'You're Lucky We Didn't Shoot Him'

In 2011, Cleveland Police Roughed Up an Innocent 16-Year-Old Boy with Down Syndrome. The Family is Still Looking for Justice.

It all started with an armed robbery one hot August Monday afternoon in 2010 in the westside's Jefferson neighborhood.

"Give me your wallet or I'll kill you."

The voice came from behind the 54-year-old man as he walked under the railroad trestle on Lorain Avenue. A stranger, lurking in the shadow, approached him quietly and stuck what he said was a gun to the man's back, saying he'd pull the trigger if he didn't get what he came for.

So the man reached into his pocket and forked over his wallet, with the 35 bucks and credit cards he had in it. He didn't get a good look at the robber, only catching a glimpse as he scurried away.

He walked over to the nearest business, the Conrad's tire store a few hundred feet away, and called 911 at 4:57 p.m.

"It was a white male, about 5-foot-8 at the most," he told the dispatcher.

"What was he wearing?"

"He was wearing like a long-type shirt." He didn't remember what color the shirt was. "He was wearing a hat of some sort, but not a baseball hat."

"Did he have a weapon?"

"Well, he stuck it in my back and said he was going to shoot me but I don't think it was a weapon. He threatened to kill me, but — "

"Which way did he go?"

"If you're familiar with the bridge over Lorain, I've seen a lot of people climb that little hill up to the bridge to get to the Rapid station, so he was probably going to jump onto the Rapid."

Police met him at Conrad's shortly thereafter. Another 911 call came in a half hour later.

At 5:27 p.m., West Terrace Apartments manager Nina Kennedy called police and reported two strangers had just dropped off a wallet in her office. The apartment building, on the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 143rd Street, was just next to the railroad trestle under which the man was robbed.

"When they came out from visiting somebody, the wallet was laying down," she relayed to the dispatcher. They saw some police cruisers going up and down the street and "they didn't know if there was a crime committed in the back or what."

"Hold on," the dispatcher interrupts, "you know what, how far are you from — hold on one second, because I think I know what this is, hold on one second, okay?"

Maybe the guys who turned in the wallet were the suspects, not Good Samaritans, the dispatcher thought.

"Tell me, what were those men wearing? Were they both white or black?"

"The two gentleman who brought the wallet were white."

"Did one of them have on — "

Kennedy interrupts: "a blue shirt."

"Was it a long shirt?"

"It was like a blue T-shirt."

"Did he have on a hat?"


"Hold on one second. It was two white males?"

"Yes, they gave me the wallet. They said they found it laying on the ground in the back. I had never seen those two gentlemen before."

"Where are they now? Which way did they go?"

They went east, walking down Lorain, Kennedy said.

"Tell me what they were wearing — one was wearing what?"

"One was wearing a blue T-shirt. He was white and had blondish — dirty blond hair with a mustache. And then the older gentleman, he looks like he may be 50, had a ballcap on, clean shaved."

The dispatcher confirms: "50s? Ballcap? Clean shaven?"

"I think he had a red shirt on, if I'm not mistaken," Kennedy said of the second man.

With two calls with possible ties and two descriptions of what might be the suspects in the robbery in hand, dispatch radioed officers Brian Kazimer, a 15-year veteran of the department, and Dan Crisan, a 14-year vet.

At 5:29 p.m. — while Kennedy was still on the line — an audio recording of the radio communication between the station and the two cops details what they were told.

"A female just called us from 14305 Lorain — says two males just handed her a wallet, stated they found it laying on the ground behind the apartments. Said she's never seen them before, both males left eastbound on Lorain from 14305."

After a pause, she continues relaying information: "One wearing a blue T-shirt, dirty blond hair, and a mustache — I'm trying to get the description on the next."

"How long ago was that, radio? I'm right here right now," one of the officers responds

"She's saying it just happened now. The other one was an older male in his 50s, clean shaven with a red shirt. We're still on the line with her, they just gave it to her."

Soon after, the officers radioed back, wanting the description again.

"There's supposed to be one man wearing a blue T-shirt, dirty blond hair, mustache. The other one's an older male — about in his 50s, she thought — ballcap, clean shaven, possibly with a red shirt."

The officers again received the address, with dispatch explaining the second 911 call was from the apartment manager. Though Kennedy never said the two guys who found the wallet were the robbers, dispatchers relayed the information to the officers as if they were.

Within a minute, the officers ask for the description for the third time. "A male wearing a blue T-shirt, dirty blond hair, mustache. The other, an older male, possibly in his 50s, baseball cap, clean shaven, possibly a red shirt."

Within minutes, Kazimer was on foot in the West Terrace Apartments parking lot chasing someone in a red shirt who had turned away and ran. His partner radioed in: "In the back of the apartment, black male, red shirt, blue shorts."

Except the person Kazimer was chasing was neither a white man in his 50s nor a black male in a red shirt. It was a 4-foot-11 Hispanic teenager with Down syndrome named Juan Ortiz, scared and in search of his parents.


About The Author

Doug Brown

Doug Brown is a staff writer at Scene with a passion for public records laws and investigative reporting. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., he has an M.A. in journalism from the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a B.A. in political science from Hiram College. Prior to joining Scene,...
Scroll to read more Ohio News articles
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.