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Lawsuit claims unarmed black man with mental issues was beaten, Tased, mocked by Ohio officers

Posted at 2:23 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 16:23:05-04

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio -- The City of Garfield Heights and the Garfield Heights Police Department are facing an excessive use-of-force lawsuit after the Jan. 23 arrest of 28-year-old Kenta Settles.

According to Garfield Heights police bodycam video obtained by WEWS, Settles, an unarmed black man, was punched, kicked and stunned with a Taser while he was on the ground, as police attempted to handcuff him.

Jeremy Tor, the attorney representing Mr. Settles, Partner with Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber LLP, said officers taunted and used profanity on Settles as he laid on the ground handcuffed.

Garfield Heights PD faces excessive force lawsuit after Jan. 23 arrest

Tor said Settles, the father of three boys, suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD and is ADHD, for which he takes medication.

Tor said Settles took the bus to Garfield Heights to refill his prescription and was going to walk to his brother's house to get hair clippers to give his 2-year-old son a haircut.

Tor said Settles first went to the CVS on Granger Road, and when he saw the location appeared to be closed, he attempted to get his prescription by walking up to the drive-through pharmacy.

Tor said Settle then tried to speak with the driver of a car that was also waiting for a prescription, but that driver felt threatened, started beeping his horn and called the Garfield Heights police.

Tor explained Settles then left the CVS on foot, and minutes later was confronted by Garfield Heights police officer Michael Malak while walking on Turney Road.

Tor said police bodycam video clearly shows officer Malak didn't ask Settles any questions; who he was, where he was going, and didn't explain why Settles was being detained.

Tor said officer Malak told Settles he refused to stop, he was being detained and ordered him to put his hands on the police cruiser so he could be searched for weapons.

Tor said once it appeared Settles was going to be handcuffed without explanation, that's when Settles started to resist arrest.

"This is another unfortunate example of police brutality against members of our community," Tor said.

“From the get-go, the officers approached him with hostility and in a very aggressive manner.”

"He was simply there to pick-up his psychiatric medication and another gentleman was also there to pick-up medication just misperceived the situation and he got concerned and he called the police."

“This was a perfect illustration of how things could have gone so much better if the police officer approached Kenta with the appropriate level of respect that I think he and everyone in our community deserves.”

"Rather than yell and bark orders at Kenta and haul him to the front of a police car without explanation, they could have approached him calmly, talked to him like a human being and said, hey how’s it going, what’s going on, everything okay?”

During the arrest, police bodycam video shows Garfield Heights police officer Robert Pitts used his Taser and then repeatedly hit Settles with a close fist while he was on the ground.

“There weren't just two officers involved, there were five officers, including a sergeant and a lieutenant, and I think that speaks to the systemic problem,” Tor said.
“Three officers pressed down on this back, shoulders and leg, that’s the kind of compressive force that killed George Floyd.”

Settles was charged with felonious assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and was held in jail on a $250,000 bond. But Tor said last week Settles was finally released from jail after a judge issued him a personal bond on June 8.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley's office told WEWS when the bodycam video of the arrest was shown to him on June 10, he called the attorney representing Mr. Settles and informed him the charges against Mr. Settles would be dismissed and the entire matter would be re-presented to the grand jury at a later date.

The case against Mr. Settles was officially dismissed on June 12. The prosecutor's office would not explain why, and wouldn't comment further.

Garfield Police Chief Robert Byrne stood behind the effort made by his officers during the arrest and said his internal investigation determined officers acted properly.

Garfield Heights PD faces excessive force lawsuit after Jan. 23 arrest

Byrne said his officers only used physical force when Settles refused to cooperate and started to resist and use physical force on them.

Byrne agreed his officers should not have used profanity and mock Settles during the arrest and admitted it was a valid question when WEWS asked him why officer Malak didn't ask Settles crucial questions before detaining him and conducting a search.

Byrne said officer Malak suffered a broken nose during the scuffle and said officers were on high alert when they pulled up on Settles because of a report of an armed robbery at the CVS and hour and a half earlier.

Byrne said he would welcome and cooperate with an independent investigation of the incident if he was called to do so.

"Look if somebody wanted to come in, and another agency wanted to come in, I think they're going to find the same thing we did."

"If people push back, or if people don't cooperate, I don't think our citizens just want us to walk away, they want us to do our job and that's what we did that night."

Still, Tor believes the Garfield Heights officers used unnecessary, outrageous and unreasonable use of force and need to be held accountable.

“This coming to light, we’re at a time when the public is finally not tolerating this kind of police brutality no more, and I hope this momentum continues,” Tor said.

“Police officers play an important role in our community, a lot of police officers do a lot of good every day, but this type of conduct cannot continue.”

Read the full lawsuit here.

This story was originally published by Joe Pagonakis at WEWS.