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AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Civil rights attorneys claim the city of Akron is suppressing free speech of those protesting a special grand jury’s decision not to indict the eight Akron police officers involved in Jayland Walker‘s death.
A civil complaint filed Friday by Cleveland-based Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein on behalf of the Akron Bail Fund — a nonprofit that helps demonstrators arrested during protests post bond and be freed from jail — accuses the city of numerous constitutional violations and asks a federal court to intervene by granting a temporary restraining order against the city.
The attorneys claim the city suppressed and punished protesters by closing city buildings, blocking off public spaces and permitting the use of smoke bombs and tear gas, according to a Friday news release from the firm. They also accuse city police officers on crowd control excessive force and unlawful stops and arrests since the protests began.
“This gross abuse of police power began nine months ago, and this week Akron continued its unconstitutional violence and censorship against these peaceful protesters and their message,” law firm partner Sarah Gelsomino is quoted in the release. “We must stop Akron and its police department from further violating First Amendment rights, and this motion for an emergency order will allow demonstrators to exercise this right.”
Read the full complaint below:
City officials declined comment Friday, since the complaint is pending litigation.
A Friday report from Akron police noted there were “no known issues or incidents” stemming from Thursday protest events.
But Wednesday protests left several Highland Square businesses damaged by rocks. Demonstrators that day near Copley Road and East Avenue reportedly began throwing bottles at police officers.
Police soon declared the protest an unlawful assembly and began using what appeared to be chemical irritants to disperse the crowd.
Akron Police Chief Steven Mylett in a Thursday letter to the community addressing those protest scenes said, “I understand your concerns.” His Thursday statement reads, in part:
I am waiting on video footage from a few of our partner law enforcement agencies to help clarify some confusion. Before I explain what happened, I need to be sure of the timeline of events. If information is released prematurely and without the facts, that misinformation could cause irrevocable damage. As soon as I can confidently determine the exact circumstances of how last evening unfolded, I will make that information available to the public. If we made mistakes, we would improve upon them, and if the officers’ actions were reasonable, we would share that information as well.Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett
Police arrested six people following protests on Tuesday.