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Previously on Serial. In your experience as a police officer, can you smell raw marijuana in a bag inside someone's pocket? Yes, I probably put more people on probation than any other judge in this courthouse. Yeah, because I can always put me in prison later.
I don't think he had anything to do with me. I don't want to be a rat rat on your guy. Currently he has. How can you help us do that?
From this American Life and WWC Chicago, it's serial one courthouse told week by week. I'm Sara. I was talking to this guy, Kevin, 40 years old. He'd been busted for giving someone at his college a marijuana cookie. He'd offered it as a nice gesture.
Really? Just pay. Have one. He thought the guy understood what it was. Wink, wink. But he didn't. What went wrong? Kevin ended up with a felony conviction. Well, another felony conviction. The case sounded absurd. There'd been a trial over this cookie. That's funny, right? I went to talk to Kevin the Cookie Baker in the hallway outside the courtroom in the justice center right after the verdict. Not funny. He was in what my mother would call a swivet cracking angry jokes, but also desperately upset, half crying.
Kevin said he'd been a drug dealer when he was young, but he changed. He was in school volunteering in his community, trying to start his own business, doing well. And now this, what Kevin called Filoni is childish stupidness. They got him kicked out of his college.
And it also triggered a probation violation on a case from a few years earlier. Kevin had been just two months shy of completing that probation. He was almost done. And now this. I'm sorry. I said this is a rough day. He said, it's all right. It's all right. It's all right.
I'm starting to get used to it, actually.
He started running by six days. It was a I like was any case I got here, just like a bad relationship. I can't get out of here in this building, man. Yet the justice system. So far in this series, we've talked a lot about the system aspect of the justice system, how the machinery of it works or doesn't.
Now for the rest of the series, we want to look at the criminal justice system a whole other way.
We want to follow people who are like Kevin, people who feel like they have roots in the system, who've been in it for years and who've been shaped by its machinery. Probably nothing we've reported so far would be news to them. They know it. I know it's pretentious to say this, but I keep thinking of this Russian word choose to elides it means to feel something almost sensually to the point where you can taste it. You know it in your bones.
So now we're going to follow people out of the justice center, out into the world, into their normal lives. The guy we're gonna start with, his name is Jesse Nickerson.
Back in the summer of 2016, before we got to Cleveland, there'd been a police scandal with a satisfying twist. If I'm allowed to call it that, two officers had arrested this guy, Jesse Nickerson, and instead of taking him back to the station, they drove to a city park, took off Jesse's handcuffs, and one of the officers got him to name Dixon.
Six foot four former linebacker in the Arena Football League challenged Jesse to a fight. Jesse squared off with detained Dixon for a second, but then he took off, ran into the woods.
The officers eventually found him, cuffed him. Jesse said they beat him. The officers said he hurt himself. The story made the news absolutely sick and absolutely shocked. Sick. That was the mayor talking to a TV reporter.
This all happened in East Cleveland. Not to be confused with the east side of Cleveland is Cleveland is its own small city bordering Cleveland.
Seventeen thousand people. It's got its own city government and its own police department. And it seemed refreshingly as if those entities were taking responsibility for what happened. And swiftly, no excuses. Both officers were fired within days. The police chief referred the case to state investigators. The county prosecutor's office sought criminal indictments. One officer pleaded guilty to a couple of misdemeanors. The other, Denine Dixon, pleaded to a couple of felonies.
We went to Denene Dixon sentencing at the justice center of our criminal justice system.
That's the public sees.
That's the prosecutor, Ashley Kolbeinn. Yeah, we have somebody who's a public official. What a false alarm. He then tries to cover up cover up by turning off the body of a police officer convicted for bad behavior on the job.
Already unusual in this courthouse. And here, Ashley Cobain was arguing forcefully for the harshest possible punishment. She was pitching consecutive sentences, meaning the sentence for each crime would run back to back.
The judge, Nancy first invited Officer Dixon to speak.
Do you have anything to say, sir? And he did. He apologized. He said, I understand. I was put in a position of authority and I was entrusted with the public's trust to make a difference, to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
And then he said, I had no intention of assaulting anyone.
I no or it's difficult to hear.
But he says it was a tactic I had seen done before. You know, take a guy out of cuffs and get him to stop running his mouth or whatever.
Officer Dixon's lawyer told the court that Dixon had told him the same thing, quote, which is kind of disturbing. Other than that, no one remarks on this kind of disturbing information. Just lets it go. The judge sentenced an aide, Dixon, to two years in prison and it was over.
Victim Jesse Nickerson was not in the courtroom the day of the sentencing, but he'd been in touch with the county prosecutors throughout the case. He told Emanuel that at one point they'd given him some advice that he found kind of disturbing. The prosecutor.
And then they told me, they told me to stay out of East Cleveland.
Jessie said they told him, remember, Deneen Dixon's got friends.
They say, you know the name. They know. You know, they have you know, you have people. The other East Cleveland they like. We want to hear about you, son. Happened to you. That is Cleveland.
Usually these cases of police brutality, the ones we hear about the government response is constipated months, sometimes years of stop start internal investigations, equivocating public officials, officers placed on desk duty. And then it just peters out. And Jesse's case there was none of that. The officers who'd abused him had been fired, convicted and sentenced. Jesse had gotten all the things, the rare things people say they want. In cases like this, Jesse had one. And yet here he was on high alert.
This whole situation with the police, it was not over.
Emmanuel. He lived in Cleveland for most the year we were reporting there. And this is one of the cases he began to look into. Manual interviewed police and prosecutors and he interviewed Jesse Nickerson. And that interview turned into a nearly year long adventure. Is too happy a word misadventure. I guess a year watching Jesse negotiate the afterwards of his case, the push and pull of one man's relationship with the police in his town. Here's Emanuel. Jesse Nickerson told me that he was sort of relieved the officers who taken him to the park that night were black and not white.
He feels like if he'd been white, he probably would have gotten shot. The first time we met, we went over the Forest Hill Park so he could walk me through what had happened. He showed me the spot where the hidden behind the tree, the place where he says the officers choked him until he blacked out.
They beat me right here. And look how far we have, why we make it to the bottom of this big hill.
But he says the officers froom down when Jesse stops and he points at something through the trees.
Here you see the police. Oh, yeah. See the police. Way, way off in the distance.
Just spotted a cop car, a black Ford Explorer with police in block letters down the side. Jesse had been calmly and casually reciting details of this alleged assault. But now he's uncomfortable.
That's the same truck I was in and I think that's the same truck I was in when I did that. How do you know they only got one?
It's been almost a year since the police took him to the park. And in that year, Jesse's had a persistent fear of retaliation because it feels like everybody, especially the cops, know him as the guy who's an officer, Deneen Dixon, to prison right off to receive his police truck. Jesse turns to me and says, I got you as a witness in case anything happens. But then when we make our way to the top of the hill and get to the truck, they just they just eaten lunch into Poland.
Who was that, you know? Yeah.
Yeah. Good officer. Good one from the neighborhood. Go, go. That's the officer that they had on TV. They're doing the Instagram stuff.
He doesn't know this guy's real name. He says everyone calls and knew knew a few months back, knew knew sort of his people famous when he posted videos of himself messing around and singing in his police cruiser.
He tells me you. He's all right. Just relax a little.
Just he knows these people. Police department. And they know him partly because he's lived all his life, partly because he's been arrested a lot. When we met, Jesse was twenty nine. He'd spent time in prison on drug charges as well as for aggravated assault and robbery. All of that happened when Jesse was in his late teens and early 20s. He'd had more minor run ins with the police since then. Weed possession, traffic tickets.
Nothing too serious. Anyway, he's not worried about new new people say he is on the lookout for is a friend of the name Dicksons, an officer named Wilbert Nevilles. He told me a story about Nevilles that we're still stressing him out. It happened about six months earlier. At the time, the name was out on bond awaiting trial for the incident with Jesse in the park. And Jesse ran into Officer Nevilles on the street.
I was at the police on Coventry commentaries.
A big, busy road. Jesse and his girlfriend were heading back to their car after grabbing some food. When an East Cleveland police car rolled up, it was Officer Nevilles.
I was I was with my girlfriend, Ashley. He just approached Corey like, yeah, it was. So it was it was going to be like I let me, like, follow me.
Nevilles wanted Jesse to follow him down to a quieter part of the street, presumably so they could talk in private. Jesse had no idea what this was about. But his girlfriend, Ashley, didn't like the looks of it. She was like, hell no. Jesse told Ashley missed a lot of people around that to see what he wants. So they drove down, bought into a law at the end of the street and part window to window. Police run Davis style.
Nevilles got right to the point.
Lindy lives here. So you go on the court and then I don't go to court on the name Dixon.
He meant the criminal case against the ninth for taking Jesse to the park. He said no Nevilles was telling Jesse to drop the whole thing. Don't show up for court.
So I see my are around. I know what to say. I was scared. He actually was my number. He called me later on and I met him in the 90s and on the phone. What did they say? He was saying, don't go to court. Dixon said, no, go to court. He was saying, I never formational. Cool AC no longer caught on easy East Cleveland.
What did you think? What do you mean, Quincy?
I don't know. He did say he commission on Coola Easy Loans Auto go to court on Nevilles, was interviewed by the county prosecutor's office and he denied being on the line for that call.
He denied ever telling Jesse not to come to court. He said Jesse asked him about the name and he got Jesse's number, gave it his name, and that was it. But the name did call Jesse. And Jesse says he kept calling.
He was calling me to just check on. It was so, so cool. Everything cool? How often? Like every day. Or I mean or like a like like once every two weeks or something. He was telling me to get out. He told me to skip out of town. He was telling me all type of stuff.
Jesse felt like there was a threat behind all of his goals. Sort of an unspoken or else when the county prosecutors found out about the goals, like white police officers are calling you and telling you to drop this whole thing. Yeah, that does not sound good. They made a plan.
They had Jesse come into the justice center so they could record him calling to name the prosecutors, recorded two calls to the man.
And on these calls, the name encouraged Jesse not to come. The call to get out of town. You don't come and they gonna dismiss it.
Don't answer. No, they don't.
These calls culminated in more felony charges for the name Dixon. In addition to the other charges for taking Jesse to the park to name pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. Officer Nevilles VO names friend who Jesse says first approached him about dropping the case. Nevilles stayed on the force. And so a year later, he's the focus of a lot of Jesse's concern about the cops. Jesse was sure Nevilles had it out for him.
I still have to walk around, drive around out here with this other officer, feel like I don't know. I don't know who I'm seeing. Every day he would stare at me. He look at me, Lee. He look at me. He look at me with the look evil. Like he want to kill me. Like, how do you see him? Like, where do you see him? I see him every day. Like everywhere. Stores be fixing to be fixed on a house.
Rob has a ride up and down the street all day. Every day. Like I see. I see my. And every time I seen, like he give me, I look like it. I never would. I asked these Cleveland Police Department for an interview of levels to ask him whether he still harbored a grudge against Jesse. But the department refused to make Nevilles available. Part of me for Jesse might be the last person to cultured mess with.
I mean, the entire city of East Cleveland and the cops are gonna pick on the guy who got two of own fired, who has a lawyer. And he's probably an automatic news story if anything happens to him. Why would they pick on Jesse? But then after he'd made our way back down to the parking lot, another police car had a black squad car. It turned towards us, rolled lazily into a deserted lawn. Mary is standing. We both watched as it got closer.
Look. Doesn't have us. That's Nevilles.
I was suddenly aware of how alone Jesse and I were in the middle of the afternoon and nobody was around. Officer Nevilles didn't speed up. He just headed towards us. His face partially hidden behind the ground, the windshield. When he got to us, Nevilles made a deliberate circle around us, going maybe 10 miles an hour. Nevilles was a bald, stocky black guy. He didn't return upstairs to reciprocate. But no, I gave him. He looked straight ahead.
Puggy, one even there. Many drove away. Maybe it was just a coincidence he showed up. Maybe not. I watched as he shift his weight back and forth, one foot to the other. Build a fear in his head. Listen, the other officers that was right there. Then they both knew who I was. They call and tell him that was down. But you tell me that black guy. One of those guys out there. He's like a good cop.
He's a good guy. Yeah. I'll say you good because I'm annoying. But these these officers, good to who they work to day, who they are here in a field with SLA lawyers who, like I say, he was very about to come down here. He came of came right down here. Right now. Here. All right. I'm ready. Leave now. Because I'm thinking. Eli, is he. No, my car. You know, my car.
You think you're gonna try him for you're over on the way out of here. Don't know. I don't know what he gonna do. It just it just scared, scares and scares me. All right. So you want to get out of here? Yeah.
Yeah. By that point, we were both ready to get out of that. A quick word about the city of Cleveland, because everything that happened to Jesse happened in the city but doesn't function like a normal city. For example, when I first started reporting about these Cleveland Police Department, I couldn't get any official information about property crimes or violent crimes. Basic stuff. I couldn't get the homicide solved. Right.
Or even the number of homicides after asking a bunch of times. The city's law director told me flat out that the city's simply, quote, does not compile crime statistics. When I asked for disciplinary records for officers complaints, some reports, I was initially told by city officials that the department could not supply of his records because it had apparently destroyed them in direct violation of the city's own record retention policy. After much badgering and a core complaint, the city coughed up disciplinary records for just three of the 85 officers that have worked in these Cleveland.
The last two years. He's Cleveland couldn't even give me records of officers who'd been publicly disciplined, not for a cop who sexually assaulted two women with a sex toy he found in their car during a traffic stop. Not for a government is now the second in command who pleaded to tax crimes after running an illegal cigar business on the side and not for the name Dixon, who pleaded guilty to taking Jesse to the park. No disciplinary records whatsoever. It felt like East Cleveland had given up on basic governance and not just in an administrative sense.
I got the same feeling driving around the streets. Things are pretty bad there. One day, a local took me down a street called Terrace Road. We passed a 13 story apartment building half a block long. Completely gutted. No windows. Like something out of I am legend. Debris everywhere. Then the guy I was with told me. Watch this. Pay attention right now. At this point, it's worth Off-Road up over the curb. I started driving down the sidewalk.
Jesus. Wow. He did this to get around the potholes in the street, dozens of them. I say potholes, but really we're talking about craters. Some almost four feet wide underneath us were schools of tire tracks from other drivers who'd done the same thing. Because I know I got to pay for this car.
Forgive me if Cleveland got to this point, partly because of decades of mismanagement and corruption, but also largely because of straight up structural racism. East Cleveland is a black city. It's 90 percent black. And like many black neighborhoods in cities, it's been a victim of blockbusting white flight job loss and a collapsing tax base. The poverty rate here is 42 percent. Cleveland is the poorest city in the state of Ohio.
After Venus met in the park, when Denine Dickson challenged Jesse to fight, Jesse ran Hard Moffa, that whole thing became public. Guess it decided he wanted to sue the police department. He hired a lawyer named Scott Ramsey and Scott Ramsey approached the city to talk about that. He was surprised to find that his grieving was very open to him. You've got a meeting with the mayor and the mayor apologized for what happened to Jesse, didn't try to soft pedal it, said what the officers did was wrong.
But then Scott Ramsey says when he and the mayor got to the subject of a possible lawsuit that was added to that, you can file suit if you want and you can get a judgment if you want.
You may get a big judgment is just going to go into the stack over here that aren't getting paid.
Being such a poor city has countless disadvantages, but it does have this one advantage. When a person sues, you can turn your pockets inside out and show there's nothing. Now you can't lose what you don't have. Right.
Scott Ramsey, Neues Cleveland didn't have insurance, did not much in assets. He knew the money just wasn't there. He told me in a normal city, if he could get something like one hundred two hundred fifty thousand dollars. But he didn't want Jesse to join the stack of East Cleveland's unpaid lawsuits. And there is quite a stack judgments unpaid. Others stuck in a labyrinth of appeals. So Scott Ramsey, MACV of East Cleveland, skipped the lawsuit. Instead, they made a deal.
The city cut a check for Jesse. Twenty five thousand dollars and caudal a day at least. The lawyers called it a day. The cops, on the other hand. Well, you'll see. More after the break. Before we get back to Jesse, I'm going to tell you about the case of Arnold Black because it will help you understand some of what's going to happen to Jesse and also because the case of Arnold Bloch is crazy.
I don't want to reach for another descriptor. It starts out crazy and then it gets more crazy. First, a caveat. Arnold Black Suit is Cleveland.
I read the court transcript. I interviewed his attorney. There was a trial. But is Cleveland the defendant did not defend itself. They did not offer evidence or witnesses. They did not cross-examine anyone. So what I'm going to tell you is one sided, which doesn't make it untrue. Everything I'm telling you now was testified to under oath in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common, please. And again, was not challenged by the city. Here's the story.
This guy, Arnold Black, he's 44 at the time. He's driving down Euclid Avenue in the middle of East Cleveland. It's nighttime.
He'd done a landscaping job near where his mother lived and he'd gone over to her house afterwards for dinner.
Now he was heading home. He's driving his truck, a green Chevy Silverado. He's got equipment in the back. Weed whacker, leaf blower, lawnmower. And the cops pull him over. One uniformed officer in a cruiser. The other officer is a detective in normal clothes driving his normal car. The uniformed officer, Jonathan O'Leary, tells Arnold to get out of the truck, pats him down, cuffs him. They take Arnol Black to the rear of his truck, sit him down on the bumper.
The cop in street clothes, Detective Randy Hicks, aggressively searches the truck, rips out the inside door panels in court. Arnold Black testified to the following. He said Detective Hicks started asking him about drugs in his Cleveland and he told him he didn't know. Because I don't sell drugs. I don't do drugs. And I don't live in East Cleveland.
He said he was looking for a kilo of cocaine. And he said to me that I wasn't in the right truck. Evidently, Detective Hicks was looking for a drug dealer in a green truck. But Arnold wasn't him.
And that annoyed Hicks. He said, you messed my night up.
Arnold thought Detective Hicks seemed off drunk. Probably. He keeps asking Arnold about drugs. Arnold is saying why? You keep asking me that? Then wham! Detective Hicks punches Arnold in the face. Arnold testifies that he then starts to kind of slide off the bumper.
Officer O'Leary props him up. Detective Hicks hits him again in the head. These were hard hits hard enough that three years later, Arnold Blackwood need brain surgery to drain the fluid and blood from his skull.
Even now, he can't remember things properly. His speeches slowed. He has trouble controlling his anger. His mother and fiance say say his personality is changed. The officers put him in the cruiser. Take him back to the East Cleveland Police Department where the jail is. And they put him in a room that Arnold's attorney calls a storage locker. Is Cleveland police called it a holding cell? Tomato, tomato. No one can decide what this room is called, but whatever it is, it is not a proper jail cell.
No bed, no toilet, no window, no water. It's got a bench fueled lockers, the tall kind and some cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, buckets like that. They lock Arnold in there. That's according to his testimony. And now the timeline of all this is a little unclear. The police and county records say one thing, the trial transcript says another. But if we go by the records, at least this began on a Friday night.
Arnold says he could hear people talking and hollering, walking around. He could hear keys. I knocked on the door and was screaming like I told them I had to use the bathroom.
And I said, Anybody, anybody? No one comes. Arnold pees in a locker. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Erika, is getting worried. Where is he? She was supposed to hear from him. She's calling around her friends. She calls the hospital.
Arnold says an officer opens a door to the room and asks him, does anyone know you're in here? Arnold says, no.
The guy says she and points to the ceiling. There's a microphone up there. He says, step back. They won't pick up whispers. Then he takes his own cell phone from his back pocket. Arnold gives the guard Erica's number. The guard dials a phone. Hands it to Arnold and tells him to make it quick.
Arnold tells Erica, the cops beat me up. I'm in East Cleveland jail. Come get me.
Arnold says a bit later, that same guy comes back and tosses in one of those little milk cartons from a school cafeteria.
Erica arrives, asks to see Arnold. Now, this is according to her testimony. The cops at the reception window kind of look at each other for a while. Finally, someone says he's under investigation. You can't see him. He's under investigation. She feels like something's wrong. Like they're lying to her. She calls Arnold's family. Arnold's brother. He took the stand at trial to Arnold's brother, says he goes to East Cleveland and they tell him Arnold's in Cleveland jail.
He drives over to Cleveland, where they tell him there's no Arnol Black here. And he's like, I was just they just told me to come here. They check check again. He goes back to East Cleveland again where they again say, we don't know what to tell you being here. It's now Monday, day three of the storage room. Arnold is in terrible pain from his head injuries. He can't sleep, really. He's hungry in court.
Arnold said that aside from that one little milk carton, they gave him nothing to eat or drink. The pee in the locker is stinking. He's intensely anxious. He's worried the cops are going to do something to Erica because he called her.
Feels like the room is closing in on him. Finally, again, if I reading the records right on day five, he's put in a van and taken to the county jail at the Justice Center. He's held there a couple days until Erica comes to get him, pays his bond 250 bucks. When she sees him walking out of the county jail. She says his head is so swollen he looks like he's wearing a helmet. She takes him home. Sometime later, Arnold gets a letter in the mail telling him he's been indicted by a grand jury for possessing crack cocaine.
I was like charged with cocaine. Arnold said I never had no cocaine.
I got charged with that. In the police report, Officer O'Leary claims he found a baggie of crack under Arnold's tongue and also that he had a bag of marijuana.
I'll point out that the East Cleveland detective who testified about the crack before the grand jury, Eric Jones, was at that time part of a cabal of East Cleveland cops who were shaking down drug dealers, stealing their money and falsifying evidence.
He's now in federal prison.
But I digress. In any case, the prosecutor could see the circumstances of Arnold's arrest were shady.
She'd been told about the beating. This file was gonna be trouble. They dropped the charges. Arnold hires a civil rights lawyer, Bobby, to Chelo, he sues Susan, the city of Cleveland. He says the police chief, Ralph spots. He sues Officer O'Leary. He sues Detective Hicks.
He's asking for 35 million dollars. Bobby Cello Chelo seeks a settlement from the city on behalf of Arnol. Black to Chelo gets much the same pitch Scott Ramsay got when he sought a settlement for Jesse. There's only so much we can afford to tell his response, though. Very different. Here's Bobby T'Challa.
We heard as the chief defense. Why are you doing this? We don't have any money. Don't you see we're poor? Don't you see where our poor cities. Streets aren't very good. Don't you see that we're in a state of what's called financial or fiscal emergency where the state of Ohio was running our books and has to authorize every expenditure? You can't get paid. Here's what we can do. We can give you 50 grand. Would you be happy with 50 grand?
Would that be good enough? And I would respond. Let me get this straight. You guys beat up my client, put him in a locker storage locker mate and pee there. And, by the way, fed him nothing out of the carton of milk for four days. And you think I'm here just for 50 grand? Really? I'm gonna ask you to bear with me a little longer here, because this story gets better, slash worse as they prepare for trial to Chelo finds out there was dash cam footage of the arrest that shows Detective Hicks beating Arnold.
And they also discover that that same raw video was later edited by the police, altered so as not to show the beating. And listen up here that the police chief and the mayor knew about it. They discovered that the East Cleveland police did this all the time. In fact, they discovered that nothing that happened to Arnol Black during the time he was secretly in East Cleveland's custody was unusual. Police in East Cleveland routinely pulled people over and rough them up.
They'd been the practice for decades, routinely held them in jail for no reason, routinely altered evidence. The police chief routinely told officers to keep quiet about abuse to avoid lawsuits. T'Challa had found out about almost all this stuff from a most unlikely source. Detective Randy Hicks, the guy who beat Arnol Black Hicks, had walked off the job within days of Arnold's arrest. He said. Soon as he realized his bosses were going to blame everything on him.
He'd been at the department for about 15 years. Head of the narcotics unit for six had earned commendations. He wasn't a rogue cop. He said he was doing what they'd all been taught to do in East Cleveland. We asked the city's law director to respond to this story.
She didn't. Neither did Officer O'Leary or Detective Hicks.
The then mayor, Gary Norton, did respond. He said the characterizations from the civil trial are 1000 percent false.
He said all he knew about the dash cam video was that, quote, there was a gap in the tape, unquote, gap.
And he said he didn't know about the holding cell slash storage locker at the jail, which was downstairs from his office.
I just didn't know. I really didn't. The then police chief, Ralph Spots, also called us back. He said ditto, there was no such culture of aggression within the police department. He said no pattern of altering evidence or of hiding abuse. Mr. Spot said Detective Hicks was just shifting blame for his own personal wrongdoing.
The civil lawsuit drags on. Years go by. But at no point does East Cleveland ever hand over discovery.
Not one piece of paper. Never mind the dash cam video or personnel records or logs from the jail to Chelo never even gets a police report. The city law director claims she doesn't know where anything is.
They simply have nothing to hand over. It's egregious enough. This refusal to engage that the judge finally issues a ruling saying, OK, is Cleveland, you are now barred from introducing any evidence at trial. So we're going to have a trial, but you cannot defend yourself. You've forfeited that right. The city appeals this ruling appeal once, twice.
They get denied. In 2016, four years after Arnold's beating an arrest, they finally go to trial.
And the only person who shows up for the other side, the only person is former East Cleveland detective Randy Hicks.
No city law director, no police chief, no mayor, just Randy Hicks all by himself.
And he admits everything.
There's this extraordinary part of the trial transcript in which the cello reads a long list of all the things officers in East Cleveland did.
And Hakes confirms it. All of it to cello. Number four, Officer Hicks was and his fellow officers were required by chief spots to follow a custom of using violence in the city of East Cleveland, which had officers using force on civilians to compel statements from them to establish control, to instill fear and submission, and to show dominance during arrests and traffic stops.
The judge. Is that true? Hicks? Yes, Your Honor.
A jury awarded Arnold Black 22 million dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, a 22 million dollar judgment victory.
Not exactly, because, get this, the morning of trial. About an hour and a half before it started.
The city's lawyer filed a notice of appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court. That's a notice saying, hey, we're planning on filing something with you guys. The city had assumed that the notice would stop the clock on the trial and retroactively it did. An appeals court later ruled that the trial should not have gone forward with that notice pending. So now, as I write this, in 2018, the verdict in Arnold Black's case has been overturned. Now, the cello is the one appealing.
He's not sure if he'll prevail. He might have to retry this case. Civil lawsuits are supposed to lead to reform. That's the hope that a city will fix the problems that are costing it a lot of money. We talked to 11 attorneys who do civil rights cases in Cuyahoga County.
One attorney said, yeah, bring it. I have no problem pulling the trigger against these Cleveland, the other 10 attorneys. No way.
They said it's not worth it, said one. I have a business to run, said another. We heard there's no reward. We heard it's a bitch. We heard.
I turned down any case that comes from East Cleveland and it's heartbreaking. In other words, Arnol Black is a cautionary tale which makes the cello nuts. He doesn't see it that way. And he says armed black doesn't either.
The city hasn't paid Arnol Black a dime, but he has gotten quite a bit of money as a result of the lawsuit from a funding company that loans plaintiffs money based on likely verdicts. That's a whole financial industry, apparently.
But more to the point to Cello's says, there's now a public record of how East Cleveland was running its police department. This case, this verdict was national news because it went to trial. I am talking about it right now. I asked a cello. Can you understand, though, how someone like Jesse Nickerson might not want to spend six plus years fighting the city, especially if they live there? Nachos? Yeah. But if a client did tell him that he'd push back with a speech that goes something like this.
We are the police or the police. By constitutional mandate. Thank God. This has got to be about do you understand what's happening? Do you understand what the lives are that are that are at stake here? It does impact us all. You're the guy who sneaked out. You know, who got out of the way? The bully for a few bucks. Good job. Does it did. But did your community matter to you? And if and if the response comes back.
No, it doesn't. I don't do that. I'm duty bound to listen to my client. I get that. But understand what's going to continue and we'll have that conversation. What if we're responsible about it? Like I would with my own brother or sister. Look, bro, I get it. You don't want to be in the fight. But here's what's gonna happen. The bullied on the streets going to do this again and again and again.
Can you live in that town?
If you settle for peanuts like Jesse did to Charles says you're not going to get real change. You're going to get peanuts. And now you're living in your same town along with the same people you're scared of. Right. And that's where Jessie is. Emanuel is going to take it from here. About three weeks off, we met up in the park. I wanted to check in with Jesse to see how he was doing. See if he had any more run ins with his Cleveland police.
I felt I couldn't get a hold of him, but I got through to his girlfriend, Ashley. She launched into a whole thing. Something happened between Jesse and the police from the Fourth of July. The police are rough. Jesse up. Ashley said Jesse wanted to tell me about it. He had a new phone. She gave me the number, which I doubt immediately. Athletes hoping something crazy. She told me that I was just a warm up.
Yes. A couple days ago. How did this happen? Lutsen forgive me.
On the Fourth of July, Jessie Street threw a block party. Neighbors put out road cones and closed off the street. About 70 people came out. This is as it was, the usual kids playing basketball. People grilling fireworks. He and his friends helped set it up.
This party went on all day and into the evening. Around midnight, East Cleveland police showed up. Setting off fireworks without a permit is illegal in Ohio. And you can't just block off the street. So the police said it was time to clear out. People started heading home. Jesse says he and his friends were dragging their feet, messing around of a basketball, giving the cops some attitude when crying abruptly. A police officer, an older guy, yelled through the crowd, You in a red shirt, get the fuck out of D.C..
I look around. I looked down at my shirt today and one would reassert Jesse and some of his friends confronted the officer.
We have a word we tell them, like now what did our doorway. One end of the holiday. About 40 kids out here. So we set them like this and we go around the hood of what officer was like. Get the fuck out of my fucking pocket, 2008. I'm not sure if such a thing as the officer staying out of East Cleveland, but stepping up to an East Cleveland police officer and talking like this might be a little.
That's. A Russian. Best body cam footage from three different officers. A lot of it is blurry and dark, but I've watched it over and over.
According to a police report, Jesse spat on an officer. But you can't see over on the body cam. Instead, it seems if a police just honed in on Jesse, there's a crowd of people.
But Jesse seems to be the one they want in the body cam footage. You see Jesse in some of his friends talking back to the police officers just isn't the real group. At one point, he starts to back away, puts his hands in the air like, fine, forget this, I'm out of here. And just then one of the officers rushes in, bypasses all the other guys standing in front of Jesse and grabs him. Another officer grabs Jesse, too.
They cuff him, drag him towards a police car, police him frantic. The crowd of people in the street is screaming at the officers, cursing them. The situation feels like a boileau.
Once they get to the police car, it's so chaotic, you can't tell exactly what's happening. But there's a thud, which is maybe Jesse slamming into the car door. Many stopped screaming. My arm. My arm. His shoulder was into Jeffy's lying on the ground, on his stomach, twisting away from his hurt shoulder, his head almost underneath the tail pipe and a call. He seems to know Jesse, or at least just his name. Stop telling him to get up.
No. We lost you.
It's not clear whether the officer is saying this because Jesse heard himself trying to scrub away from the cops. And now the officer is trying to make sure that fact gets recorded on the body cams or whether the police got rough trying to shove Jesse in the car. And now they're trying to cover for themselves. Ten minutes later, EMT arrive. They take Jesse to the hospital where he spent the night. The next morning, Jesse wakes to find five misdemeanor tickets and the blanket of his hospital bed failed to disperse disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, assault and menacing.
When I talk to Jesse on the phone, I could hear how much he wanted to fight back. But also I got to hear how vulnerable he felt. It's like every time I get approached. Outer space. These people to put their hand on. That's how hard I look at it now. I got a I got to prepare myself and prepare myself for it. I know. I know every time. Failure. They felt. Yeah. I thought it was a live, as you see.
It's not it's not over with. There's not a lot I thought. I thought it was my fault because I said I wouldn't through with the operation. I know I shouldn't want the court orders. Well, either way, you you don't. What do you mean you shouldn't have gone. You will. You think you are getting it. Yes. Did you see what happened? I'm not doing shit, but I'm getting. I'm going to write this book.
I feel for me sending them off to jail. So I regret it. It feels like you you you don't see an end to this. You think this is going to be this. Even if there's a half of a list. This is it. This is the beginning. This is the beginning.
Just he went to East Cleveland courthouse about a week later for his arraignment on the five charges for the Fourth of July.
The courthouse is just one room in these Cleveland small city hall where almost every city department, including the police department, is packed into a squat two and a half storey building. I caught up with Jessie before court, started right outside the courtroom. Jessie's lawyers got Ramsey couldn't be there that day, but he told Jessie. No big deal. Plead not guilty. Don't talk too much. Nothing serious is going to happen today. Jessie was in good spirits, laughing and joking.
He took it in stride. One of the bailiffs told him to rip jean shorts he had on. Those weren't gonna go over too well in the courtroom.
I got to go some pants. They all I'm doing an encomia.
Jessie quickly went home to change and then came back. We took our seats in court, got started. The judge began to spin the cases. Mostly they were small traffic tickets and stuff.
So have you ever had Ohio license? Yes.
After about 30 minutes or so, Jessie gone up, mouthed something to me and walked out of the courtroom. It's folded in buzzing. So I figured he'd left to make a call. Ten minutes went by and he hadn't come back. Ben, 20 men, 30 court finished. Still no Jessie. Even stranger. His case had never been called. I tried his phone, but it went straight to voicemail. Called his girlfriend Ashley. No answer. I searched the whole building, hallways, bathrooms, the parking lot.
Jesse was nowhere. But why? I mean, Jesse, with his criminal history, had to know about not showing up for court. Might get him in a restaurant. So why would you show up? Take the time to go home and change clothes, come back and then leave again. I asked around anyone I thought might know what was going on. I mean, in the beginning he had like gold. He had like red sneakers on.
Finally, a bailiff told me he's seen Jesse walk out of the courtroom. He came on new court in the hallway. Two hours to detail his approach to when it was targeting him. And in Atabay, they handcuffed him and took them downstairs. I don't know what charges they charged him or why. So there's a burden and I know. OK. Jesse had been arrested. Now I needed to find out why. I went to a police station, a stone woman at a window with you to tell me what had been arrested for the violation of his privacy, she said, which, by the way, I checked it's not.
She told me you have to talk to the chief of police. Was he in? No, she said a little later. I ask a different person at that same window. A young police officer I thought might be more helpful. Nope. He said he wasn't allowed to tell me what the charges were, even though I was a reporter. Department policy again, I checked. It's not. I'm to the judge's door. Maybe they could help. But everyone was gone for the day they left.
Yeah. Clothes always OK. All due respect.
It was 3:00 in the afternoon. You definitely seem closed off as Orlando is everything. I mean, a bunch of calls, the city hall the next day soon may seem the sick of me calling as I was asking, did his arraignment happen already?
To the Powers? Yes, it did. Was there like a bonds that you don't get that information out? So it should be public information, right? Sir, we don't get that information at all on telephone. OK.
Can I ask have can I just ask one of. After a while, I got with a Hammon's on the phone. The city's law director. She didn't hang up on me or ignore my arguments about things being public record.
She was nice. Lots of Blanton's. I didn't want to be recorded, but she did answer my questions. She told me Jesse had been arrested and charged with misdemeanors for a completely different case.
But a week earlier, Jesse IDL that intimidated an officer instead of arresting Jesse then. But police have put a warrant out for his arrest after we've been talking a couple of minutes. We asked if I could hold. He muttered something about there being some of the details as I had a ruffle for some papers. Wheeler said that after the arrest, Jesse had hit his head on the ground and the weight of a jail, he deliberately peed himself in his cell.
But Jesse had been taken to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. Literally, I'm just getting out. Wait. You just left. I just left you four days went by before I heard from Jesse again. I started to ask him about the arrest, about what Wheeler told me. But Jesse cut me off. He said he didn't have time to get into that. It's something more important to tell me. Listen, listen, listen.
When I was in jail most of the year, it put me in a hole. It felt right. They let their blockers. There's no bathroom. So I'm in this room. I'm in room for two days. I have to be forced to use my to wipe my ass like I was to cut him off. Like he's like I'm some type of holy fuck. I had literally piece of shit in a locker. You answer me and what? I had the piss and shit in the locker room.
Jesse was telling me that the police had put him in the very same room on a black, been locked in for days. The question was, would anyone care? Next time on Serial.
Serials produced by Julie Snyder, Emmanuel Joce, Ben Calhoun and me. With additional reporting by alias Koskie editing on this episode from IRA Glass when he Dangerfield's our digital editor.
Research, in fact, checking by Ben Feiglin. Sound Design and mixed by Stowe Nelson. Additional Production from Kate Belinski Music Clarence by Anthony Roman. Sutherland is our director of Operations. The zero staff includes Emily Condon, Julie Whitaker, Cassie Howley, Frances Swanson and Matt Tierney. Our music is by Adam Dorn and how Willner with additional music from Matt McGinley, Fritz Meyers, Nick Thorburn and West Schwartz. Our theme song is by Nick Thorburn and remixed by Adam Dorn.
This episode to Melissa Jorges, Ed Little, Eric Brewer, William Votary, Nancy Jamison, Molly Murphy, Chris Link at the ACLU and Colleen Cotter at Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
Thanks also to Pandora for airing the show. The art on our Web site was made by Martinez EBD. He created the mural for this episode and MOTHE studio did the animation. Please check it out on our Web site, serial podcast artwork, that serial podcast dot org, where you can also sign up for our email newsletter.
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