different agencies assisted taking the suspect to the ground in order to gain control prior to cuffing. These actions are within (department) policy … and I find no reason for further investigation into this use of force.”

But the Sandusky NAACP disagrees with this assessment. Sandusky NAACP president, Daryl Murphy, says they plan to complaint about the decision of police in this case.

“Some of those practices need to be changed, if that’s what they’re saying,” Murphy said. “We’re going to be reaching out to all three of those (police) agencies and make recommendations.” Murphy sympathized with the fear faced by Lewis and Wickliffe. “I would fear (for my life),” Murphy said. “Yeah they’re raising their voice … but you’re accusing (Lewis) of robbery.”

Murphy also said he would like to arrange a public forum to discuss police brutality. “We don’t want some young person to get killed. They should comply (with police) but we want police officers to treat everyone with the same respect.”

Truthfully speaking, police in America don’t treat African-Americans with respect. They never have, because White America doesn’t respect the humanity of Black people. White America’s police force proves that daily. That’s why we never get any accountability regarding police brutality from the White political structure. All we get is excuses—when we’re not being totally ignored.

In this case, the police say they were looking for suspects in an armed robbery. They decided to arrest Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Wickliffe. What seems to have gotten lost here is: what was the basis for police arresting these two innocent Black men to begin with? What evidence did these officers have to arrest them? Police said Lewis and Wickliffe matched the description of the armed suspects.

What does that mean? They fit the profile because they’re Black, is that it?

Now some will say Lewis resisted a police order. Is that supposed to justify the violent response by police here? Of course not. Even in his resisting, Lewis never threw a punch, or anything like that. But, on the video we see an officer hitting him with a knee—after he was initially choked by police. We also see another officer punching Lewis repeatedly, as other officers were restraining him. Another officer is Tasering Lewis repetitively as well.

Another question here resolves around one of the responding officers who decides to handcuff Mr. Wickliffe. Ironically, it is the police video which shows this responding officer, immediately handcuffing Wickliffe upon arrival. Why? What good reason could this officer have for doing this, since he had no way of really knowing what was going on? Apparently, because Wickliffe was seen as a belligerent Black man that was enough. Both men should sue these police officers.

How long will we continue to accept this type of excessive violence, and injustice, from police? Would this be acceptable if White people were regularly being brutalized in this manner? Unfortunately, from the very beginning, Black America has been violently under the gun in their interactions with police.

We’re a long way from changing that reality.

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