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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Downtown Resident Suing Cleveland After Being Arrested Picking Up Groceries During Protest Curfew in Spring

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2021 at 1:43 PM

  • Cleveland police officers direct traffic away from the Lorain Carnegie bridge during the curfew period/Scene

Mehdi Mollahasani, a downtown Cleveland resident of Middle Eastern descent, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Cleveland for his arrest on May 31, 2020 while attempting to get a grocery order during the city's post-protest crackdown.

Following the demonstrations and violence during the May 30th George Floyd protest in Cleveland, Mayor Frank Jackson instituted a curfew for the downtown area to physically prevent demonstrators from gathering again.

The curfew zones and times were almost immediately criticized as over-broad overreactions for which the city provided little to no justification but nevertheless included militarized officers and blocked highway exits.

Regardless, in accordance with the order, residents who lived downtown were asked to remain at home except for work purposes or to gather essential items.

Mollahasani says in his lawsuit that he did just that — leaving his residence on East 9th to retrieve an Instacart order from a delivery driver who had been stopped by cops outside the restricted downtown zone. Before making it four blocks, he was confronted by Cleveland police officers who "harassed him, and baselessly accused him of looting."

Mollahasani hadn't even attended the protest the previous day, let alone participated in any looting.

Despite showing proof of residency, and despite doing nothing more extraordinary than getting groceries and providing proof of the awaiting Instacart driver, police arrested him.

One said he "looked like" a looter.

"In spite of his compliance with every order of the officers, Cleveland Division of Police officers arrested him and caused him to be incarcerated in the Cuyahoga County Jail for days during the novel Coronavirus pandemic. He was later charged criminally and forced to defend himself in court. All charges against him were dismissed," Mollahasani's lawyers at Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein said in a release.

His was far from the only arrest for violating the downtown curfew, which a U.S. District Court Judge ruled recently was problematic in general, saying simply being downtown after the curfew was not sufficient probable cause to arrest people.

That was, however, how cops interpreted it.

Notable among the other arrests was that of Anthony Body, a Bail Project employee, for violating curfew despite having his court-issued ID and traveling into downtown to do his job at the Justice Center.

About half of the 120 cases stemming from May 30 have been dropped to date. About 50 of those remaining involve curfew violations. Given the judge's ruling, those will likely be dropped or result in fines.

“The defendant police officers abused their power in the most unconscionable way when they arrested Mehdi off the street and threw him into the notorious Cuyahoga County Jail for days for absolutely no reason,” said Sarah Gelsomino, partner at Friedman, Gilbert + Gerhardstein. “The City encouraged their police officers to sweep people off the streets and into the jail in order to prevent additional protest, and they did so without any concern for civilians, like Mehdi, who were living legally within the curfew zone. The City and the defendant officers must account for this blatantly unconstitutional and unreasonable behavior of their officers.”

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