ideastream Sues CMHA, Cleveland For Video Of November 2020 Shooting
Five months after a young Black man was shot dead by a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer, CMHA continues to withhold video of the incident from the public and the press.
After repeated requests for the video to CMHA and the Cleveland Division of Police, which is investigating the shooting, ideastream filed lawsuits against the housing authority and the City of Cleveland March 7 in the 8th District Court of Appeals.
On Nov. 13, Arthur Keith, 19, was shot and killed by a CMHA police officer at the King Kennedy public housing development on Cleveland’s East Side.
Shortly before an April 23 court deadline to offer justification for withholding the public information, CMHA sought mediation with ideastream, promising to share information the housing authority claimed would lead to a dismissal of ideastream’s case. ideastream opposed CMHA’s request to enter into mediation because it believes the information is public and should be released publicly. Mediation communications could be required to remain confidential.
“The public deserves access to public information, period,” said Mike McIntyre, executive editor of ideastream. “It has been five months. In other recent police-involved shootings, body camera footage was released within hours. These agencies should produce the information we seek immediately or tell the court and the public why they won’t.”
The court granted CMHA’s request for mediation Wednesday and a virtual mediation session was set for May 6. The parties must update the court by May.
Andrew Geronimo, who is representing ideastream in both cases and is the director of the First Amendment Clinic at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said the court automatically sends new cases to mediation. The court ordered the mediation to be cancelled and set a schedule for filings to be made. But the court reinstated mediation when CMHA sought it as the filing deadline loomed.
“The trouble that I’m having with this case is that not only are the records not being made public, but the reasons for withholding them aren’t being made public. On top of that, just the general nature of the records at issue. We’re looking for records related to the Metropolitan Housing Authority killing a young man and we don’t know what those records show,” he said.
There are exceptions to Ohio’s public records laws, including for materials that are part of a “confidential law enforcement investigatory record.” But the information ideastream has repeatedly requested – particularly footage from a CMHA surveillance camera outside the building parking lot where Keith was shot – was not gathered as part of an ongoing investigation.
“To the extent we’re talking about surveillance camera footage, that camera is just sitting up there running and capturing things that had been wide open, in the public,” Geronimo said. “The investigatory records exception is supposed to protect things that have been collected in the course of an investigation, not things that are just public records that end up in an investigator’s files.”
While neither Cleveland police nor CMHA have publicly acknowledged the existence of a video of the shooting, both have filed video evidence with the court, which is held under seal.
Few details have been released by either police or the public housing authority since Keith’s death. On the day of the shooting, Cleveland police released a statement saying CMHA police were investigating a vehicle connected to a shooting the night before when they came across Keith inside. The official police report – which said Keith was armed, running from police and pointed a gun at an officer – conflicts with eyewitness statements that Keith was not armed and running away from officers when he was shot.
The video ideastream is seeking is from a surveillance camera overlooking the parking lot, above the front door of the CMHA resident who witnessed the shooting.
According to the autopsy released by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner in March, four months after his death, Keith was shot once in the back.
“Every day that passes, I think the public is harmed by not being able to see this video,” Geronimo said Thursday. “The central purpose of the public records act is being thwarted here in my mind. If they’re not going to release the video, I think they ought to at least publicly acknowledge what their legal justification for that is.”