CINCINNATI, OH – In the fallout of the protests, riots and looting that downtown Cincinnati saw in late May and early June, local business owners in the area have drafted a class-action civil suit seeking compensation for various damages and losses that occurred as a result of the riots.
But this lawsuit isn’t directed at city officials or even the city itself – this class-action suit names the likes of arrestees who were apprehended during those very riots and protests.
With business owners across the country having lodged lawsuits against cities over the damages and looting that happened during protests and riots, it was only a matter of time before alleged rioters started getting names in lawsuits.
The complaint was filed by Court Street Executive Suites LLC on October 9th, which is said to be representing numerous businesses located in “downtown Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine, West End, Clifton Heights, University Heights, and Fairview.”
According to the complaint, the businesses and properties represented were “broken into, looted, vandalized, damaged, defaced, or destroyed” during the chaos that ensued between May 29th and June 1st, and 90 people that were arrested during those riots and demonstrations are the named responsible parties.
While it may be difficult to prove that the 90 people specifically named were responsible in part or wholly to various acts of looting and criminal damage, Attorney William H. Blessing alleges that the parties were “engaged in a malicious combination, conspiracy, and concerted behavior to perpetrate, promote, ratify, and execute the riotous conduct.”
Blessing is seeking monetary respite due to the damages incurred during the riots, as well as punitive damages in an effort to “punish them for their wrongful conduct and to deter each such defendant from engaging in that conduct in the future.”
Further along in the complaint filed, the sentiment that whether directly or indirectly, those arrested during the protests and riots are responsible for the damage done:
“Each of the Defendants connived and acted to encourage, sponsor, ratify, and promote the violence and destruction of property that was perpetrated.”
Howard Froelicher is among those named in the lawsuit, and he claims that the protest was a peaceful demonstration about “George Floyd, Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, everyone having equality.”
Froelicher claims that to “be sued for something like rioting” is “belligerent” and an afront to his First Amendment rights:
“The accusation is that I incited it, or a cohort to that, because I was out there peacefully protesting using what I felt like at the time I could do with the movement.”
Except Froelicher wasn’t peacefully protesting when he was arrested on May 30th. He was arrested for throwing bottles at vehicles and fleeing from officers.
University of Dayton law professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister thinks that this case might run into issues, seeing that courts typically tread lightly around cases that could impede – or at least appear to impede – on First Amendment rights.
Hoffmeister noted that if he were presiding over the case, he’d be most concerned on the precedent this would set for future protests:
“If I were sitting on the bench, I would be concerned this would have a chilling effect on future protests. It may get folks to not go out. That’s what the First Amendment is about: criticize your government. You have the right to do that.”
But what is being lost in the discourse and opposition to this lawsuit is that the civil-action case presented isn’t targeting individuals simply due to their presence at the cited protests: these are all parties alleged to have committed unlawful acts during these protests.
Of the parties arrested during the listed days of unrest in the lawsuit, charges ranged from disorderly conduct, criminal damage, rioting, theft, trespassing, aggravated rioting, breaking and entering and numerous other charges levied against arrestees.
Hoffmeister acknowledges that the business owners in the case are seeking “repercussions for the problems that happened” during the nights of rioting but that they “can’t just go charging a group of people for the crimes one person committed.”
But civil cases are far more unique than criminal cases and the lawsuit brought forth actually presented an example of an extremely similar case that happened in Hamilton County, Ohio back in 1884:
“In 1884, an assembly of protesters marched on the Hamilton County Courthouse. They were angered by systemic corruption in the county’s criminal justice system and specifically outraged by a jury’s lenient verdict in a high-profile murder trial.”
That protest in 1884 resulted in 50 people dying, property damage and a burned-down courthouse.
The citing of the case is material, because no one knew at the time who exactly was the one to start the rioting, but the suit pointed out:
“Each member of the rioting crowd was civilly and criminally responsible, because each encouraged, aided or participated in the riot.
“In 2020, from May 29 through 31, protests against the perceived unfairness of criminal justice in the United States took place in Cincinnati…those who participated, connived, conspired, tacitly consented to, aided, abetted, ratified, or encouraged the rioting are just as responsible for the injuries and damages as are the specific perpetrators.”
This case will certainly be an interesting one to watch.
A case management conference is currently scheduled for December 28th, with Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Melba Marsh presiding over the initial conference.