CLEVELAND — Two gay men have filed a federal lawsuit against several officers from the Cleveland Police Department stemming from an arrest last April.
The men claim they were subjected to derogatory name-calling and then hauled off to jail in their underwear, despite repeated requests to change clothes.
In a civil lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, nationally-recognized civil rights attorney David Malik alleges several officers from the Cleveland Police Department violated the couple’s constitutional rights.
“We were called faggots a lot by police, and I consider that a fighting word,” said Jonathan Simcox.
Simcox and his partner, Steven Ondo, claim they were subjected to, “excessive force and undisguised prejudice,” because of their sexual orientation.
“It was more humiliating than I can even explain to you,” said Steven Ondo.
In April 2011, Ondo and Simcox were walking home from a bar on the near west side when they started arguing. They say a neighbor, who happened to be an off-duty Cleveland police officer came outside and confronted them.
“He came out over shouting, saying, ‘Shut up, you`re disturbing the peace’,” said Simcox. “I pushed to get past him, as soon as I did that he knocked me on the ground, and just started beating me, hitting me, standing over top of me, and punching me repeatedly.”
A few minutes later, Cleveland police showed up at their house. Ondo and Simcox were arrested and hauled off to jail.
“At the time my hands were all cut up, I was covered in blood,” said Simcox.
The men said after they were released from jail, they were told no charges were being filed against them. About a week later, the men were upstairs sleeping inside their home when they heard a loud banging outside their front door.
According to the lawsuit, “6 or 7 members of the SWAT/and or Warrant Team” were on a sweep that day. Ondo and Simcox said officers then informed them they were wanted on a warrant that was issued for, “assaulting a peace officer.”
The men said each time they tried asking questions, the officers became increasingly violent.
“The officer in the glasses grabbed me by my shirt, and punched me twice in the face, after he punched me, he threw me up against the wall,” said Simcox.
Simcox says at the time of the arrest, he and his partner were wearing only underwear and t-shirts. When Simcox’s brother asked police if he could get them some pants and shoes, one of the officers allegedly responded by saying, “You can go get them shoes, but faggots don`t deserve to wear pants in jail.”
The lawsuit states that the men were ordered to stand outside in their front lawn for five to 10 minutes while they were publicly humiliated.
Ondo and Simcox were taken to jail and according to the lawsuit for, “at least one whole day their repeated requests for pants were denied.”
Civil rights attorney Sam Riotte said, “Jonathan and Steven’s rights were violated in part of who they are, because they are homosexuals.”
As for the assault charge, Riotte said, “They went to trial, it was proven they didn’t do anything wrong, they were found not guilty.”
FOX8 contacted the Cleveland Police Department seeking comment. Interim Law Director Barbara Langhenry issued this response: “The City of Cleveland is aware that the lawsuit has been filed and will appropriately address this legal matter in court. At this point, the City has no comment on this pending litigation.”
“[Police] have a lot of power, abuse of power, and it’s something that threatens not just Jonathan and Steven, but everybody and so a way to prevent this is to stand up, speak out and say this is wrong,” said Riotte.
“The police are supposed to be there to help you now after this whole incident and everything happened, I would definitely think twice about calling them again. I mean, it was terrifying, it just changed my whole view on what really is safe,” said Simcox.