Via America’s Lawyer: Mike Papantonio talks shop with Robert Dicello, attorney for Arnold Black in a landmark civil case against an East Cleveland Police Department supervisor. In 2012, Black was wrongfully arrested and beaten before being confined to a de facto supply closet for four days without food, water, or a bathroom. Also, Mike Papantonio and legal journalist Mollye Barrows discuss the closing of Eric Garner’s case, stemming from his death by chokehold back in 2014.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: A Cleveland man was awarded $50 million from a jury verdict after he suffered tremendous brutality from police officers. This case is once again put the issue of both brutality and police shootings on the front pages. And I’m joined now by attorney Bob Dicello, the lawyer who won this recent verdict. Bob, start by telling us what happened to this man. I took a look at the story when it was developing. I followed it the first time. What a remarkable job you did up there. Tell us what happened.
Robert Dicello: Well thank you Mike, and I want to also thank our jury because they’re the ones who deserve all the credit. The jury heard a story of a man driving through a city. He got pulled over. He was escorted out of his truck, made to sit on his bumper, handcuffed, and then he was questioned and he was asked where are the drugs in East Cleveland? And when he couldn’t answer that question because he had no idea the, the detective who was doing the questioning, he started to punch him in his face, punch him in his head and the beating continued until the on duty officer, uniform police officer who was present at the scene, got in between the, the detective who was in plain clothes, who initiated the stop, got in between the detective and my client, Arnold Black, and had Arnold focus on his face as he testified and then was told by the detective to get him outta here. And they brought him to the cities jail. And the cities jail was described in testimony in this case is something like a Turkish prison or a Mexican jail. No offense to anyone who is of those origins. It’s just that the history of those places and of this particular place are similar. Rat infested, roach infested, a run down facility.
And in that facility there was a dark corner that was gated off with a chain link kind of door and a steel padlock system. And they opened up that area and put him in there. It was a storage area or a closet. As it, as it was testified to. Also, they decide, decided the cities people decided to have testimony that it was a, a holding cell. My client was put there for four days, no food, no water, no bathroom facilities. And in there with him, he testified, we’re cleaning supplies like mops. There was a locker, storage lockers that, that were there. And it got so bad that we actually went to the bathroom in the storage locker because he had no place to go. He was given a carton of milk by one, I guess we could say kind CO who saw him there, and he remained there for four days until they shipped him into the county system after his injuries had softened and his, the swelling had gone down.
Mike Papantonio: Okay. Bobby, Let me, okay, the information that I had that I followed as you were, as you were trying this case. First of all, he was stopped. He was driving a truck and there was, under the belief that he had drugs, but you pointed out something very different and that is you’re telling, you tried this case so obviously know the facts. So the, so if I get it right, they randomly asking this guy, where are all the drugs in the East Cleveland as if he’s going to know about it. That’s the first thing I find astounding. Second of all the, the other part of this is that he had a concussion when he was put in this closet, a broom closet for four days without food, without bathroom facilities just basically abandoned and kept prisoner in that closet.
Now my memory is as I, as I follow this story is that you tried this case one time and you got a $22 million verdict in the same case before you tried this one. The Appellate Court reverses it and I took a look at the grounds for reversal were ridiculous, but they reverse it and so you go back to trial and this time the jury gives you $50 million. So obviously this is more, this has more to do with maybe the police, Cleveland police conduct in general. The, your juries obviously are very, very angry about the culture of police up there as obviously they should be. What, what, what did you uncover about Cleveland police?
Robert Dicello: Well, so it’s the city of East Cleveland, not Cleveland want to make that clear, but what we found with the city of East Cleveland was a policy that dated back decades of using violence against ordinary people who were stopped at traffic stops. Who were standing on street corners, who were playing cards on the sidewalk. Anyone who came into contact with an East Cleveland Police officer could expect between 19, essentially 1988 and 2000 and now, could expect to be beaten or hit or yelled at or screamed at or pushed down.
Some of the testimony we got that was unbelievable was that even if they found no contraband on someone that was just, say on the sidewalk in the middle of winter, they would strip that person down completely of all their clothes in the snow. And understand that what they did to my client by taking him from his truck, again, driving through the city after having had dinner with his mom going home. He was landscaper with landscaping equipment in the back. They take him from his truck and they secret him away inside the jail. It is, if that was done by private citizens, it would be a kidnapping.
Mike Papantonio: Let me ask you something. Now…
Robert Dicello: Sure.
Mike Papantonio: The other facts of this case is the Cleveland Police also had what they call a hit squad of some kind where they would send, they’d send police officers out in, in vans and where they saw people congregating, the police officers would jump out of the vans and beat the bejesus out of the people who are con. Is, is, was that, did that come up in testimony? Was that something that’s just part of the story here? Is that true?
Robert Dicello: No, that, that was testified under oath by detective Hicks. What you’re referring to is something called the jump out boys. The, the chief who we, was the defendant in this case who we sued in this case, was part of the jump out boys with detective Hicks. And what they would do is they would drive to the city and if they saw men con or women, it doesn’t matter who, con, people congregating on a sidewalk, they would literally jump out at them, chase them, tackle them, boot them, beat them, kick them, do whatever they wanted to them, search them. And if no contraband was found, again, I go back to what I was saying earlier, they would even go as far as to take their clothes off in the middle of winter. They would do anything they wanted to ordinary citizens who are again violating no law, just gathering on street corners. And that was the jump out boys.
Mike Papantonio: You know, obviously your history as a trial lawyer. You and your brother have a remarkable history as trial lawyers. I’ve followed your careers. You know, and, and it’s, it is remarkable the things that you undertake. But this, this undertaking really exposed you in a lot of ways too. This, this is a, these aren’t kind and gentle folks that you were dealing with. And so this is the second time around. They made it as difficult as they could for you. And here’s another thing, I just want them, I want to hear from you because I want to know if this is true or not, that as I was following the case, that there was testimony of one of the officers, I think it was Hicks who said, we simply have a culture of violence within our police department. This was one of the witnesses testifying for East Cleveland. Did I get that right, or is that just a, is that a myth?
Robert Dicello: That is actually 100% correct, and the way he described it was chilling. He said there was the right way, the wrong way and the East Cleveland way. Think about that. And he also noted that it had he not used the violence that he was required to use every single day, he said he’d still be a patrolman. He would’ve never become a supervisor and he was, it’s so important. He was the supervisor of the street crimes unit for the entire city of East Cleveland, so he was not just some renegade detective. He was responsible for implementing the East Cleveland way, which was a, an absolute attack on ordinary people.
Mike Papantonio: Okay. One thing I saw as soon as you got the verdict, what’s happening is we’re rehashing and we’re revisiting what goes on in most police departments throughout this country. There, I call it, there’s a real important discussion taking place in police departments that want to do better and that is, you know, we can either take a warrior, we can take a warrior position to where it’s us against them all the time, or we can take something that’s emerged that merges with, you know, it’s, we’re guardians too. We’re not just warriors. We have to do both. You see the real progressive police departments taking that. What do you take away from what Cleveland and cities should learn by this case, where you hit the city for $50 million after you hit them for $22 million? What’s the takeaway? How do police, how do police departments do better?
Robert Dicello: So what they have to do better, and the takeaway here is very simple. That tough economic times as you find in East Cleveland are no excuse for decent, humane police practices. And in fact, during trial, the city defended part of this case by saying we’re a real rough city and we don’t have a lot of resources. East Cleveland is different than the city of Cleveland. Cleveland’s huge. East Cleveland was small and they, they tried to justify some of what happened here by saying it was economically feasible. And by the way, what would you want?
Would you want drug dealers being treated nicely? Well, the problem with that was, as we pointed out in the case, there were never any statistics done, never any measure of who was actually a drug dealer. They were just fighting and beating up anyone, including themselves. There was testimony about that unbelievably, they would fight each other. The police would fight each other in the garage of the police department. I’m not making that up. That came out in testimony. So the violence was, was, was, it was a shortcut to, to really decent, inhumane police practices. So that would be the takeaway.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah, to intelligent police work. Both can happen. Both are, it’s happening in cities around the country right now that are paying attention. We’re not just warriors, we’re warriors, and we’re guardians. And this, this new approach, you know, there’s some middle ground and let’s, let’s hope we get there. Bobby, first of all, outstanding result as a trial lawyer. It’s just beyond belief what you had to undertake just to handle this case. And, and, and, and I, I gotta tell you something, that it moves the ball in favor of people that need protection when you get a verdict like this. Thanks a lot.
Robert Dicello: Well, thank you so very much and coming from you a great trial, it means a lot.
Mike Papantonio: Federal prosecutors won’t be charging the officer directly involved in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. The footage of the police aggression during his arrest and Garner’s dying words of “I can’t breathe,” have since reverberated across the country. Legal journalist Mollye Barrows is with me to talk about it. Mollye, you know, this is a perfect story for you as the anchor in news for so long, you covered more of these in Florida than most people.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: This is, it’s a typical story. This is a typical fact situation that we see again and again, isn’t it?
Mollye Barrows: Yes. A senseless killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement. It goes to the use of abuse of use of force when it comes to law enforcement. I think that that’s one of the rallying cries that’s come out of this case. And like you said, it’s no real surprise that the Justice Department decided not to press charges, criminal charges against this one particular officer who held Eric Garner in a choke hold in 2014 on the streets of New York. Basically, in a nutshell, they were talking to him about whether or not he was selling single cigarettes without tax stamps. It’s something that he had been arrested for before.
He denied it, accused them of harassing him. One of the, this officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was 29 years old at the time, goes to put his wrist behind his back, Garner pulls his hand back. He basically puts his arm around his throat, throws him to the ground, and by the time he takes his arm off, he said he held it there about 15 seconds, according to the cell phone video, which was taken by a bystander. Then he holds his face down, but it was that 15 second chokehold that inevitable…
Mike Papantonio: Closed up, closed up his ability to breathe. As a matter of fact…
Mollye Barrows: Right, right.
Mike Papantonio: The last thing, the last thing before he totally lost his ability to breathe, was saying, “I can’t breathe.”
Mollye Barrows: 11 times he said it.
Mike Papantonio: Okay, so, so you’ve got the chokehold. The problem is most of the officers who do this wrong simply don’t have the sense to understand what they’re doing. What ends up happening is their, the adrenaline is flowing. They already have anger issues.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: They’ve been poorly trained, they’re too young to really understand the ramifications of this. And the chokehold goes bad and this young man dies for, let’s say he was selling a cigarette. I mean, come on.
Mollye Barrows: He didn’t need to die for that.
Mike Papantonio: Okay. So what I love about this is at least the prosecutors got behind this case.
Mollye Barrows: Yes.
Mike Papantonio: And the investigators got behind this case and they tried to prove this case. What is your take on how in the world he, the officer just walks?
Mollye Barrows: It’s just another example of William Barr essentially not supporting, you know, and he was actually supporting some New York federal prosecutors who felt like that they couldn’t successfully prove that this officer willfully committed an action that caused him to die. So that’s what they felt like they couldn’t prove. But…
Mike Papantonio: The intent is a tough thing, to say he set out to kill this man for whatever reason. That’s the problem.
Mollye Barrows: Yes. But the chokehold is illegal against New York City police department policy. He wasn’t supposed to use it. And Pantaleo…
Mike Papantonio: So it could have been manslaughter?
Mollye Barrows: Exactly. And Pantaleo denies that he did choke him. And the medical examiner said, well, and they had competing medical examiner reports like they like to do and the, the New York federal prosecutors cherry picked, which medical examiner testimony they wanted to use in order to decline pursuing those criminal charges against Garner. And it was right after, it was right before his death that you had George Zimmerman that was exonerated for killing Trayvon Martin and you had the Ferguson shooting in Missouri. But I, you know, covering, like you said, news here in northwest Florida for years, we live in a county where they’ve never had a, a justified, an unjustified officer involved shooting. They’ve justified them every single time. But I can tell you behind the scenes that any law enforcement authority who’s in charge, they don’t want that on their record, on their legacy. They don’t want the unwanted media attention.
So you may very well be right, whether it’s LA, New York, Missouri, Florida, any place where there’s been a high profile, controversial attack against an unarmed black man by law enforcement. You tend to, have a tendency to see that if for no other reason PR wise, they want to back away from that and maybe give a message to the troops on the ground, do what you gotta do. And then you had the push back from law enforcement saying, well, we’re following policy.
We can’t put our own lives in risk if we’re being, you know, asked to go light on these folks. But at the same time, when you see video like what you saw with Eric Garner, that’s completely unacceptable. And when they use the law to defend it, as opposed to using the law to prosecute him, that’s when people have doubts in the justice system.
Mike Papantonio: If we’re on a low cycle, I promise you it’ll be back. Thank you for joining me, Mollye Barrows.
Mollye Barrows: Thanks Pap.