'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.

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Ramon took his son to Fairview Hospital right after the police left. The right side of Juan's face was swollen. He had chest pains and bruising. His wrists had abrasions from the handcuffs.

The next day, Ramon filed a complaint with the department's Civilian Police Review Board at the Office of Professional Standards. The investigator took statements from Kazimer and Crisan, talked to witnesses and, in just more than a month, made a ruling siding with Ortiz against the officers.

"The Police Review Board determined your complaint to be ruled SUSTAINED," wrote board chairman Thomas F. Jones, a former special agent in charge of the Cleveland office of the FBI and chief of police/security at the Cleveland Clinic. "A letter recommending discipline will be forwarded to the Chief of Police."

Then police-chief Michael McGrath never heeded the recommendations of the Civilian Police Review Board. More than four years later, the officers have not received so much as a slap on the wrist for their actions against Juan Ortiz and his family that afternoon in 2010.

In January 2013, Ortiz's lawyer, Subodh Chandra, wrote a nine-page letter to McGrath, detailing the abuse and the board's recommendation of discipline, and the fact nothing had happened.

McGrath sent back what essentially reads as a form letter: "It is the goal of the Division of Police to make Cleveland a desirable, safe city in which to live, work, raise a family, shop, study, play and grow old. Thank you for your continued support." Chandra received no further communication from the police department.

McGrath would be promoted to Cleveland safety director by Mayor Frank Jackson in February 2014.

When asked about about why Kazimer and Crisan have gone unpunished, a city of Cleveland spokesman responded with the following statement to Scene:

Administrative discipline in the Ortiz matter has not yet been conducted due to pending civil litigation. The assertion that Officers Kazimer and Crisan were never disciplined is incorrect, the administrative disciplinary process in this matter will begin once the pending civil litigation has been settled.

At the time of the incident (2010), it was the policy of the City of Cleveland to hold off on the administrative disciplinary process until all pending civil and criminal matters were settled. Since 2012, the city has changed its policy to allow for administrative discipline to run concurrently with any civil litigation. Administrative discipline in any criminal matter will still occur at the conclusion of the criminal matter.

***

"There's been no justice at all. No justice," Manzano told Scene recently. "Let's say it happened to one of their kids? I guarantee something would have happened. For them to look at the paperwork, look at the evidence, and look at the testimony, and say they're fine with what he did, or he just did his job ... Is that really his job? That's the question."

On July 25, 2011, Chandra filed a federal civil rights lawsuit for the family against Kazimer and Crisan, on counts of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations — for unreasonable seizure and excessive use of force on Juan — and eight other counts, including battery, false arrest, negligence, and civil liability for criminal conduct.

Three and a half years later the case is still open, sitting stagnant, in Cleveland's federal court with very little action taken on it since 2013. Next up is a decision by the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court on a summary judgment motion. Whichever side is on the losing end of that decision is going to appeal, meaning even if the judge calls for a trial, it wouldn't get going until 2017 or so — seven years after the attack.

And that makes it hard on the Ortiz family, who are still emotionally disturbed by what happened that day, especially in the wake of zero punishment to the officers that roughed up their kid and hurled insults at their family.

And despite the physical toll Juan took that afternoon in 2010 — swollen face, bruises — the emotional issues are what linger. Social workers and psychiatrists have documented Juan's post traumatic stress disorder in the years after the incident with Cleveland police. One social worker documented the following in 2011:

Juan is a 17-year-old, Hispanic male who was born with Down's (sic) syndrome. Juan understands only Spanish and communicates through gestures and one or two syllable words. Father reports that, in the aftermath of the traumatic event in August 2010, Juan spent weeks in the apartment too anxious to be going outside. Juan is hypervigilant and is constantly on the lookout for police cars and police. Father reports that Juan would react to the sound of sirens or the sight of a police car by running and hiding in his bedroom. The father reports that Juan, at times, would soil himself. Juan chews on the tip of his right thumb when anxious to the point of bleeding. The father reports that Juan has extreme problems with sleeping at night and that, once awake, could not fall back to sleep.

Apartment manager Nina Kennedy shared similar observations under oath:

After the incident on August 16, 2010, Juan was scared to death to see police officers. Every time he would see a police car, he would run into the apartments. I observed Juan reacting in terror to seeing a police car on numerous occasions. If Juan was close to my apartment, he would run to me. One such incident occurred in the summer of 2011. There was a fire in our complex and fire and police responded. Juan ran to me and I had to call his father to come get him and calm him down. Prior to the incident, I had never observed Juan to be frightened of law enforcement.

A Beachwood psychiatrist who performed a psychiatric evaluation of Juan, concluded he suffered from PTSD after the incident:

It is my opinion, with reasonable medical certainty, that Juan Ortiz suffered from and continues to suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder caused by a violent encounter with Cleveland Police on August 16, 2010. Evidence for this opinion was that he continued to have the symptoms of PTSD listed above. He had no previous history of these symptoms and no history of trauma prior to August 16, 2010. He had no other subsequent traumatic event since August 16, 2010.

The Ortiz family left Cleveland the year after the incident and moved to Newark, New Jersey. They have relatives there, and it's somewhat easier on Juan, living somewhere far from his traumatic memories.

The event left a lasting impact on others around Juan.

"It's so hard to explain because it was so wrong," Manzano said recently, "If you see any little kid mistreated, even when they don't have syndromes or diseases, you can just imagine how you'd feel. But take Juan, who has Down syndrome, and to see it happen to him, not just by anyone, but by police with the authority of the state."

***

That a case has been open for so long is rare, but not unprecedented. In March 2004, for example, a suit was filed against Cleveland police officers who shot in the chest and killed an unarmed surrendering suspect and subsequently allegedly lied to investigators about the circumstances. It wasn't until 2009 that the case closed, with the city paying out $95,000 to the dead man's mother.

Or the lawsuit filed in 2006 by a 27-year-old construction worker against police officers, including Frank Woyma, who broke an empty Corona bottle on the man's head before other officers pepper-sprayed him in the face. The city agreed to pay $25,000 in 2011.

Or the 2008 lawsuit filed by a Hudson resident who had called police to get help for a woman downtown, only to be beat up, given a concussion, handcuffed, subjected to racial slurs, held in jail for a day, and charged with aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest (a judge dismissed those charges). Four years later, in 2012, the police shelled out $40,000 to the man.

Ortiz's family has hopes that their day for justice will come. But for them, it's more than just about the money.

"Even though a lawsuit is perfect," Manzano, who is a witness in the case but not a plaintiff, told Scene, "the money will never cover the damage that it has been done. The money is not the issue here. It's the justice."

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,...
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