As Cincinnatians continue to voice their outrage over the death of George Floyd and systemic racism, protesters are using social media to share their personal experiences with the police during local demonstrations.
Following a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration downtown on May 31, 307 people were arrested by Cincinnati Police Department officers for protest-related incidents, including violating the city’s 9 p.m. curfew, disorderly conduct, obstruction of official business, and misconduct at an emergency. Those arrested were handcuffed with Flex-Cuf zip ties, loaded onto SORTA Metro buses, and taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center, where about a third remained overnight in a fenced-in outdoor courtyard area called a sally port and others were detained overnight inside the jail.
Some of those protesters, who are referring to themselves as “Cincinnati 307,” are now taking to social media to share their firsthand accounts of being in custody by CPD and Hamilton County Sheriff’s deputies for roughly 10 hours without food or water. Here are some of their stories, quoted from their social media posts with their permission. (Cincinnati Magazine has withheld their last names to respect their privacy.)
On Instagram, a person who wishes to remain anonymous says she was peacefully protesting at the Hamilton County Courthouse around 8:30 p.m. when police dressed in riot gear deployed tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash-bang grenades in the crowd of protesters and physically pushed them with their shields. The protesters retreated to Washington Park and then the Findlay Market area, where police surrounded them. “We are on our knees with our arms up, asking for them to let us go home [and] staying peaceful the entire time,” she says. “At first they told us they were going to try to find a way to let us go home, but they changed quick to searching and arresting everyone in that vicinity.”
She says a homeless person and a woman on her way to her shift at the post office were also arrested for breaking curfew. After sitting on a Metro bus for about two hours, they were taken to the Justice Center’s courtyard, where sheriff’s deputies and staff began slowly processing the roughly 100 protesters in custody who remained outside at a rate of two people per hour.
Typically, when CPD officers make an arrest, they handcuff the person and take them to the Hamilton County Justice Center, where deputies and staff complete the booking process. The arresting CPD officer stays until the booking process is complete. On a busy weekend evening, the Justice Center typically processes 40 to 60 arrests, according to Public Information Officer David Daugherty. “It’s a very slow process,” he tells Cincinnati Magazine. “There was a huge delay processing [on May 31], because a lot of these individuals have never been arrested before. We don’t have their fingerprints on file, and all their prints have to be sent to the FBI for verification, so it slowed down the process. It didn’t help that the city brought that many down at once.”
Daugherty says he doesn’t recall the Justice Center ever having to use its sally port area to detain people in the 30-plus years he’s worked in the sheriff’s office, adding that it isn’t built to detain so many people at once. Some CPD officers stayed with protesters in custody at the jail on May 31 while waiting for them to be processed and also to provide support for the deputies on duty.
A Facebook user named Parker says he and his friends Drew, Jaden, Andrew, Claire, and Sarah were arrested for peacefully protesting 30 minutes past curfew. Parker and Jaden were placed in the Justice Center’s courtyard around 11 p.m., while Andrew, Claire, and Sarah were detained in the center’s holding cells. In the courtyard, or “holding pen,” as he describes, Parker says medical attention was withheld from numerous people in custody.
“Detainees were made to urinate on themselves in the beginning hours of detainment while the police prevented access to bathrooms, which were available mere feet away,” he says. Parker also witnessed a woman have a seizure in the courtyard and says they were denied access to face masks, despite their vocal concerns over COVID-19 and being made to sit “shoulder to shoulder” there. He estimates that only five of the 60-something police, deputies, and staff were wearing masks and says he was mocked when he asked why officers weren’t concerned about spreading COVID-19. “Those of us in the ‘pen’ were never provided with a phone call and were told that recording the happenings within [with our phones] would result in an increase in charges being filed, despite no officer providing a consistent account of what our initial charges would be or how the timeline of processing was to proceed,” Parker says.
Jaden, who was able to take a few photos and videos without having their phone confiscated, also shared their account on Instagram, including a video of protesters detained in the courtyard chanting, “No food. No water. No blankets. Nine hours.” They also note there was a stack of water bottles in a corner of the courtyard, which they begged several officers to distribute to no avail. About 10 hours into being detained, deputies provided them breakfast, says Jaden, who adds, “Never at any point did the protesters become violent. If we had not persistently advocated for food and water, we would not have received it. My friends who were brought inside the center also experienced incredible trauma at the hands of the police.”
Daugherty confirms that the protesters were served breakfast, adding that the sheriff’s office is not required to feed people in custody. He also says protesters were provided adequate water and access to restrooms. “We took care of them as best we could.”
Never in my life have I felt so dehumanized.
A Facebook user named Carlie, who was arrested around 10 p.m. for breaking curfew while peacefully protesting, posted on Facebook that she witnessed one person pass out and others vomiting in the courtyard. She recalls someone stating the temperature was 48 degrees at night, and that “people were shivering on the ground.” The protesters detained in the courtyard were not provided blankets. “They plucked unruly/talkative people from the crowd and brought them inside, but they would come back outside crying,” Carlie says. “One guy came out hunched over sobbing, with snot dripping from his nose, and they brought him to a separate side of the courtyard. He looked terrible. At one point they lined us all up again and had us stand in a line. A girl a couple people down from me asked an officer what was going on, to which he said, ‘Shut the fuck up, don’t tell me how to do my job.’ He kept yelling [the same to other] people.”
The stress of the situation and the officer’s yelling caused Carlie to have a panic attack and hyperventilate. Others alerted the police that she needed a medic’s attention. “I was sitting on the ground panicking, crying, and shaking,” she says, “when the officer who caused [my panic attack] came over to me and told me a medic was coming and that he would stand near me. I told him that he caused this and that I did not want him near me, and he mocked me. He walked away, but when the medic came out to me, he made sure to walk up to the medic to say, ‘Apparently this is my fault, so she don’t want me near her.’ Never in my life have I felt so dehumanized.”
“A lot of these protesters have never been incarcerated before,” Daugherty says. “They don’t know what jail’s about or how the process works. Deputies aren’t friendly down at the jail because they’re focused and they’re trying to get people in and out. It was a very chaotic environment.”
All four protesters say they were not read a Miranda warning when being arrested, and three of the four mention painful bruising as a result of zip ties and metal handcuffs that were placed too tight. CPD Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Saunders says police officers aren’t required to read Miranda rights unless they’re asking a person in custody “about conduct they might have been engaging in that could be used as evidence in court against them.”
Despite undergoing the “horrific experience,” Parker says he will continue protesting. “The systemic inequalities experienced by people of color are bigger than myself and often more harmful than what I experience, and I refuse to let this deter me from advocating for those people in solidarity.”
“I have a lot of empathy for what they went through, but I still think they don’t understand the reason they were detained and separated is because the Justice Center is a very dangerous facility,” Daugherty says. “We’ve got a lot of violent criminals in there and we can’t just let them wander and walk [around].”
On the morning of June 1, the protesters in custody who were not processed and taken inside the Justice Center, including the four who allowed us to share their stories, were released around 11 a.m. with citations and court notices. During a press conference later that afternoon, CPD Chief Eliot Isaac said protesters were detained outside for only four to five hours. During the same press conference, Mayor John Cranley praised the “incredible professionalism” of CPD officers and changed the city’s curfew to 8 p.m.
On June 2, Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld took to his Twitter to announce a variety of policies he would work to reform, including implementing a CPD policy change that would make it illegal for the department to hire officers with a record of excessive use of force, as well as bail reform and a revision of the city’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement. On June 4, WCPO reported that Cincinnati City Councilmember Jan-Michele Kearney and Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman were collaborating on a motion that proposes all charges against peaceful protesters who broke curfew be dropped.
Daugherty says the Sheriff’s Office has since improved its procedures for processing arrests with stronger communication with CPD. Moving forward, CPD officers won’t bring a person in custody to the Justice Center until paperwork is completed. Two Rumpke portable toilets were also added to the center’s sally port area, because “God forbid we have to go through what we did last weekend,” Daugherty says. “It’s unfortunate that this happened, but it was very challenging for everyone.”