In a press release Wednesday, the Ohio chapter of the ACLU claimed that they'd reviewed records from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and "discovered" that RTA has no crowd-control policies in place. Nor does RTA provide its officers with appropriate training, the release claimed.
“It’s unacceptable that the RTA provides no policies, guidance, nor training to its officers on how to control unruly crowds,” said Drew S. Dennis, staff attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, in the release. “Without these sorts of policies and trainings in place, officers are not prepared to properly deal with volatile situations, like what occurred during the Movement for Black Lives Convening.”
The ACLU requested the records in response to the pepper spray incident
near CSU last month, when attendees at the National Movement for Black Lives Convening surrounded an RTA cruiser and demanded that a teenager be released. GCRTA officers had removed the teen from a Health Line bus because he was found to be intoxicated.
The ACLU says that Sgt. Robert Schwab, a 25-year veteran, then "indiscriminately" issued a mist of pepper spray into the crowd (pictured above), exacerbating the problem.
“We cannot stress enough how important it is for our law enforcement to lawfully and effectively deal with large crowds,” Dennis said in the release. “Sgt. Schwab’s response to the crowd and use of pepper spray was inappropriate, reckless, and, ultimately, counterproductive.”
The ACLU said this should be a "wake-up call" for the RTA to implement specific policies and protocols for large and potentially unruly crowds.
The RTA issued a response later Thursday afternoon, saying that it wouldn't comment fully until its internal investigation into the incident was complete. The statement did say, however, that the allegations related to officer training were "completely false."
"RTA officers receive police academy training, just as do other major metropolitan law enforcement officers. Part of that training includes crowd control," the statement read. "Prior to this incident, Transit Police joined with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Cleveland Police Department, State Highway Patrol and others in special “field force” tactics training, designed to deal with demonstrations, riots and crowds."
About the only thing the RTA did agree with, from the ACLU's initial statement, was that the July 26 crowd was indeed "volatile" and "unruly."