Cleveland has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit to a protester arrested during a flag burning at the 2016 Republican National Convention, it was reported Tuesday.
The lawsuit filed in January 2018 claimed Cleveland police officers violated Gregory Lee Johnson’s free-speech rights when they used fire extinguishers and took Johnson to the ground after breaking through a circle of protesters while Johnson set the flag on fire.
Johnson was convicted of burning an American flag at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, leading to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling sanctioning flag-burning in a case in which he was the plaintiff.
Cleveland settled the case without any admission of liability, City Law Director Barbara Langhenry said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer Tuesday.
The press conference starts 6 minutes into the video.
Previously, the city agreed to pay $50,000 to another man who sued over his arrest during the flag-burning protest, the paper reported.
“Instead of protecting RNC protestors’ constitutional rights, Cleveland police stalked them, literally extinguished their speech rights, and then arrested and prosecuted them – violating 30-year-old Supreme Court precedent taught to schoolchildren,” Johnson’s attorney Subodh Chandra said in a news release announcing the settlement.
Johnson was joined by other members of the Revolutionary Communist Party who held the flag-burning protest the day after the convention nominated Donald Trump for president, according to the Plain Dealer.
The charges against Johnson were dropped by prosecutors, the paper reported. Cases against 15 others were dismissed.
The Chandra Law Firm, LLC., reported that the agreement is to settle Johnson’s First Amendment retaliation lawsuit over his “unconstitutional arrest and prosecution” for flag burning outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July of 2016.
According to the law firm, Johnson was the defendant in the landmark 1989 Texas v. Johnson Supreme Court case, which held that flag-burning is First Amendment-protected speech.
The criminal case against Johnson was dismissed. According to the law firm, the judge found:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea without more that removes the idea from the First Amendment’s protection. See, Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S., at 55-56; City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U.S. 789, (1984). The U.S. Supreme Court has not recognized an exception to this principle even where the flag has been involved in protest marches.
In the case pending before the Court, the defendants were engaged in the expressive conduct of flag burning. As repugnant as that behavior may be to some, Texas v. Johnson makes it plain that such conduct may not be sanctioned as breaches of the peace.
The City of Cleveland released the following statement about the settlement:
“The settlement of the claims alleged by Gregory Johnson relating to the flag burning incident at the RNC Convention was funded entirely by the City’s liability insurance policy, and did not involve the expenditure of any city funds. The City has denied any liability for the claims alleged in the case, and thus the Parties expressly agreed that the Settlement Agreement is not an admission of liability by the City or any of the other Defendants. The City of Cleveland has denied and continues to deny any liability. We have reached out to the city for a statement, and are waiting to hear back.”
Photos: Google Images
Video: YouTube, Fox 8 News, Cleveland