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Lawsuit filed by Cleveland man shot in back of head with bean bag round during May 2020 protest

Law enforcement fires tear gas into the crowd gathered outside the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland during protests against police brutality on May 30, 2020.
Jenny Hamel
Ideastream Public Media
Law enforcement officers fire tear gas into the crowd gathered outside the Justice Center in Downtown Cleveland during protests against police brutality on May 30, 2020.

Cleveland resident Conor O’Boyle is suing Cuyahoga County, several officials from the county and a sheriff’s deputy for injuries he received during the May 30, 2020 protests in Downtown Cleveland.

“What I would like from all of this is the police to be held accountable,” O’Boyle said. “We expect these officers to protect and serve, to uphold the laws. I guess first and foremost to not do harm.”

According to the lawsuit in federal court, O’Boyle was at the protest handing out food, water and other supplies to participants. Shortly after officers began firing tear gas canisters into the crowd, he ran in to give water to someone hit by a canister.

“It was absolute pandemonium,” O’Boyle said. “There were people running, people getting tear gassed, people bleeding, people crying.”

He said after dropping off the water, he started to walk back to the small park across from the Justice Center with his hands in the air. While walking away, he was hit in the back of the head with a bean bag round. It’s not clear who fired the round, but the lawsuit names one sheriff’s deputy — Bruce Lourie — as the likely shooter.

“It was just such a surprise to me to be shot in the back of the head while my hands were raised in the air. I could not believe it,” O’Boyle said.

O’Boyle was transported to the hospital for wounds on the back of his head and arm and has fully recovered.

The lawsuit also names Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, former interim Sheriff David Schilling and former Safety Services Director Alex Pellom.

O’Boyle’s attorney, Dan Shields of Lakewood, said the county failed to prepare its sheriff’s deputies to respond to protests like the one in response to George Floyd’s killing by police two years ago.

“We want to bring attention to not just the shot itself, which of course was damaging, but also to the training and how our police and sheriffs deal with protests,” Shields said.

The sheriff’s department made several changes since May 30, 2020, including training deputies on the use of nonlethal weapons like exploding tear gas and shotguns that fire bean bag rounds.

O’Boyle is asking for $75,000 in damages from the county and a full accounting of what happened that day.

“I never expected my story to be publicized like this, and I never really had any hope that I would ever be able to see any footage from the Justice Center or the cameras on the courthouse or any of the buildings downtown,” O’Boyle said. “If I could, that would be wonderful, because it would prove what I’m saying is true.”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.