The City of Cleveland has now settled with 12 of the protesters from the 2016 RNC whose activities in the "free speech zone" included Gregory "Joey" Johnson lighting an American flag on fire in an act of peaceful, protected speech. The payouts total $925,000. Other lawsuits remain outstanding.
Johnson had barely lit the flag when riot police and fire department officials swooped in to arrest the protestors and extinguish the flag.
More than a dozen were arrested and eventually charged on a series of misdemeanor counts including failure to disperse, aggravated disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Cleveland Municipal Court judge Charles L. Patton dismissed all those charges in October 2017 citing the landmark 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Texas v Gregory Johnson that established flag burning as protected speech.
The settlement with Johnson alone cost $225,000 after he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. Each of the other cases have been settled for $50,000.
"This massive payout of $925,000 is a stain on the integrity of the officers involved, Cleveland’s police division, and Cleveland itself. Officials’ blatant disregard for the Constitution at the 2016 RNC did not make us safer, but rather taught us to fear censorship and lawlessness from the very people sworn to protect our rights," Subodh Chandra, the lead counsel in the case, said in a statement
"Cleveland officials may cling to the pathetic excuse, as they have before, that the settlements were paid from special RNC insurance money, but that just highlights their indifference to constitutional rights. The video footage of the police attack on these protestors proves that Cleveland police lied to the public and in court under oath about what happened. They claimed Mr. Johnson had set himself on fire, but the videos (and the lack of any singes on anyone's body or clothing) definitively disprove that."
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