The city had earlier settled with Gregory Johnson, present at the same event. Ironically, Johnson was involved in a 1984 case which set Supreme Court precedent explicitly considering flag-burning an expression of protected free speech.
The City of Cleveland will pay $50,000 to a protester arrested for burning the U.S. flag during the 2016 Republican National Convention.
According to Cleveland.com, the settlement is one of several stemming from the same incident. In total, the city has paid around $325,000 to settle claims of illegal arrest and First Amendment infringement.
On Friday, civil rights attorney Subodh Chandra said Cleveland will pay protester Richard Newburger $50,000. It’s the same amount the city agreed to pay Steven Fridley, who was present at the same rally.
“The City of Cleveland has agreed to settle yet a third civil-rights [sic] lawsuit over its, and its officers’, First Amendment free-speech violations, false arrests, and malicious prosecution of peaceful protesters at the 2016 Republican National Convention,” Chandra wrote on Friday.
“The latest suit, filed in July 2019 by Chandra Law on behalf of Richard Newburger, complained that the City, police chief Calvin Williams, and officer Matthew France extinguished Newburger’s symbolic speech of protesting the rising fascism represented by Donald Trump by burning the American flag,” he continued.
Fridley, notes Cleveland.com, settled his claim in June.
Together, Newburger and Fridley were among 18 people arrested during the flag-burning ceremony, which took place in Cleveland’s downtown, near the former Quicken Loans Arena. Participants wore black t-shirts bearing the slogan, “Revolution—Nothing Less!”
Police were quick to move on the crowd after the U.S. flag was set alight. But before detaining protesters, they sprayed them with fire retardant. Officers purportedly yelled, “You’re on fire, stupid!”
However, Chandra and Newburger say Cleveland cops over-reacted, possibly falsifying a public safety risk to protect the flag.
“Immediately after the flag was lit,” Chandra said, “Cleveland police officers unjustifiably started to extinguish the flag—pre-emptively censoring Mr. Newburger’s speech before any supposed safety concern reasonably existed.”
“Mr. Newburger never resisted the police,” Chandra noted. “In the Cleveland police officers’ unconstitutional frenzy, the police assaulted Mr. Newburger by spraying him directly in the face with a chemical extinguisher.”
The event was organized by Gregory “Joey Johnson, who himself settled with the city for $225,000.
Johnson, notably, set Supreme Court precedent in 1984 after being detained for burning the U.S. flag outside the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas. That decision over-ruled and nullified state laws prohibiting ignition of the flag.
Newburger and Johnson were both arrested and booked on misdemeanor counts. The charges were later dropped by order of Cleveland Municipal Judge Charles Patton, who pointed out the obvious—that everyone arrested and charged had simply been engaged in a constitutionally protected act of free speech.