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Akron to pay $747,000 to protesters arrested during Jayland Walker demonstrations

Jayland Walker demonstrators carry a Black Lives Matter flag as they march down Akron's Main Street.
Kabir Bhatia
Ideastream Public Media
Jayland Walker demonstrators march down Akron's Main Street on July 5, 2022.

Akron officials will pay $747,000 to the nearly two dozen people who sued the city and its police department over mass arrests made during protests after the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker in July 2022.

The lawsuit was filed against the city of Akron, former Mayor Dan Horrigan, former Police Chief Steve Mylett and dozens of Akron police officers in June 2023 on behalf of 24 plaintiffs. It alleged that Akron police officers infringed on protesters’ rights during the demonstrations that occurred between July 3 and July 7, 2022.

“Some of those people were rising up, gathering together in community, expressing their message of dissent in the Justice for Jayland peaceful demonstrations,” said attorney Elizabeth Bonham, who represented the protesters in the suit. “The experience they had was chilling on their constitutional rights. It was traumatic; it was violent.”

Bonham, who is with the Cleveland-based civil rights law firm Friedman, Gilbert and Gerhardstein, spoke with Ideastream Public Media following a status hearing in the case Tuesday.

Now that the settlement has been resolved, attorneys are working to finalize exact payouts for 22 of the plaintiffs, Bonham said.

“To compensate some of their injuries, to compensate some of what they want through, and the trauma they suffered and the violations of their rights,” Bonham said. “That is never going to make someone whole when they went through the kinds of civil rights abuses that my clients went through.”

The remaining two plaintiffs had brought a suit against University of Akron police officers, which is still pending, she added.

The city’s lawyers wanted to settle the case due to litigation costs, Mayor Shammas Malik said in a statement Monday.

“After mediation, the City of Akron Law Department recommended that this case be settled based on the potential cost associated with continuing to litigate it,” Malik said. “This decision was made with the fiscal responsibility of our taxpayers' hard-earned money in mind, and we take that duty very seriously.”

The lawsuit states the city and police department “devised, coordinated and executed a policy of suppressing protests” by issuing a curfew order for the Downtown area and “enforcing it through unlawful use of force and mass arrests and prosecutions.”

Plaintiffs include national activists Michael Harris, Jacob Blake Sr. and Bianca Austin, an aunt of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by Louisville, Kentucky, police during a botched raid in 2020.

Harris, Blake and Austin are among the plaintiffs who were arrested while actively protesting the death of Walker, 25, who was shot 46 times by police after a car and foot chase.

But some of the plaintiffs just happened to be Downtown that night, attorney Sarah Gelsomino told Ideastream Public Media when the suit was first filed.

“One of our plaintiffs is a student who was doing a summer program at the University of Akron, trying to get back to her dorm. She was arrested," Gelsomino said. "People who were going out to dinner were arrested, and then other people who were engaged in protest activity, in protected free speech and expression, were also arrested.”

According to the court docket, payouts to the plaintiffs will be issued starting Feb. 23, 2024.

Two other lawsuits were also filed against the city of Akron: one by the family of Jayland Walker, who is seeking $45 million and for Akron to adopt policies preventing police misconduct, and one filed by the Akron Bail Fund, which claims police unconstitutionally used chemical irritants to disperse a protest on Copley Road in April 2023.

Bonham is also litigating the Akron Bail Fund lawsuit. In that case, plaintiffs are seeking reform, rather than monetary damages, she said.

“We are working to see if we can obtain some policy reform, some injunctive relief to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future,” Bonham added.

A status hearing in that case will be held Feb. 9, according to the court docket.

Updated: February 6, 2024 at 6:21 PM EST
This story has been updated with details of the settlement.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.