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A few minutes after noon on a September day in 2018, Jacarvi Jackson and Darcell Williams were crossing Euclid Avenue, a main road through Cleveland’s medical area. Both of them worked for a vendor that supplies food to patients at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic. Still in their work uniforms after finishing their eight-hour shifts at the hospital’s loading dock, they were heading to a Burger King lot where their cars were parked. They were in a hurry — Jackson was worried about getting to his classes at Cleveland State University — and didn’t take the crosswalk.
A police cruiser was coming toward them. Eric Parks, the officer inside, rolled down his window and shouted at Jackson and Williams to use the crosswalk. When they didn’t, Parks pulled up and drove onto the sidewalk curb to block their path, they said. Parks then jumped out of the cruiser, grabbed Jackson, bent his arm behind his back and pinned him against the vehicle. Parks held him there for several minutes as two more officers responded to the scene.
In a police report, Parks said that the pair initially refused to provide identification, and that he held Jackson against the cruiser because “I felt he might strike me.” Parks and a second officer, Steven Jevnikar, wrote that Jackson and Williams cursed repeatedly, complaining that the only reason they had been stopped was because they were Black.
Parks also said Jackson had begun to flee, which Jackson and Williams denied. Jackson said he had no reason to run away. He was steps from his car, his clinic identification badge was draped around his neck and he was carrying a backpack filled with textbooks. According to Jackson, Parks told the other officers, “They usually run.” It was clear, Jackson said, that the comment referred to Black people.
Jevnikar apparently mocked Jackson’s distress. When Jackson, his lip quivering, was “staring me down,” Jevnikar wrote in his report, “I asked him if he was having a stroke.”
Parks cited Williams and Jackson for jaywalking. “I was scared as hell,” Williams said. “It was traumatizing.”
Bruised and in pain, Jackson immediately went to the clinic emergency room, missing his class. “I felt violated,” he said. “These people are supposed to be protecting me.”
Even though this incident took place on a public street and sidewalk, the officers who confronted Jackson and Williams were not Cleveland police. Instead, they were part of Cleveland Clinic’s private force, which is granted policing powers by the city.
These hospital cops don’t just handle disturbances in hospital corridors or emergency rooms. In look and practice almost indistinguishable from Cleveland police, the clinic’s 153 officers are armed, make arrests and stop motorists on city streets, including major commuter routes. Along with smaller private police departments operated by University Hospitals and the nonprofit University Circle economic development group, they patrol the city’s medical zone, an island of prosperity and promise that cuts through one of the poorest sections of Cleveland.
On Tuesday evening, Cleveland Clinic and University Circle police will help provide security for the first presidential debate, which will be held on the clinic’s main campus. At the same time, the three private police forces illustrate a little-known dimension of a pervasive problem that has drawn national attention this year and is likely to come up in the debates: racial inequities in law enforcement. As if posting a “Keep Out” sign, private police in Cleveland’s largely white and affluent hospital zone disproportionately cite and criminally charge Black people, often for traffic violations or misdemeanors such as trespassing, jaywalking and possession of marijuana. Some Black people who are charged or cited, like Jackson and Williams, work at the clinic; others are simply passing through the area.
Look-Alike Police Forces
A Cleveland Clinic police cruiser, left, resembles a Cleveland city cruiser, right.
Racial disparities in enforcement of low-level offenses are characteristic of police departments nationwide, said Lynda Garcia, director of the policing campaign at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington. Trespassing and marijuana possession “are not violent crimes and they are generally used to harass folks,” she said. “In more affluent areas, they give officers the grounds to stop people, arrest them and keep them away from these areas. For all those reasons, they are problematic. There is no real pressing public safety issue.”
The tens of thousands of people who work in the hospital corridor along Euclid, are treated as patients there or drive its streets are predominantly white. Yet most of those cited and charged by the private police agencies along Euclid Avenue and surrounding roads are Black, according to court data obtained by ProPublica.
Since Jan. 1, 2015, private police officers operating in the area on Euclid that begins at the sprawling clinic main campus and stretches to the University Hospitals complex have brought more than 8,000 criminal charges and traffic citations against 5,600 people in Cleveland Municipal Court. Nearly three-fourths of those arrested or ticketed are Black, well above the percentage of Black people among the area’s workers and visitors.
The proportions were even higher for the two criminal charges most commonly filed by the private police. Since 2015, the three private forces have issued criminal charges of trespassing to 466 people. Nearly 9 in 10 of those — 405 in all — were against Black people. Similarly, Black people comprised more than 90% of the 242 people charged with misdemeanor possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana.
Overall, nearly 90% of the people charged by two of the private forces — University Hospitals and University Circle — are Black. The Cleveland Clinic’s disparity was less extreme but still significant. Almost 7 out of 10 individuals charged by the clinic were Black.
Private Cops Charge Black People More Often Than All Others
Since Jan. 1, 2015, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and University Circle police have disproportionately charged or cited Black people, especially for trespassing, possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license.
Note: University Hospitals police don’t patrol neighboring streets and have only cited two people for driving with a suspended license. Source: ProPublica analysis of Cleveland Municipal Court records.
As part of their agreements with the city of Cleveland, the three private police departments in 2018 were required to set up civilian boards to review complaints. They were supposed to do so within 30 days, but the clinic said it established a review board this past May; University Hospitals and University Circle said they are in the process of doing so.
In written responses to ProPublica’s findings, the clinic said that it reviews data annually “to ensure there are no concerns for biased policing.” It did not say whether those reviews have indicated any concerns. Statistics that it supplied to ProPublica show that almost two-thirds of the people it arrested in 2018 and 2019 were Black. Of the 275 people arrested in 2018, 65.1% were African American and 27.6% were Caucasian. Arrests soared to 425 in 2019; 64.7% of those arrested were African American and 28.2% were Caucasian.
The clinic said that it issues most of its criminal trespass citations outside traditional business hours, and most individuals found to be on its campus without a “legitimate business purpose” come from the local area. “As a result, the racial composition of those citations will generally reflect the racial composition of the City’s neighborhoods,” it said. Its police issue a verbal and written warning to first-time trespassers, and then can cite or charge them if they trespass for a second time within six months, it said.
Clinic police participate in “robust community outreach initiatives that include working with community partners and local schools to educate residents and students on crime prevention and security awareness,” it said. The clinic seeks to recruit a diverse group of officers that reflects the community, and its officers undergo training in diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias, the clinic’s response said.
University Hospitals said in a statement that its forthcoming civilian review committee will “enhance oversight” of its police department and “reflect our commitment to equitable treatment, social justice and safety.” The committee will be “fully empowered” to “examine individual incidents and practices in the department,” the hospital said.
The hospital also said that its officers “do incredible work” and are trained in diversity and de-escalating situations. It said that its police have issued citations to 260 people since the beginning of 2018 — an average of three individuals cited per officer per year. “We very carefully examine situations when citations are issued and take steps to fully address any concerns,” the hospital said. Unlike the other private police departments, University Hospitals did not comply with ProPublica’s request for disciplinary records. A spokesman said that University Hospitals was “leaning toward the side of caution” to protect patients’ privacy.
Chief James Repicky of the University Circle police said that the nonprofit’s lawyer is reviewing a proposal to establish a review board. He said that his officers don’t target Black people, and that traffic in the area largely flows from predominantly Black communities. “The city of Cleveland is probably 60% Black and we are next to East Cleveland, which is 90% Black,” he said. “It is what it is. We are not looking at color but basically trying to slow people down.”
Euclid Avenue, the main road through Cleveland’s medical zone. (Da’Shaunae Marisa for ProPublica)
Cleveland’s population is 50% Black and East Cleveland’s, 91%, according to census data. The ZIP code that includes the clinic, University Hospitals and University Circle is racially diverse, 42% Black and 41% white. Neighboring ZIP codes are as much as 93% Black. The picture changes when the employees, patients and visitors who saturate the area every day are included. University Hospitals said patients at its Cleveland center reflect the demographics of the northeast Ohio market, which is about 75% white. In addition, 62% of the 8,500 employees there are white.
The Cleveland Clinic would only provide patient and employee demographics for its entire system, which includes other locations in northeast Ohio as well as hospitals in Florida and Nevada. The system’s patients in 2019 were 77% white and 15% Black. Its employees break down similarly with 73% white and 16% Black.
Some nearby residents support the extra policing provided by the private departments. “It’s a force multiplier with a lot of deterrence,” said City Councilor Blaine Griffin, who represents the area.
Since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis brought the issue of racist policing to the forefront, protests and investigations have focused on public departments. Left largely unexamined has been the universe of private police at hospitals, universities, amusement parks and other venues. In a 2017 national survey by Campus Safety magazine, 1 in 4 hospitals reported its public safety staff was “sworn police officers.” Across the country, these private police receive little public oversight or scrutiny even though they carry weapons and often operate with full police powers — usually granted to them by the state or city they operate in.
In Ohio, there are currently more than 1,000 police officers certified by the state at about two dozen hospitals. The nonprofit OhioHealth system, including Grant Medical Center in Columbus, has more than 140 special police officers, according to the Ohio secretary of state. Although Grant doesn’t have the memo of understanding with the city that is required to meet the legal definition of a police force, and its officers don’t have the power to make arrests, they are certified by the state and attend Ohio’s police academy.
In 2017, two hospital officers and a security guard at Grant Medical Center were suspended after a video surfaced of a Black man being hit with a baton, pepper-sprayed and forced to the ground during a confrontation outside the facility. Hospital police alleged that the man, who was visiting a family member working at the hospital, swung at security personnel when asked to leave the premises. Based on their statements, Columbus police charged him with disorderly conduct. The charge was dismissed.
A witness who recorded the video told The Columbus Dispatch that the police used excessive force. The hospital president said at the time that, while the officers followed protocol, they had an opportunity to “exercise more compassion, coupled with good judgment,” and that “we deeply regret what happened.” Afterwards, OhioHealth provided training in unconscious bias and de-escalation techniques, spokesman Mark Hopkins said.
The Cleveland Clinic employs more police officers than all but six cities in Ohio and is the third-largest police agency in Cuyahoga County, with more officers than the Cleveland suburb of Parma, which has 78,000 residents and covers 20 square miles. In addition to the main campus and adjoining streets, clinic officers also patrol other hospitals and properties it operates in northeast Ohio. University Hospitals’ police force has 29 officers and a K-9 unit. University Circle has 21 full-time officers.
Hospital police officers in Cleveland undergo similar training to city police. They must complete the state police training academy program before applying for three-year appointments with the secretary of state. Applicants are generally required to have high school degrees and meet certain physical fitness standards.
The clinic police created a traffic enforcement unit after a speeding driver with a suspended license ran a red light on the clinic campus and killed a patient in June 2018. In connection with the new initiative, Parks issued 14 jaywalking citations between Aug. 27 and Sept. 24, 2018. All but three of the people he cited, including Jackson and Williams, were Black.
Eric Parks, a clinic police officer, cited Jacarvi Jackson and Darcell Williams for jaywalking, summoning them to court. (Cleveland Municipal Court)
Almost 30% of the clinic’s officers are Black, according to its data. Craig Kirkwood, who is Black, was the third clinic officer who responded to the jaywalking incident involving Jackson and Williams. When Kirkwood arrived at the scene, he said, the situation was spiraling out of control. He tried to defuse tensions and support Parks. He told Jackson and Williams that he understood why they were upset, but if they wanted to complain, they should follow up with a supervisor. If they kept arguing on the street, they would lose.
Still, Kirkwood said, he objected to the way Parks dealt with Black suspects. “To me, he is biased,” he said. “He doesn’t have respect for the people in the community he is in. He goes and does what he wants.”
Parks did not respond to requests for comment. Of 65 individuals he has charged or cited since Jan. 1, 2015, 31, or 48%, were Black.
Jevnikar, the other officer at the scene, declined to comment. “I was advised by my superiors that I cannot speak with you,” he said.
Kirkwood was fired last year by the clinic after five years on the force for three instances in which he allegedly violated department policy, including a physical altercation with a suspect outside a clinic building. Kirkwood, who denies any wrongdoing, filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was treated differently because of his race. The lawsuit was dismissed. The clinic said Kirkwood used excessive force against three African Americans within a short period of time and was “appropriately terminated.”
Williams and Jackson filed written complaints with the clinic’s police department about how they were treated. The clinic said that it couldn’t find the complaints, but that they were investigated by a police commander, who determined that there was no wrongdoing by the officers and that the jaywalking citations were appropriate.
One of the other jaywalkers cited by Parks in 2018 was Vernetta Bates, a health coordinator at the clinic. In an interview, she said she was crossing a quiet side street when Parks, who had just corralled another Black jaywalker on the same cut-through, motioned to Bates to come over to them. He was “really, really nasty and mean to us,” she said. As Parks wrote out their tickets, Bates said, some white clinic employees, several in doctor’s coats, jaywalked without penalty. (Parks cited four jaywalkers that day, one of whom was white.) Bates, who said she had never received a ticket before, paid a $162 fine.
Just as the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted racial inequities in law enforcement, so the lopsided toll of Black victims in the pandemic has revealed them in health care. Hospital policing is where these two disparities collide. Cleveland’s prestigious hospitals, which mainly employ and treat whites, are surrounded by low-income Black neighborhoods with some of the worst health outcomes in Ohio, including lower life expectancy and high rates of asthma, diabetes and infant mortality.
Hospitals have replaced the factories and plants of a faded industrial era as the most important economic engine in northeast Ohio. The clinic surpassed Walmart last year to become Ohio’s largest employer, with more than 50,000 employees. It is consistently ranked as one of the top three hospital systems in the country in both quality of care and size.
The Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. (Dustin Franz/The New York Times via Redux)
Revenues for the clinic system, which also includes hospitals in two other states and three countries, were just over $10 billion in 2019. The presidential debate will take place in the Samson Pavilion, which features a massive steel roof and soaring 80-foot-high indoor courtyard. It’s the centerpiece of a half-billion-dollar health education campus that opened last year.
In many other cities, University Hospitals would be the biggest health care system. As it is, the UH system is the second-largest employer in northeast Ohio. Its 2018 revenues topped $4 billion. The hospitals are separated on Euclid by the campus of Case Western Reserve University, which has its own police force.
University Hospitals said it has formed a Social Justice & Equity Team across the institution to “address the issue of racism and its effects on our patients, caregivers and the community we serve.”
Both University Hospitals and Case Western are located within the 1 square mile area known as University Circle. University Circle Inc., a nonprofit group promoting businesses and cultural institutions, spends $2.5 million a year on its own police force patrolling the area, according to its financial statement.
Cleveland’s hospital zone may be one of the most heavily policed areas in the country. Besides the private police agencies, the city police patrol the area, as does the Greater Cleveland Regional Authority Transit Police Department. City police handle most of the major crimes in the area. Calls for help made from the hospital area through the 911 system still go to city police, although there are times when the city department will contact the private agencies for help. Still, the hospital police forces initiate most of their own arrests and citations, often prompted by a traffic stop, a call from hospital staff or someone acting suspicious.
In 2001, Ronnie Dunn, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State, conducted a traffic census during morning and evening rush hours of drivers on Chester Avenue, a busy thoroughfare that runs parallel to Euclid and along the northern border of the clinic main campus. It also cuts through a small section of University Circle.
Dunn determined that 60.5% of drivers were white and 37.2% were Black. In addition, using a radar gun, he found that whites drove faster than Blacks. In an interview, Dunn said that he believes the percentage of white drivers along Chester is even higher today, in part because of the clinic’s expansion. Moreover, census data shows that a relatively large proportion of families in the Black neighborhoods around the medical area don’t have a car. In East Cleveland, which borders the hospital zone and is 91% Black, 40% of households don’t have a vehicle, the highest proportion of any Ohio city.
Yet the Cleveland Clinic and University Circle police departments ticket Black drivers on Chester far more often than whites. Of the 59 people cited by clinic police since Jan. 1, 2015, in which Chester was listed as either the primary or secondary street, 41, or 69%, were issued to Black drivers. Of the 112 citations in the same area by University Circle police, 97, or 87%, were to Black drivers. University Hospitals police don’t patrol the neighboring streets.
ProPublica also analyzed traffic tickets by the home ZIP code of the driver. For each of the 10 most-cited ZIP codes, the proportion of Black people among the population was lower than the percentage of Black drivers who were given traffic citations by University Circle police. The same was true for eight of the top 10 most-cited ZIP codes issued to drivers by Cleveland Clinic police.
Citations issued to drivers who live outside the Euclid Avenue area also underscore the inequities. For example, 94% of citations issued by University Circle police to residents of a ZIP code in suburban Garfield Heights went to Black drivers. Yet only 38% of people in that ZIP code are Black; 56% are white. Similarly, University Circle police issued citations to 32 drivers from one ZIP code in Euclid, a city northeast of the hospital area. All of those cited but one were Black drivers, even though the population in the Euclid ZIP code is 54% Black. Overall, Black people made up 1,723, or 88%, of the 1,965 drivers cited by University Circle police since 2015.
University Circle Police Mostly Cite Black Drivers, Even From a Majority White ZIP Code
A ProPublica analysis revealed most of the ticketed drivers from the 44125 ZIP code in suburban Garfield Heights were Black.
Source: Census data and Cleveland Municipal Court records. Note: 0.3% of citations were issued to drivers who were not categorized as either white or Black.
Repicky, the University Circle chief, said that there have been several incidents of cars hitting pedestrians. “We are trying to be proactive to slow people down so someone doesn’t get hit,” he said.
The most common traffic citation issued by University Circle police is for driving with a suspended or revoked license. Only 26 of the 813 charged with that offense were white; 774, or 95%, were Black.
The clinic issued driving while suspended citations to 286 people during the same time, with 266, or 93%, of those going to Black drivers. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail.
“This is a strong indication of racially targeting black motorists for heightened scrutiny, i.e. racial profiling,” Dunn wrote in an email about the driving while suspended numbers. “Even if there were other offenses, to the point that one population accounted for almost 100% defies the laws of random probability. It is statistically improbable that blacks which arguably represent let’s say anywhere from 38-50% of motorists would account for 95% of those driving under suspension or without a valid license without specifically being targeted for additional scrutiny.”
In Ohio, driver’s licenses are suspended and revoked for a variety of reasons — including failure to pay a traffic ticket, dropping out of school or not paying child support — and studies have shown the poor are disproportionately affected. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles says 1.1 million residents had their license suspended in 2018. It doesn’t keep statistics on suspensions by race.
On Aug. 8, 2019, Rachael Ramos was looking forward to attending a Cleveland Browns exhibition game that night with her boyfriend. But she never made it to the game.
A single mother with two school-age daughters, Ramos worked as a customer service representative at an insurance company, but that didn’t cover all the bills. So, whenever she could spare the time, she delivered food as a driver for DoorDash. On this day, needing money for a car payment, she dropped off a meal at the VA Medical Center in University Circle and started to head back to the west side of Cleveland, where she lives and typically makes most of her deliveries.
Rachael Ramos. (Da’Shaunae Marisa for ProPublica)
At a stoplight at the corner of Carnegie Avenue and East 89th Street, Ramos turned right on a red light as allowed, she said. Both roadways are city streets within the area the clinic police are allowed to patrol. Nearly two blocks later, on the fringe of the clinic campus, Ramos saw police lights in her rearview mirror and pulled over.
It was a clinic officer, Brad Kushan. Ramos immediately called her boyfriend so that he could listen to her interactions with Kushan. “I was getting pulled over and I didn’t know for what,” she said. “I was sweating. My heart was beating like crazy.”
Kushan, she said, told her she failed to use her turn signal when she turned right onto Carnegie. Ramos didn’t believe him. She said she is obsessive about using her blinker and is annoyed when other drivers don’t do the same. The officer, on a citation issued to Ramos, wrote “red traffic signal disobeyed.”
Kushan asked for her license. When he returned, he told Ramos he was arresting her. There was a warrant, he said, stemming from a four-year-old speeding ticket she failed to pay and a hearing on the matter that she missed.
He handcuffed Ramos and told her to stand next to the cruiser as drivers on busy Carnegie, which connects the East Side to downtown, slowed to watch. “I was so embarrassed,” Ramos said. “This was impossible to believe.” After about 10 minutes, a female clinic police officer arrived on a bike and patted her down.
Ramos had received speeding tickets in the past, but traffic citations were the extent of her dealings with the justice system. Her last speeding ticket led to the four-year-old warrant. After that, she had made a conscious decision to drive slower.
Ramos, who is Black, said she suspects she was profiled by the clinic police and that they may have run her plates before stopping her. Kushan cited 244 drivers between 2015 and the beginning of August this year. Six in 10 were issued to Black drivers. Overall, half of the clinic’s traffic citations were to Black drivers, according to court data. The clinic said that traffic stops by its officers “must be based on reasonable suspicion” that an offense has occurred.
The clinic provided its own data for three years of traffic stops. In each year, Black people who were stopped were disproportionately more likely to get a traffic citation instead of a warning. In 2017, Black people comprised 42% of those stopped but 61% of those ticketed. The comparable percentages in 2018 were 35% of traffic stops and 39% of citations; and, in 2019, 45% and 47%.
When arresting her, Ramos said, Kushan told her that, “They want you brought in on the warrant.” The clinic said that an officer in such a situation has no discretion. If there is a valid warrant and the issuing agency will take custody of the person, by law the police must make an arrest, it said.
Kushan did not respond to requests for comment.
Still handcuffed, Ramos was placed in the back of a clinic cruiser and taken downtown to the Justice Center, a hulking, block-long concrete complex of courts, the city police headquarters and the county jail. She was booked just after 4 p.m. Someone in the intake area told her she would be out in minutes, likely released on personal recognizance. Four hours later, a woman approached Ramos and asked why she was there. The woman looked up Ramos in the computer system, but there was no record of her there, Ramos said. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, was calling the jail to find out what was happening with her. He was getting nowhere.
Ramos was moved to a cell with a dozen other women. She was taken out briefly to be photographed and fingerprinted. A few hours later, she was told to put on a light brown, prison issue uniform. A nurse drew blood from her arm to test for tuberculosis. Guards then put Ramos in a cell by herself, where she cried. At 2:44 a.m., without explanation, Ramos was released on personal recognizance. “They opened the door, said, ‘Get your shit and go,’” Ramos said.
The experience “was terrifying,” Ramos said. “I was really, really affected by it.”
Thirteen days later, Ramos was back at the Justice Center downtown for a court date related to the new charges from the clinic and the outstanding speeding ticket. A video recording shows it lasted less than five minutes. The tape shows Ramos talking to the city prosecutor. Ramos said she told him about spending the night in jail and that he looked shocked to hear that.
After talking to Ramos, the prosecutor approached the municipal court judge and said, “The city will nolle,” which is short for “nolle prosequi,” or “unwilling to pursue.” The judge informed Ramos this meant all of the charges against her, including those stemming from the 2015 speeding ticket, were being dropped. She thanked him and then asked, “Cleared?” “You are cleared,” the judge responded. “You did not do it.” Ramos thanked him again and said, “No, I did not,” as she left the courtroom.
Although the cases were dropped, the matter turned out to be financially burdensome to Ramos. Her car was ordered towed by clinic police, costing more than $200, she said. And Ramos couldn’t make her car payment. She had to borrow for both and ended up paying more than twice the initial loan in interest.
“I told my friends and family what happened and there was disbelief,” Ramos said. “People were like, the clinic arrested you?”
More than seven years before he cited Jackson, Williams and Bates, Parks was among a group of six clinic officers who conducted what a federal court called “a violent, traumatic invasion” of a Black traffic violator’s home.
In January 2011, 38-year-old Aaron Hayward was driving home at 4 a.m. through the clinic area after working the night shift at his family’s store. A clinic officer, Richard Howard, said in his report that the green Jeep Cherokee driven by Hayward was speeding and making illegally wide turns. Howard followed him to the home that Hayward shared with his elderly parents on 106th Street abutting the clinic campus. Some of what followed was recorded by a camera connected to a taser gun.
Within minutes, five other clinic officers, including Parks, arrived at the end of the Haywards’ driveway. According to Howard’s report, Hayward refused orders to stop when he walked from his car and into his home. Howard and Parks banged on the door. Hayward’s then-85-year-old father, Essex, who was in his pajamas, asked what they wanted. “Open the (expletive) door,” the officers repeatedly shouted, according to the Haywards. Essex Hayward refused. He and his wife, Annie, said that the officers never identified themselves and that they thought someone was trying to break into their home. Annie, who was then 78, called 911 during the incident to summon help from Cleveland city police.
The clinic police said Aaron Hayward stood behind his father, taunting them and shouting expletives. One clinic officer pulled out his police-issued shotgun and approached the home with the weapon in “the low ready” according to his report. Parks, in his own report, said he told Aaron Hayward “if he did not come out we were going to break the glass to come in.” With that, Howard took out his steel baton and smashed the glass pane on the door. As Parks reached through the broken glass, Aaron Hayward punched him and chipped his two front teeth, Parks said in his report. The officers eventually got the door open, but there was a second wooden door with a small, square glass window. As the officers rammed the door, Aaron Hayward used his body to brace the door and block them.
Essex Hayward repeatedly yelled at the officers that the family had called the Cleveland police in an unsuccessful effort to get them to back off.
One officer took the butt of his shotgun and broke a small window on the second door, showering plexiglass on the Haywards. Another officer then pushed his taser through the small opening and fired at Aaron Hayward, eventually hitting him in the chest. As Aaron pulled the Taser probes out of his chest, Parks fired another taser at Hayward through the same opening. Essex Hayward said he thought the first taser was a gun and the police were going to shoot his son.
The family said they were terrified. “I am in my house,” Aaron Hayward shouted at the officers. “I’ve done nothing.” At one point, after the last door was broken through, an officer threatened to jail Hayward’s elderly parents and demanded they show him identification. “You don’t need my damn ID,” Annie Hayward told him.
Clinic police dragged Hayward out of the house to the driveway. Outside, Parks used his taser to “drive stun” Hayward, a painful tactic in which the taser is pressed directly against the skin. Hayward was drive-stunned twice in the abdomen and once in the thigh. The officers also allegedly beat Hayward with batons, kicked him, knelt on his head to pin it against the driveway and used racial slurs, according to the family’s subsequent lawsuit.
Aaron Hayward was charged with felonious assault, three counts of assault, aggravated menacing, failure to comply with a police order, three counts of resisting arrest, criminal damaging and obstructing official business. Facing significant jail time if convicted, he made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to comply and one count of resisting arrest, both misdemeanors. All other charges were dropped. He was fined $200 and was not given any jail time.
In court filings, the clinic cited the guilty plea as evidence that Aaron Hayward was lawfully arrested and that his constitutional rights were not violated. The hospital denied that any actions by its officers were racially motivated or involved excessive force, violence or illegal entry.
Although the clinic publicly defended the officers, behind the scenes it found that they violated several policies, according to disciplinary records produced during the litigation. Howard was cited internally for violating policies regarding vehicle pursuits; failing to control his temper; and failing to report an event accurately. He was given a “final written warning.” Parks was faulted for shooting the taser through the door. He received “documented counseling” and was ordered to take remedial training. No one was suspended or fired.
Howard, who has left the clinic police and now works as a truck driver, said that he and the other officers followed procedure, and that race played no role. “Everything we did was in reaction to what he [Aaron Hayward] was doing,” Howard said. He added that officers were initially unsure whether Hayward actually lived at the 106th Street address.
Aaron Hayward at the emergency room after Cleveland Clinic officers forced their way into his home. This photo was included as an exhibit in the family’s lawsuit.
The Hayward family sued. Dunn, the Cleveland State professor, served as an expert witness, interviewed the Haywards and prepared a report on the family’s behalf. A federal district judge in Cleveland dismissed the lawsuit in 2012, citing Hayward’s guilty plea. Two years later, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the dismissal of Aaron Hayward’s claims. But it ruled that claims by Annie and Essex Hayward that the clinic officers illegally entered their home and inflicted emotional distress should not have been dismissed.
“This was a violent, traumatic invasion, effected through an alarming and unnecessary show of force,” the court found, adding that the Haywards made a plausible claim that the clinic police action “was so extreme and outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and as such that it can be considered as utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
Two months later the clinic agreed to settle the case. Details of that settlement remain secret.
The Haywards left the clinic neighborhood in 2015 after the hospital bought their home for $55,000. The house was demolished and is now a clinic parking area.
Agnel Philip contributed reporting.