By Paul Gottbrath, Post staff reporter
groups and a Bond Hill businessman filed suit in federal court this morning against the city
of Cincinnati, alleging years of misconduct by the Cincinnati Police Division in the way it
treats African Americans.
The plaintiffs - Bomani Tyehimba, the Cincinnati Black United
Front and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio - hope to turn the case into a class
action that will fundamentally change police/community relations. But before they litigate,
they said they are willing to mediate their complaints with the city to reach that same
”If the city refuses to address the community's concerns, the courts will,” said
Scott Greenwood, a Cincinnati attorney who is general counsel for the ACLU of Ohio.
suit alleges police stops, detentions and searches based on race. It claims that blacks are
more often the target of police force, and are disproportionately charged with minor traffic
violations and other so-called ”discretionary offenses” such as jaywalking.
plaintiffs are asking for a preliminary injunction immediately to prohibit police from
continuing those practices.
Police spokesman Lt. Ray Ruberg declined comment on the
Tyehimba filed suit in federal court nearly two years ago, claiming that police
officers Todd Ploehs and Brett Stratmann violated his civil rights during a traffic stop. He
said they handcuffed him and pointed a gun at his head, before releasing him.
charged with two traffic violations and paid fines to settle them, he said.
was charged with two traffic violations and paid fines to settle them, he said.
detained me a lot longer than they should have,” said Tyehimba, who attended a press
conference at city hall today announcing the suit.
Employing a mediator to resolve the
dispute is unprecedented, said Alphonse Gerhardstein, who with Ken Lawson and Greenwood makes
up the legal team that put the suit together.
”We really want to try to do something
different here,” he said.
Past attempts to resolve disputes between the city and the
African American community have been hampered by a lack of means to ensure the city keeps the
promises it makes, he said.
The plaintiffs proposed Jay Rothman of Yellow Springs, Ohio,
president of the ARIA Group, as mediator.
Juleana Frierson, spokeswoman for the Black
United Front, described the suit as a proactive step to end Fourth Amendment violations ”and
a general attitude of hostility toward African Americans” in the city.
She said the suit
had three goals: to lay out the facts about police discriminationagainst blacks, to gain a
determination that police are violating blacks' rights, and to obtain a court order that will
lead to reforms.
Lawson, who represented Tyehimba in his original suit, said he expected
the class action to gain many more clients. He has a motion pending before U.S. District Judge
Susan Dlott to consolidate into the new suit about eight other cases claiming police
misconduct against African Americans, he said.
Greenwood said the ACLU has filed lawsuits
in 16 other locales across the nation, claiming patterns of misconduct against police, and
none of them have been dismissed or lost. Commonly, they have been resolved by consent decrees
signed by local governments and the people suing them.
There have been allegations for
years from the African-American community that city police do illegal stops and seizures and
racial profiling in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Momentum for the suit began
building in November after the death of Roger Owensby, a 29-year-old College Hill man, in
police custody. He was stopped at a Roselawn gas station for reasons police have yet to