An Ohio man was awarded $22 million this week after suing the city of East Cleveland for damages sustained after two East Cleveland police officers beat him, arrested him, and locked him in a storage closet for four days without food or water.
The Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of plaintiff Arnold Black, 48, who suffered severe head injuries resulting in memory loss and necessary brain surgery, according to court documents. The city, which is already on the verge of bankruptcy, has filed an appeal of the decision.
Black’s win in East Cleveland is being hailed as a major victory for larger civil rights causes by many activists, especially considering that only four to five percent of personal injury cases ever actually go to trial. The case is a prominent example of the ongoing debates and litigation happening around the country concerning police brutality and the excessive use of force targeted at minorities.
According to testimony from Black and East Cleveland Detective Randy Hicks, Black was on his way home from dinner at his mother’s house in April 2012 when he was pulled over by an unmarked police vehicle on suspicion of drug trafficking. Officer Jonathan O’Leary handcuffed Black and detained him on the hood of his pickup truck while Hicks searched inside.
Black claims that Hicks was intoxicated and repeatedly demanded to know where the drugs had been hidden in his truck. The detective proceeded to punch Black repeatedly in the head while O’Leary held him up. The two officers then brought a severely beaten Black to East Cleveland Police Headquarters, forged processing papers that used Black’s license photo in lieu of a mugshot that would have shown his injuries, and locked him inside a storage closet.
Black was held in the closet for four days without food, water, toilet facilities, or communication to the outside world. On the second day, an officer allowed him to call his girlfriend on a cell phone, but when she arrived at the police station, she was not allowed to see or speak with him.
The $22 million awarded to Black includes $10 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in punitive damages.
For Black and his attorney, Rob DiCello, the court’s decision comes as a financial and moral victory. “The importance of this verdicts is not in the money we collect, it’s in the message,” DiCello said. “The powerful message that the jury sent, that this kind of conduct will not be tolerated in Cuyahoga County.”