August 17, 2017

Lakewood, OH, Mom Sues Library Over Teen’s Rough Treatment

Lakewood Public Library

The mother of a Lakewood, OH teenager has filed suit against an off-duty police officer serving as security who broke her daughter’s jaw on November 7, 2016, during an incident at the Lakewood Public Library’s Madison Branch. The lawsuit was filed on Monday, June 5, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

In the suit, Sabrina Robinson alleges that Lakewood Police Department (LPD) officer Kevin Jones used excessive force while removing her 17-year-old daughter from the library, violating the girl’s civil rights. The lawsuit also alleges that LPD failed to train its officers correctly, including in situations involving children, and that Jones and other officers failed to provide medical care to the girl after the incident, when she lay bleeding on the library’s front steps.

The teenager, identified only as “J.G.,” was at the library after school, listening to music on her cell phone with headphones, when Jones told her to turn it down. According to the lawsuit, she complied, at which point he asked her to turn it down further, which she did. Her phone rang; Jones allegedly told her to “shut the fuck up.”

J.G. then moved to a seating area, where she began watching videos with her 11-year-old brother, identified as “D.J.,” sharing a pair of headphones. At about 5 p.m., Jones saw her in the adult section, sitting sideways with her feet on the seat of another chair. He approached her and told her to “sit correctly,” according to his report. J.G. took her feet off the chair, but confronted the officer verbally and told him that she hadn’t done anything wrong; the police report states that she asked him what his problem was. Jones told her to leave the library, and she took out her cell phone to call her mother. He informed her that she had to make the call outside.

Library surveillance footage viewed by LJ shows Jones attempting to escort the girl while holding her by the shoulder and neck. (Video can be seen here; please note that it may be disturbing to some viewers.) She resisted, and as they scuffled she fell into a book cart. Then, as she continued to struggle in his grip, Jones put her in a full nelson headlock. He wrestled her into the building lobby, where they both fell; the girl landed on her face with the officer on top of her.

According to Jones’s report of the incident, “[She] fell to the floor so I had to pick her up so I could continue to the area of the front doors. [She] again began flailing about, making it difficult to maintain balance, causing us both to fall to the floor. I again picked [her] up and escorted her out the front door.”

Jones was wearing a body camera, but as the audio only came on halfway through the incident, it did not record his initial words to the girl or her response. It was also dropped in the hallway during their interaction, so it did not record any of what happened once the two left the library.

Jones brought her outside to the library’s front steps, where he waited for responding officers to arrive. They did not call for an ambulance, according to the lawsuit. Rather, when the officers arrived, they told her to spit blood on the grass instead of the concrete, and to move from the steps to a bench. Some 20 minutes later, J.G’s mother arrived and took her daughter to Cleveland Clinic in Lakewood, where she was treated for a dislocated jaw, a head injury, and an injury to her knee.

Since the attack, according to the lawsuit, J.G. has been treated for severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “She often has nightmares of the attack,” the filing states, “and is afraid to return to the library for fear of seeing officer Jones.”

THE CITY RESPONDS

An investigation was commenced by the LPD and he was placed on administrative leave. In a police report dated November 22, Lakewood police spokesman Capt. Edward Hassing concluded that “based on [his] review of the incident P.O. Jones was in violation of policy and used force where it was not necessary or permitted based on the set of circumstances he faced.”

Following a December 19 hearing, in which he was charged with using unreasonable and unwarranted force, bringing discredit to the LPD, and not activating his body worn camera at the appropriate time, Jones was suspended without pay for 40 hours and ordered to undergo training in de-escalation techniques. He was not charged with omitting material information to a supervisor, although he had not adequately described the full-nelson type hold following the incident. (In response to the charges, according to statement in Jones’s LPD employee file, he said that “the videos don’t show all the interactions he had with the female prior to this incident in the library.”)

Jones was also prohibited from working off-duty security at the library. He resigned from the library on his own initiative on December 9.

“We believe that the officer and the girl tripped causing the injury. We also believe that the incident was not handled properly by officer Jones,” Lakewood police chief Timothy Malley said in a June 6 statement posted on the city’s website.

“All of our officers work hard every day to be responsive and respectful of the many difficult situations we have to face every day, and do so with substantial success,” Malley added in the statement. “When we don’t handle it properly we need to be sure to take measures to avoid future instances such as this.”

In an email to Cleveland.com Robinson’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, wrote, “the family is appalled by the chief’s apparent belief that it is fine for an officer who brutalizes a child to continue working as a cop, and his failure to discipline Jones or the other officers for joking around and failing to secure medical care for a child with a broken jaw who was bleeding all over the pavement.”

INVOKING LIBRARY RESPONSIBILITY

Although Jones is the primary defendant in this case, the lawsuit specifically noted the library’s responsibility: “Lakewood police officers and library staff regularly come into contact with children and teenagers. The library has an entire room devoted to children’s interests and seeks juvenile patrons. Yet both the city and the library lacked policies on interacting with children, had no training regarding such necessary policies, and had no practices to implement such necessary policies.”

In addition, the lawsuit states, none of the other library employees who witnessed the incident took steps to protect the girl or give her first aid. The library surveillance video shows workers going about their duties as Jones and J.G. struggled. Neither the library nor its legal representation chose to comment for this article.

Security consultant Steve Albrecht, author of Library Security: Better Communication, Safer ­Facilities (ALA Editions), has mixed feelings about libraries hiring off-duty police officers to work security or having on-duty police officers at the library. “On the one hand,” he told LJ, “I like the idea of their presence as a way to send a no-nonsense message of how we expect the library to be a safe, peaceful place, where staff and patrons aren’t threatened by crime, violence, or obnoxious behaviors.”

However, he added, the fact that libraries need to employ the police to keep people safe inside their facilities sends another kind of message. “It seems like using a hammer to squash ants.” he said. “Police officers aren’t used to the library environment and may not have as much leeway, patience, or flexibility when it comes to seeing the eccentric, odd behaviors that library staff deal with regularly, that they know how to handle, or ignore, if it’s not hurting the business of the library.” The presence of a uniform can often “raise the emotional temperature” of an encounter, he recalled of his own experiences as an officer.

Ideally, suggested Albrecht,” the police would be welcomed to the library to come by on a not-predictable basis, take a look around, greet the staff and the patrons, make sure things are safe, and leave. They should be ready to respond via 911 to help the staff and patrons in the event of threats, violence, or crime, but the staffers or a well-trained, empathetic, assertive private security guard might be the better middle ground solution, instead of the significant expense and ‘library culture shift’ that bringing in a police officer to stand guard would do.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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