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Transcript

Episode 03: Misdemeanor, Meet Mr. Lawsuit

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Ira Glass

Previously on Serial.

Russ Bensing

We're trying to get rid of cases. If somebody has offered to plea to a misdemeanor, you take it.

Judge Gaul

And you're pregnant now? Wonderful.

Timothy Gill

Yeah, don't worry. I'm not. Listen. I'm not gonna press charges. It doesn't matter. You're fine. But I have to take you to jail because you hit a policeman.

Jennifer King

And yes, there's lots of people on the floor. And there is another woman kicking her.

Anna

Why can't you guys tell me?

Rayshawn Ellis

I kept trying to tell him, there's more to this story. And I don't know what you want me to tell you, but that's the honest to God truth.

Sarah Koenig

From this American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it's Serial, one courthouse told week by week. I'm Sarah Koenig.

A while back, Emmanuel and I went to a meeting about community policing in Cleveland. The police department had invited people to a banquet hall for a workshop. Big round tables filled the space. Representatives from the police department were sprinkled throughout, and each table had a moderator to keep things moving.

The group is supposed to answer a bunch of questions about what kinds of problems they wanted police to deal with. My table was populated with rule followers. They dutifully worked their way down the list of questions. If kids are hanging out at an abandoned house in your neighborhood, what should the police do about that?

Woman

I guess I would hope that they would start by talking to the kids, and reminding them that some people have to go to sleep, and get up and work the next day, and to be a little more considerate about the noise.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, boy. Thank god for Emmanuel. He was sitting a few tables to the east of me. And he summoned me over there because his table, brass tacks.

Chris

We got to address the elephant in the room. A lot of young African Americans, males in particular, we are afraid of the police officers. I'm just going to be honest. I have a law degree—

Sarah Koenig

This guy was an attorney, does civil rights cases. A police commander sitting at the table lamely responded to him.

Police Commander

But Chris, that's a broad brush. That's a broad brush you just painted.

Chris

It's a broad brush because—

Police Commander

Now, look, you're not afraid of me.

Chris

Go ahead. Go ahead.

Police Commander

You're not afraid of me. We just met. We just met. I'll shake your hand again.

Chris

Sir. Sir, exactly. You see me. You see me here today in my suit. You know, you're hearing me out—

Sarah Koenig

This was the struggle of the table. The citizens wanting to talk historically, culturally, structurally. The cops wanting to talk specifically, personally, procedurally. The table's moderator was stalwart. She tried her level best to keep everyone on task. There was just no way.

Moderator

We can have meetings, but as many of you said earlier, we don't do a good job of getting people to come out.

Chris

This is pointless. I'm sorry.

Moderator

So how else—well, you can feel that way. But how else do we send out to get feedback? How can we engage more people in this process?

Samaria Rice

I want to know what responsibility, or what discipline do the police get for harassing the community?

Moderator

I can't answer that question. but I will make sure that it's brought up.

Samaria Rice

Let me say—let me just—before we go on, the city of Cleveland Police Department has been corrupt for over 70 years. When will it stop? Can you go back and ask them that? Tell them Miss Rice said it.

Over 70 years it has been corrupt. Why is there not more white police in here? They need to be in here, hearing this. You tell them I said that, OK? You tell them I said it.

Sarah Koenig

This woman saying it, Miss Rice, is Samaria Rice. Her son was Tamir Rice. You've probably heard his name before. He was shot and killed by Cleveland police a few years back, when he was 12 years old.

He'd been playing around with a fake gun in a city park. Someone called 911. The police drove up on him, shot him in the stomach within a couple of seconds. Whenever you talk about police or to police in Cleveland, Tamir Rice is right there, not below the surface, on the surface. His killing caused a civic spasm between police and the public that's still painful and still unresolved.

So when Samaria Rice shows up at a meeting about the community's expectations from police, she speaks with dreadful moral authority. At first, I didn't understand what Miss Rice wanted from this meeting. She didn't seem interested in the stated mission of the workshop, the list of questions.

Samaria Rice

All these questions is like, for the community. When is the questions going to be for the police?

Moderator

Well, the reason is for the—

Samaria Rice

Because they really need to be answering these questions.

Moderator

You're right. The reason this focus is though—

Samaria Rice

This is not for the community.

Moderator

Well, this does. This is community—

Samaria Rice

I know, but I'm just—I'm aggravated because that's what this meeting should be about.

Moderator

But you have to understand that there's so many topics that have to be addressed. And so we have addressed—

Samaria Rice

That's the main—no, that's the main topic.

Moderator

You have to understand—

Samaria Rice

That's the main topic.

Moderator

Well, so you're saying—

Samaria Rice

That topic falls—

Moderator

—we shouldn't discuss anything else—use of force, riot policing, nothing else?

Samaria Rice

Nope, not until you fix the police and the way they think. No, 'cause all of that falls up under there. And that's the only thing I'm saying. All of that other stuff falls up under there.

Sarah Koenig

One of the two police officers at the table jumps in. He says, which I completely get—

Police Officer

Which I completely get—how can you help us do that?

[SAMARIA RICE LAUGHS]

Moderator

What's the solution?

Samaria Rice

(LAUGHING) How can I help y'all do that?

Sarah Koenig

She's laughing. That's when I got it. That there's something absurdly wrongheaded to her and to a lot of people in Cleveland, mostly black people, with this earnest sounding question—how can you help us do that?

Samaria Rice is saying, why are you turning this back on me? Why is it my job to help you do your job the way you're supposed to? You're the ones with the cruisers, and the handcuffs, and the tasers, and the guns. She's saying, for God's sakes, physician, heal thyself.

A persistent slogan in Cleveland, even four years after his killing, is justice for Tamir. The case was investigated by three different agencies—city, state, and federal. The mayor appointed his own panel for a fourth investigation. None found that the officers broke the law.

The then county prosecutor handled the case with the delicacy of a lumberjack, calling it a quote, "perfect storm of human error, mistakes, and miscommunications." It should have come as a surprise to no one when a grand jury declined to indict. Technically, you can argue, and many police officers and prosecutors do, that justice was applied in Tamir Rice's case.

But it doesn't feel that way. Instead, it feels like an open question haunting the courthouse. If you're harmed by police, what does it take to find justice in court that feels like justice? One way to try is by filing a lawsuit, suing the police.

Paul Cristallo

We're going to Euclid, Ohio, a little burg on the east side of Cleveland, to meet with my client, Erimius Spencer. We're going to his apartment. We're going to talk to him about what happened to him a couple weeks ago.

Sarah Koenig

I'm in a car with Paul Cristallo, civil rights attorney. Ten days earlier, he'd sent me a text. It was photos of a guy in a hospital bed. His face hugely puffed up on one side. His skin so taught from swelling that you could see the hospital lights reflected in his cheek. His left eye was submerged by the distortion.

The guy's mother said, he had been beaten up by two police officers. She'd found Paul's number, called him up asking, is there anything we can do? Paul talked to her, talked to Erimius, who, he said, sounded cogent and sincere. He had no criminal record to speak of, a few misdemeanor convictions, but nothing violent. Paul decided, this is a good case.

Sarah Koenig

And we're going for me, right? You actually don't have business with them today. This is for me.

Paul Cristallo

It is for you. Correct.

Sarah Koenig

Thank you.

Paul Cristallo

Sure, you're welcome.

Sarah Koenig

Do you know a lot of people in the building?

Erimius Spencer

Yes.

Sarah Koenig

Erimius's face hadn't fully healed. One eye was still blood red. He had a scab above his eyebrow.

Sarah Koenig

How long have you lived here?

Erimius Spencer

Three years.

Sarah Koenig

Three?

Erimius Spencer

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Where'd you live before?

Erimius Spencer

I was living on the 115th.

Sarah Koenig

Was that in Cleveland?

Erimius Spencer

Yes.

Sarah Koenig

Euclid is safer, cleaner, calmer than a lot of neighborhoods in Cleveland, especially if you're from a dangerous neighborhood. Say you've got a teenager you're trying to keep out of the streets, you might send him to his aunt or his grandma in Euclid, put him in school there.

Sarah Koenig

Do you mind showing me?

Erimius's building is called Richmond Hills. It's an apartment complex built in the 1960s, looks a little tired out by now. Erimius lives on the fifth floor. He walks me through his version of what happened that day. The police have a different version, which I'll get to later.

But Erimius says, he'd come downstairs to bum a cigarette from a friend on the fourth floor. And a couple of cops were coming down the stairwell at one end of the hallway. And they saw him standing there knocking at his friend's door.

Sarah Koenig

So, sorry, they came through that door?

Erimius Spencer

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, so they saw you through the window.

Erimius Spencer

Yeah, they saw me through the window. I was standing at the door, knocking at the door. And they came and stopped me, right here where we standing.

Sarah Koenig

So they—did they talk to you from there?

Erimius Spencer

Yes, they were basically telling me to stop, or, you know, just to stay still. And they wanted to ask me some questions, whatever. And it was two of them, like, basically, how you all are standing. And they asked me for my ID and asked me to search me for weapons.

Sarah Koenig

Erimius had seen cops around the hallways before, so that wasn't a surprise. They work security here, moonlighting. Technically, they're off-duty, but they're in uniform, and they have full police powers. And that's normal, by the way. Lots of cops do this in Cuyahoga County.

And Erimius had had run-ins with the police before. And mostly they'd gone OK, not counting the time, he says, he was jaywalking in East Cleveland, and a cop stopped him, and he ended up getting whacked in the knee repeatedly with a billy club, and arrested, and put in jail for the night. But mostly, he felt like he knew how to successfully navigate these interactions.

With the Euclid cops that day, he figured his best strategy was to cooperate and get it over with. He wasn't doing anything wrong. He didn't want to give the cops any reason to suspect otherwise. So he says, he showed them his ID, told them he lived upstairs.

He said, they asked if they could search him for weapons, which means a pat down. They're feeling around for a gun. And Erimius allowed it. He didn't have a weapon on him. He wasn't worried.

What he did have on him was a blunt, a marijuana cigarette, in the pocket of his jeans, which the cops found, and which I'll get back to because this measly blunt will become an outsized player in this story. Anyway, next thing Erimius knew, the officers went to arrest him.

Erimius Spencer

The other officer on this side asked me to put my hands behind my back. I told them, what am I under arrest for? I'm asking them, like, what am I under arrest for? And he never told me what I was under arrest for.

Sarah Koenig

At that point, Erimius says, he stiffened his arm—the arm that one of the officers was trying to put behind his back. So he's resisting, technically. And he's also asking, why are you arresting me? What did I do? No answer. No discussion.

Erimius Spencer

And then the one on your side, he was like, shut the fuck up, and kneed me in my balls. And I went down. I reached for my balls immediately, like this.

The other officer tried to throw me on the ground. I guess, as if he was going to throw me—you know the procedure—how they, you know, if you resist arrest, they have a right to throw you to the ground and put your hands behind your back. But they didn't put my hands behind my back. They had one hand behind my back. And then the other one to the kick in my face, while I was on the ground.

Sarah Koenig

The kicking, Erimius says, is what caused the damage to his face, broke his orbital bone. That's the bone around your eye. A public defender in Cleveland told me, eh, everyone's always whining about a broken orbital bone. But in Erimius's case, it was bad enough that the Euclid ER folks transferred him to a bigger hospital in Cleveland to make sure his eye would be OK.

Anyway, Erimius was down on the ground. One cop is kicking him in the face. Another cop is holding back his right arm. Erimius's left arm is pinned underneath him. He can't get it free.

Erimius got down on the gross hallway carpet to show me. I didn't need him to do that. But it seemed as if he wanted to replay each step, which I could understand. It had only been ten days since it happened. He hadn't gotten his mind around it.

Erimius Spencer

So you can imagine, I'm right here. My head is right here. The blood is leaking from my face, going down, dropping onto the ground like this. So what happened was he tased me right here. So I'm like this.

They tased me right here, tased me in my neck, tased me in the back of my thigh, and tased me in my left chest right here. And then I, finally, I told them, I'm like, I'm going to let you put my hands behind my back. You feeling me? And they put my hands behind my back, picked me up, right here.

Paul Cristallo

That's where his head ended up.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, my God. Is that your blood right there?

Erimius Spencer

Yeah, that's my blood.

Sarah Koenig

There was a smear of blood with a big drip going down the wall at exactly the height of Erimius's eye, which isn't very high by the way. Erimius is about 5'6", 5'7", I'd say, and slight. The police tased him about seven times, not the full deployment each time where the wires come out and everything, the lesser taser setting where it shocks and burns. Erimius said, he could feel electricity shoot down his legs.

Erimius Spencer

Oh, yeah, there's the burn marks too, from the tasers.

Sarah Koenig

Where do you mean?

Erimius pointed to some spots at our feet where the carpet fibers were melted and clumped together.

Erimius Spencer

The taser right here.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, really?

Paul Cristallo

These are the burn marks.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, my God.

Erimius Spencer

It burned through my skin just like it burned through the carpet, so yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Erimius said, while all this was going on, the police were cursing at him. He was cursing back. He said, I just kept asking them, why? Why are you all doing this? What did I do to deserve this? He says, they would not answer.

When I asked Erimius if he'd been scared or enraged, the word he used was uncomfortable. He said, the whole thing made him feel uncomfortable, which seemed like an oddly muted way to express being kicked in the head by a cop.

He also said, he was trying not to let what happened distract him mentally, not let it take him out of his everyday life. He said, he'd just turned 30 a few days earlier. His family and his girlfriend had gathered around him to cheer him up. He tried to celebrate, he said. I got the sense he wasn't ready to stare too hard at what had happened. For now, he'd leave it at uncomfortable.

There's a security camera in the hallway, right near the door he was knocking on. But it was pointed straight down when we saw it. So it seemed quite possible that, even if it were working at the time, and apparently it wasn't, it would have produced footage of the floor.

As the cops walked Erimius out of the building, he says, they were talking shit to him. He doesn't remember exactly what they said. But something like, one more false move, I'm going to make it even worse for you the next time. Then they put him in an ambulance.

Back up in Erimius's apartment, we talked about that marijuana cigarette he'd had in his pocket. To Erimius's thinking, the police had no right to arrest him in the first place. That's why he stiffened his arm because, he says, he genuinely did not understand what was going on

Erimius Spencer

Because of the amount of weed that I had, it was not an arrestable charge. So I can never be resisting arrest for one blunt. It's impossible.

If I have one blunt on me—and believe me, I've had situations like this before, where officers will take the weed, throw it in the grass, or throw it away, or flush it down the toilet, because there's no probable cause to arrest. And sometimes officers write you a ticket. I still couldn't be arrested, no matter, I mean—

Sarah Koenig

Are you sure that's true in Euclid, though? Maybe that's true in Cleveland.

Erimius Spencer

No, that's true anywhere. That's true. It's a misdemeanor offense. And it's not arrestable.

Paul Cristallo

Well.

Sarah Koenig

Is that right, or—

Paul Cristallo

So as the only lawyer in the room—

Sarah Koenig

Paul explained, gently as he could, that Erimius is incorrect. In Euclid, Ohio, any amount of weed can be charged as an M1, first-degree misdemeanor, possibility of $1,000 fine, six months in jail. Just over the city line, back in Cleveland, Erimius would be correct. One blunt probably would be a ticket, at most, but not here in Euclid.

Ohio takes home rule very seriously. Cuyahoga County has 59 different municipalities. Each one has its own set of ordinances. Most of them align their city codes with Ohio state law, which treats less than 100 grams of marijuana as a minor misdemeanor. But two of them treat any amount of marijuana as an M1—Broadview Heights, a little town down south, and Euclid.

Euclid made its ordinance harsher in 1998. I'm not sure why. But it's worth noting that the city's black population was growing then. For a few decades, white people had been moving out, and black people have been moving in. Now, the city is about 60 percent African American.

Euclid's city government though—city council, six out of nine members are white. Mayor is white. Police chief is white. City prosecutor is white. City law director is white. City judge is white. And it's got the harshest weed law in the county, just saying.

The best Paul can do for Erimius, really the only thing he can do, is to try to make everyone involved in sending Erimius to the hospital pay. On the drive back to Cleveland, Paul talked about what he would do next. He also anticipated what the city's lawyer would likely do next, which he can do with confidence, because Paul used to be that lawyer.

He used to work the other side of these cases, defending the government and the cops. He worked for the city of Cleveland. And then he was a partner at a law firm that contracted with insurance companies to defend against civil rights claims.

Paul was good at his job. And he made good money. He had two BMWs—a convertible and a hard top. But after a while, he couldn't stomach it. He says, he'd felt like he was working for the wrong side. And it started to affect his health, so he switched over.

He'll frequently mention that he drives a Hyundai now. And then he'll say, and I'm fine with that. But he's not totally fine with that. Erimius's case won't be huge money. Erimius wasn't permanently injured, not physically. But Paul thinks he can at least get him something, maybe in the tens of thousands.

There's a complication they have to take care of first though before Paul can get a lawsuit going. And that's the not small matter of Erimius's criminal charges. The Euclid police cited Erimius for four crimes—drug abuse, resisting arrest, theft, and criminal damaging. Paul said, that list, pretty typical.

Paul Cristallo

So I'm hitting you with four charges. And so now, let's negotiate down from there. So I'm going to load you up. So this way, I'm going to overcharge you. So now, I give the prosecutor a little something else, a little bit more luck to still get you to plead to something.

Sarah Koenig

I was confused, as were Erimius and Paul, about what the theft and criminal damaging were about, until I read the police report. There's a page long narrative. In it, the cops describe an event with roughly the same contours as what Erimius told me, but very different details.

The officers didn't talk to me for this story. And just to say, neither of them has been disciplined for what happened that night. But anyway, in their report, they say, that after they confiscated the marijuana, Erimius tried to take it out of one officer's hand. They say, Erimius was fighting with them, pushing them, that everyone was getting stung by the taser in the process.

They say, Erimius tried to take the taser away from them—that's the theft, apparently—and that the taser's cartridge got pulled off and the blast door broken off, that Erimius knocked one officer's glasses off his face, breaking them. They never mentioned kicking Erimius. They do describe kneeing him in the crotch and quote, "closed fisted strikes to his face and head."

Erimius has got to get out from under these charges strategically and quietly. Right now, Erimius doesn't think he should have to plead to anything. But Paul thinks, it might actually be better for the civil case if he does plead to something minor.

Paul Cristallo

And that's how Erimius is looking at it. He's like, look, I should walk out of this, literally, with nothing.

Sarah Koenig

Right, OK.

Paul Cristallo

The problem with that is, if you just take this hard line, like, I'm not going to plead to even a minor misdemeanor, one of them I'm going to plead to, I think that's going to raise the flag that he's up to something. That he's standing on principle, and he's looking to sue you for the injuries.

Sarah Koenig

Last thing Paul wants at this stage is for Euclid to know it is being sued. Because if they know, they will dig in on the criminal charges. So first step, delay. Erimius was supposed to have his initial court appearance today, actually, but they got it postponed by a couple of weeks to give his face time to go back to normal.

Paul Cristallo

I don't want him walking into court looking like he just got his ass beat by the police.

Sarah Koenig

Why?

Paul Cristallo

Again, because people ask, so what happened? And if you go in front of the judge—

Sarah Koenig

When you say people, you mean the judge will ask?

Paul Cristallo

Yeah, maybe, sure, oh, yeah, yeah, young man, what happened to you? And—

Sarah Koenig

The prosecutor might notice. Euclid police officers who happen to be in court that day, they might notice, start asking around. Paul wants Erimius to be unremarkable. He's just there to take care of these charges and go on home, no big deal.

Second step, hire a beard. Paul himself has to lie low while the criminal case moves through the municipal court. He will not be shepherding Erimius through. Instead, he's hired a dependable local attorney who won't raise any eyebrows in Euclid.

Paul's farming it out, in part, because his specialty is not criminal defense. But more to the point, if the folks in Euclid see Paul's name on the docket, the jig is immediately up. They will know they're facing a civil lawsuit, and possibly a big fat civil lawsuit, because they will have heard of Paul already. Or else they'll google him, and they'll see, oh, right, Brelo case, also known as the 137 shots case.

Back in 2012, two people in a car, a man and a woman, both African American, both homeless, were driving past the Justice Center downtown. Police said the couple fired a gun out the window toward them. A subsequent investigation suggested the noise the officers heard might have been the car backfiring. They never located a gun.

In any case, the police began to chase them, which isn't that strange, except for the debacle that ensued. The chase wove through residential neighborhoods, then onto the highway, and back off the highway. Twenty miles and 62 police cars later, the chase ended in an East Cleveland parking lot, where police fired a total of 137 shots at the car, killing both people inside.

One officer, alone, Sergeant Michael Brelo, shot at them 49 times. He scrambled onto the hood of the car, and he shot down at them through the windshield at close range. Sergeant Brelo was indicted for voluntary manslaughter.

A judge found him not guilty. There was no proof Brelo had actually killed them, the judge explained in his opinion. It's possible they were already dead by the time he got onto the hood.

The families of the two people who were killed sued. Paul represented one of them. And the city of Cleveland settled for $3 million. It was Paul's biggest media case, also his biggest payout.

Lately, he's been struggling a little. He's not into the hustle. He doesn't show up at memorial gatherings looking solemn. He doesn't slip a weeping relative his card. He doesn't have a website or do social media. He's white, which isn't always helpful in this business.

Erimius's case is an order of magnitude smaller than the 137 shots case or the Tamir Rice case. No one's going to shout his name during a protest. Paul told me, the smaller cases, they matter because they ricochet.

He's watched a lot of people go through incidents like this. He says, this beating will knock around inside Erimius's head, and then it will rebound off of him out into the city.

Paul Cristallo

You know, as much as you want to talk about how we need to come together as a society. And Black Lives Matters, and All Life Matters. And the police have a hard job. And you got to listen to what the police tell you to do. And you got to obey the law, and don't be a criminal.

I mean, the reality is now, you've just created somebody who is, I mean, he's this walking perpetuation of don't trust the police. He now knows that that happened, and all he had on him was a blunt in his own apartment complex. In his own apartment complex—not late at night. No drugs, no alcohol, no gun, no criminal activity, but the blunt. And that's what happened to him.

This will mess with him. If you stick with this story, and we follow him, you'll see. I mean, it'll fuck with him. He has family. He has friends. They're all going to know what happened. They're all going to see the pictures.

And so for him, now, this becomes part of his life script. This has become something that is going to be retold and retold. And photos are going to be shared and re-shared, you know, on, and on, and on, and on. And this is just one guy. This is just one incident in Euclid, Ohio.

Sarah Koenig

A study published in 2016 found that reports of police brutality not only contribute to a quote, "spirit of legal cynicism," they also cause people to not call the cops when they need them. They make entire cities less safe.

The researchers looked at 911 calls before and after an infamous case in Milwaukee—the 2004 beating of a guy named Frank Jude. They found that for a year afterwards, there were 22,000 fewer 911 calls in Milwaukee, and that residents in black neighborhoods especially were far less likely to report crime. And at the same time that people were reporting fewer crimes, murders in Milwaukee rose by 32 percent.

The goal of Paul's lawsuit, aside from getting Erimius some justice and some dough, is to force police to account for their behavior—to answer for it. And I asked him, setting his own livelihood aside, isn't it possible that his involvement could actually be hampering progress?

Say Erimius went to the police department and complained to the supervisors, or the use of force in the officers' report triggered an internal investigation, and say that process were allowed to play out without the specter of a lawsuit, isn't it possible the department would fix itself?

Paul Cristallo

That is—no, that's—I mean, I know you probably hate hearing people say, that's a great question.

Sarah Koenig

I love when people say that.

[LAUGHTER]

Paul Cristallo

Sure. That is a great question. And it is because—I mean, if I could even broaden your question a little bit. Kind of what you're asking is, well, but the way you're handling this, Paul, or how you're—

Sarah Koenig

Triangulating it.

Paul Cristallo

Triangulating. Orchestrating, if you will. You're denying the city of Euclid, and the police department, the opportunity to do this right on their own. And you're absolutely right. You're right. I am doing that. But that's because of distrust.

If I were to do what you're saying, or we were to march down there and fill out a citizen complaint, and talk to them about constitutional rights and excessive force, I'm leaving it up to them now to say, well, you know what? Yeah, this was awful. We better do an internal investigation. We better do what's right.

And that just hasn't been my experience. That just hasn't been my experience. I think, when you do that, they don't own it. They lawyer up. It's never a situation where the city or the police are like, wow, we really messed up. We need to do the right thing here.

It's always, what are you talking about? This was justified. Your client is a liar. And we've got our insurance people working on it. I just have zero faith, based on my experience, that that would happen. That's not going to happen.

Sarah Koenig

This is what bothered Paul the most when he worked the defense side, he said. The city's disdain for the plaintiffs. A person would file an excessive force claim, and right away, Paul says, everyone would attack the character of the complainer. Not just publicly—even among themselves, privately.

The lawyers, the adjusters, the insurance companies, the police officers, the police chief, the mayor—their attitude was—what kind of loser, what kind of scumbag would sue the police? That's after the break.

Right now, these past few years, is an era of law enforcement soul searching. Or it's supposed to be. All over the country, police departments are meant to be considering, deeply and anxiously, whether they are using force properly, whether they are operating without bias, whether they're listening to and hearing the citizens they police, in Albuquerque, in New Orleans, in Portland, Oregon, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Baltimore, and in Cleveland.

After the 137 shots case, the one where the couple was killed by police after the chase—first the Ohio Attorney General investigated, and then the feds came in, Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Less than two weeks after Tamir Rice was killed, they issued their report. The Cleveland Police Department was engaging in a pattern or practice of using unlawful, excessive force, among many other problems.

The articles about the breadth and depth of the overall findings exhausted all the usual words—scathing, embarrassing, staggering, jaw dropping. The report was not all that different from the previous DOJ investigation of the Cleveland police, a decade earlier. This time, the city promised, things would be different.

In 2015 they entered into a consent decree with the federal government. A federal judge would oversee massive reforms in the CDP. If citizen complaints don't bring change, if internal investigations don't bring change, if criminal charges against cops don't bring change, if Paul Cristallo's lawsuits don't bring change, perhaps a federally mandated consent decree—a decree, just one click from a fiat—would persuade police that change is nigh. Perhaps not.

Steve Loomis

Political nonsense.

Sarah Koenig

This is Detective Steve Loomis. Until recently, he was the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, the police union here.

Clevelanders of a certain political persuasion, including some cops, I'm sure, just slapped their foreheads and groaned, please, no, not Steve, because they know bald-headed meaty-fisted Steve Loomis—the guy who dressed convincingly in a Santa hat at the department's Christmas party, and as the dirty biker hillbilly dude when he worked undercover—will say whatever the hell he wants.

Steve Loomis

Steve Dettelbach can kiss my ass with his bullshit.

Sarah Koenig

Steve Dettelbach was U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. His signature is at the bottom of the DOJ report, a report which devoted several pages to the substandard way in which the Cleveland Police Department dealt with citizen complaints.

Steve Loomis

We really don't care about civilian complaints, not that we don't—

[SARAH LAUGHS]

—not that we don't care that we get them—we don't.

Sarah Koenig

My laughter here is born of shock, not mirth. I'm not going to say I like Steve Loomis. I can't get there. Some of the positions he inhabits are too awful. President Obama has blood on his hands for the police officers killed in Dallas, or racist and anti-Muslim tweets by a CDP sergeant are the First Amendment right of every American, et cetera.

But I appreciate Steve Loomis. I appreciate that he's got a sense of humor about himself. I appreciate that he appears to be a true believer. That he is sincere when he says even the lowliest rookie patrolman does more to help this community than any other person in government.

I appreciate that Steve Loomis gave us six hours of his time in one day. Six hours, sat there in his union office, packed with Trump paraphernalia—also one or two cartoons that I'd call racist, he'd call political, explaining his world to us, arguing with us. Congenially.

An aside to Clevelanders who will complain that the media only quotes Steve because he's colorful and available, who'll say Steve doesn't represent us. Well, it's true, no other Cleveland officers were permitted to talk to us on the record. And I know from off the record conversations that not all of them think like Steve. But that aside, Steve is the man whom the rank and file elected as their leader and spokesman. He does, or did, officially represent the police. So here we are.

I know where activists stand on the question of reform. I know where a lot of nonactivists stand on the question of police reform. But I wanted to know, is reform even possible? Are the police willing?

As union president, Steve Loomis sat on the Cleveland Community Police Commission, the CPC, a group mandated into existence as part of the consent decree. It's supposed to make recommendations on new policies for community policing, bias-free policing, use of force.

Sarah Koenig

So you're participating.

Steve Loomis

Sure, I'm participating—

Sarah Koenig

With a full heart?

Steve Loomis

Yeah, absolutely, with a full heart. The problem that we have on—

Sarah Koenig

I thought there was a time where you just like, literally had not shown up to a meeting for like, a year.

Steve Loomis

No, yeah, you want to believe the rhetoric out there.

Sarah Koenig

I don't know. It was in the newspaper. Is that rhetoric? I don't know.

Steve Loomis

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

In fact, there's been a steady drip of articles in the local press about Steve's spotty attendance at meetings and the many calls for his resignation. In one article, he explained that he'd appointed himself as a commissioner because he didn't want to subject any of his patrolmen to quote, "that farce of a commission."

Still, he insisted, he is not anti-reform. We can always improve on what we do, he told me. And I'm happy to take that challenge on. But when I asked him about possible reforms in Cleveland, reforms that are being discussed and implemented all over the country, he vigorously whacked each one aside. Slowing down police interactions with suspects in hopes of avoiding the need for force.

Steve Loomis

Everybody wants to talk about de-escalation, and it's just a really sexy word for talking. You know, it is—

Sarah Koenig

That seems good. That seems good. Talking seems good.

Steve Loomis

It is. But guess what? That's what we've done since the beginning of time.

Sarah Koenig

Bias. Steve would like to see one study linking implicit bias to police actions and reactions.

Steve Loomis

Racial profiling—I'm not going to sit here and say that that doesn't happen somewhere else in the world. I am going to sit here and say, in the city of Cleveland, there's no way that it happens. It's not supported in fact. All right? Our use of force policy is coming out, and that thing is going to be atrocious.

Sarah Koenig

More restrictions on how and when police can use a gun is going to endanger his officers, he said, because they'll think twice. They'll be afraid of getting in trouble for doing it wrong. And then it'll be too late. It's a common complaint among police.

Steve Loomis

Tasering people, you know? Well, you can't taser a juvenile. OK. Tamir Rice, nobody wants to talk about it, but Tamir Rice was 5'7, 191 pounds, all right? He was 12 years old.

Sarah Koenig

To Steve, the Tamir Rice case is the perfect example of how people misunderstand and willfully distort what the police do. How their fixes make no sense. To me, the way Steve talked about the Tamir Rice case was the perfect example of why so many people in Cleveland believe the police have zero capacity for self-reflection, much less self-correction.

The officer who shot Tamir was new, young, still on probation. I pointed out that Steve himself, as an experienced officer, had avoided shootings by lowering his weapon. He'd just given me a couple examples. So why is he saying, in the Tamir Rice situation, any officer would have done the same thing?

Sarah Koenig

You wouldn't have done the same thing. You're telling me right now you wouldn't have.

Steve Loomis

In Tamir Rice, I absolutely would have done the same thing.

Sarah Koenig

You would not have done the same thing.

Steve Loomis

I absolutely would have done the same thing.

Sarah Koenig

But you're telling me you wouldn't have.

Steve Loomis

Listen, listen—you want to get into Tamir Rice? We're going to get into Tamir Rice.

Sarah Koenig

So it began. Steve reiterated, as he has many times, that number one, Tamir was a big kid. As if that made him blameworthy.

Steve Loomis

A child in a man's body. Bottom line. There's no denying that. Nobody can dispute that. Number two, Tamir Rice knew exactly why those policemen were driving that marked police car towards him, all right? He is a product of the street. He is not a product of a loving home.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh—

Steve Loomis

Hang on. Hang on.

Sarah Koenig

I did hang on, and it got worse. His savaging of Samaria Rice, which I'm not going to dignify by repeating here. Steve has said unkind things about the Rice family in the past. He also helpfully suggested they should use the money they got from a lawsuit to educate kids about the dangers of guns.

He wasn't worried about his tone or its implications then. He's not worried now. He believes the facts are with him. We disagreed about whether the police drove up too close to Tamir, whether they drove up too fast, whether Tamir pulled the gun from his waistband, whether the shooting of Tamir Rice was a mistake at all.

Sarah Koenig

OK, we can disagree till the cows come home about what should have happened, or why it happened, and my guess is we probably would.

Steve Loomis

And I'm supported in facts.

Sarah Koenig

That's fine.

Steve Loomis

—and investigations.

Sarah Koenig

But I think we can all agree, it was a horrible, horrible outcome, right?

Steve Loomis

Absolutely, I've said that from day one.

Sarah Koenig

I know you have. I know you have. So what I'm wondering is do you see any fixes? Is there a thing where you're like, here is a change that I think could have avoided this, that isn't only on Tamir.

Steve Loomis

They haven't—it's absolutely on Tamir. It's on any suspect that gets shot by the police.

Sarah Koenig

Actions by suspects cause reactions by police officers, justified reactions. Did police take away any lessons, then, from the Tamir Rice case, I asked him. Sure, he said, we always learn a lesson.

So what is it? I don't know, he said. It was, in fact, the only time I stumped him in our six hours together. I asked him several times, and he could not come up with one thing that wasn't Tamir's fault.

Sarah Koenig

It sounds like you're saying, there's nothing that needs to change.

Steve Loomis

No, that's—

Sarah Koenig

So what needs to change?

Steve Loomis

That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that those changes need to be based in reality—

Sarah Koenig

But what should the changes be?

Steve Loomis

—not la la land. Why do we fixate and focus on Tamir Rice? That's the bigger question to me, is we want to change our entire profession based on a couple different—

Sarah Koenig

When you're saying, why are we fixating on these deaths—

Steve Loomis

But here we go.

Sarah Koenig

Because people are like, enough is enough is enough is enough.

Steve Loomis

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

They're saying, it's one—one is too many. One accident like this is too many. Let's fix it.

Steve Loomis

Tamir Rice was not an accident. Tamir Rice was pulling a gun out of his waistband, all right?

Sarah Koenig

But we're saying, he shouldn't have died for it. He shouldn't have died.

Steve Loomis

So how do you fix that?

Sarah Koenig

This is what I'm saying. I think this is what we're all asking. But what's frustrating is—

Steve Loomis

I'll tell you how we fix that. We don't go. When somebody calls us, and tells us that somebody is at a rec center with a gun, we don't go. That's the only way to fix that, all right?

Sarah Koenig

I guess, I just don't buy that.

Steve Loomis

Well—I'm sorry. I'm not selling it.

Sarah Koenig

There has to—

Steve Loomis

That's the reality.

Sarah Koenig

(LAUGHING) OK.

I think Steve might actually believe what he's saying here, that police are never to blame for harming someone in the line of duty. If you end up dead or hurt, it's always because of something you did or didn't do. It follows, then, that the only ones who need to reform are the citizens.

In the name of Cleveland's 1,500 patrolmen, Steve Loomis is folding his arms. Inside his petulance is also a threat, you don't like how we do business? Fine, we'll stop arresting people. See how you like your city then. It's the same stance some police officers have taken in Chicago, in Minneapolis, in New York, in Baltimore—a cop out.

Steve Loomis says Cleveland's problem isn't rotten police, or poorly trained police, or faulty policies. The problem, he says, is understaffing. And he's not wrong. Even people who can't abide Steve Loomis, agree that Cleveland's Police Department is overburdened, and undersupplied, and poorly paid. This, of course, is the lament of law enforcement everywhere. Civilians, we need your tax dollars. What we don't need is your oversight.

A coda here, a few weeks after we spoke, Steve Loomis was replaced as union president. He had been voted out of office. And I'm not saying these things are necessarily connected. But eight months later, the team in charge of overseeing police reforms in Cleveland released some stats showing that during the first five months of 2018, police use of force in Cleveland had decreased by nearly 40 percent compared to the year before. It was too soon to claim victory, the report said, but it was encouraging.

Man

Erimius Spencer?

Deborah Lebarron

OK, we are here on this motion to suppress.

Sarah Koenig

Five months after he'd been arrested, Erimius went to court for a hearing. By now, the city of Euclid knew a civil lawsuit was probably coming, which is why, after all this time, the four criminal charges were still hunkered in his case file. As Paul predicted, the city was unrelenting.

The prosecutor was not going to drop them, definitely not the resisting arrest. That's the linchpin charge, the resisting, the one that could really mess up Erimius's civil case. Because if Erimius gets convicted of resisting, that could justify the officer's use of force, not necessarily the excessiveness of the beating. It doesn't give them carte blanche. But it does allow the officers to do what they have to do to subdue a suspect.

So if Erimius has to eat that resisting charge, it could shrivel his civil claim. That's why the city won't budge on the resisting, and why Erimius won't budge either. Instead, today, Erimius is here on a motion to suppress.

He's trying to get all the charges dropped by claiming that the police had no reasonable suspicion to stop him in that hallway. And then after they made the faulty stop, they had no probable cause to search him, which would make the actual blunt they found on him, the fruit of a poisonous tree. That's the legal metaphor. So no legal stop, no legal arrest, no case.

When I walked into the courtroom, Mary Casa, the city prosecutor, said to me, you do know this is just a hearing, right? I do, I said. Then she and the other lawyers left the room for a while. I sat waiting in the empty jury box. Erimius, the two cops, Erimius's mother all sat on the benches. No one said anything.

I wrote in my notes, it's like a tomb in here. Then I heard a ruckus through the wall behind me where the prosecutor's office is. People were shouting. After a while, the lawyers filed back into the courtroom looking peeved.

Mary Casa and a couple other lawyers sat on one side. On the other, Erimius and his defense attorney, the local guy Paul had enlisted, Spiros Gonakis. Judge Deborah LeBarron announced me.

Deborah Lebarron

And as I advised all the parties, I have Sarah Koenig from the Serial podcast who is asking to record these proceedings. Miss Casa?

Mary Casa

Thank you, your honor. Your honor, at this time the city would request a continuance of this hearing. We have some concerns with respect to this hearing being recorded for a public podcast.

Sarah Koenig

It seemed I had been the cause of the ruckus.

Mary Casa

We have an interest in protecting the city of Euclid.

Sarah Koenig

Any flicker of a notion I had that the city's intentions were forthright withered now. Before I'd figured, well, sure, they're triangulating, just like Paul. But I'd also assumed that they were at least prosecuting Erimius in good faith because they believed the cops, believed he'd committed these crimes and deserved punishment.

But you don't try to kick the reporter out of a public proceeding unless there's something unsavory about what's about to happen. Judge LeBarron denied the prosecutor's request for a continuance. They began. The hearing would not touch on anything that came after the search, so nothing about the resisting or the beating. This was only about the validity of the stop and the search.

Mary Casa and Spiros Gonakis took both cops through it moment by moment. That's where the law tends to snap into place, in an instant. First up, was Officer Shane Rivera. He explained that he and his partner, Officer Michael Amiott, had been working an off-duty detail that day at the Richmond Hills apartment complex where Erimius lived.

He said they'd been working this particular detail for two years. There had been problems in the building—drug trafficking, break-ins. They began their usual sweep of the building starting at the fifth floor, the top floor, and working their way down. They saw Erimius, he said, as they came down the stairs to the fourth floor. He was knocking on a door.

Mary Casa

And when he was knocking on the door, do you recall if anyone answered the door?

Shane Rivera

No one answered the door.

Mary Casa

At any point, did the individual take keys out, open the door to the apartment?

Shane Rivera

No, he did not.

Sarah Koenig

He's saying Erimius looked suspicious right then—reasonably so. Why would you keep knocking on a door if no one's answering? This is what burglars do in the building. They knock, and then when no one answers, they kick in the door.

Shane Rivera

No, as I approached, I asked him if he lived in the complex. He said he did. And I asked if he knew who lived at that particular apartment, and he said he did not.

Mary Casa

And—

Sarah Koenig

Erimius was squirming at the defense table, shaking his head, stifled. He told me he was knocking at his friend's apartment door because he wanted a cigarette. His friend wasn't home, but his friend's wife was there, asleep.

Erimius says she eventually woke up and did open the door. He says she saw him being beat up, and that the police told her to go back inside, and she did. But Erimius can't say anything about that now. He's not taking the stand.

His lawyer didn't want the prosecutor to get a crack at cross-examining Erimius prior to trial, so he's got to suck it up. Every defendant I spoke to while I was in Cleveland eventually asked, when do I get to say my thing? When do I get to explain to the judge what happened? The answer, often, is never.

Shane Rivera

He seemed very anxious and nervous, and kept putting his hands in his pockets as soon as he saw us. And he was advised a couple of times to take his hands out of his pockets.

Mary Casa

Did he take his hands out of his pockets?

Shane Rivera

Yes, but he kept putting them back in, I'd say around three to four times.

Mary Casa

And how would you react to him putting his hands back in his pockets.

Shane Rivera

Nervously, I mean, it makes a police officer nervous.

Mary Casa

Why is that?

Shane Rivera

Because, typically, when people keep reaching into their pockets, it's a indicator that they have contraband or possibly a weapon on their person.

Sarah Koenig

Soon, it was Spiros's turn.

Spiros Gonakis

Officer Rivera, my name is Spiros Gonakis. I represent Erimius. And I'm going to ask you a few questions on cross-examination. Is that all right?

Shane Rivera

Yes.

Spiros Gonakis

I tend to put my hands in my pockets while I ask questions. I don't want to make you nervous, right? I don't have any contraband on me.

Mary Casa

Objection.

Deborah Lebarron

Overruled.

Spiros Gonakis

OK.

Sarah Koenig

Spiros is a spirited attorney, an energetic performer. Spiros tried to show that Erimius wasn't a menacing figure in that hallway. He was just a guy knocking on a door.

Spiros Gonakis

Well, there's a difference, right? This is—

[KNOCKING]

—knocking, as supposed to—

[KNOCKING MORE INTENSELY]

Right? He wasn't doing that, was he?

Shane Rivera

Knocking on the door.

Spiros Gonakis

OK, knocking on the door. He wasn't screaming?

Shane Rivera

No.

Spiros Gonakis

Right? Wasn't yelling, let me in? Or what are you doing? What's going on? Nothing, right?

Shane Rivera

No.

Spiros Gonakis

OK.

Sarah Koenig

Next up, Officer Michael Amiott. He seemed more comfortable on the stand than Officer Rivera. He didn't sound nervous. He wasn't defensive.

Michael Amiott

We approached Mr. Spencer. He was still at the door. I walked past him. And as I approached him, I could smell the odor of marijuana. It got stronger. It was clearly coming from him. And I stopped.

Sarah Koenig

This is key to making the stop kosher, the smell of raw marijuana emanating from Erimius's person. It's what allows them to detain Erimius. The prosecutor cements it in the record.

Mary Casa

In your experience as a police officer, can you smell raw marijuana in a bag inside someone's pocket?

Michael Amiott

Yes.

Mary Casa

And does marijuana smell the same regardless of what amount of marijuana there is?

Michael Amiott

Yes, sometimes it's stronger than other times.

Sarah Koenig

Know what I smell right now? Reasonable suspicion that Officer Amiott did not smell an unlit blunt wrapped in a baggie in Erimius's jean's pocket. It's not impossible he smelled it but the level of confidence he's exhibiting here—that he can smell any amount of marijuana in a person's pocket, in the hallway of a building where I am certain marijuana is not scarce. No one in the courtroom seems to register any skepticism about that, apart from Spiros.

Spiros Gonakis

You guys are basically bloodhounds now, with your ability to smoke marijuana, right?

Mary Casa

Objection.

Deborah Lebarron

I'm going to sustain that. That's unnecessary, Mr. Gonakis.

Spiros Gonakis

I apologize. I'll take that back.

Sarah Koenig

Officer Amiott says after he smelled the marijuana, he asked Erimius if he had any drugs on him.

Michael Amiott

He didn't say anything. He put his hands up like this. I said, do you have any drugs on you? He put his hands up like this.

Mary Casa

OK, and what did you do after he put his hands up?

Michael Amiott

I searched him.

Mary Casa

And did you find anything when you searched him?

Michael Amiott

Yeah. I went into his pocket—one of the pockets he was reaching into. There was a small baggie of marijuana. It was probably that size. It wasn't very big. It was wrapped in a baggie.

Sarah Koenig

Each efficient beat of this hearing, the cops are chipping away at Erimius's chances for success—criminal and civil. Erimius is a scary door knocker. He smells like marijuana. He seems nervous.

He keeps putting his hands in his pockets. He lets me search him for drugs. It's all very neat, and all very different from what Erimius says actually happened. Then comes one more, a doozy, right at the end. Mary Casa squeezes it in during her closing.

Mary Casa

—pockets. His testimony was that he patted the outside of the pocket first. That he did a pat down. He felt a bulge. He reached into the pocket.

Spiros Gonakis

Oh. Objection.

Sarah Koenig

Spiros is like, whoa, whoa, whoa, a bulge? Where'd this bulge come from? A bulge could suggest a weapon, which could give Officer Amiott reason to go into Erimius's pocket, which can make the search legal, which can make the charges stick, which could hurt the civil lawsuit. Spiros says, wait up. Amiott himself never said anything about a bulge.

Spiros Gonakis

That did not happen today. That wasn't—he said there was a bulge?

Deborah Lebarron

I have it in my notes. Yes.

Spiros Gonakis

That there was a bulge?

Sarah Koenig

The judge says, I heard it. I wrote it down right here.

Deborah Lebarron

I'm just telling you, that's in my notes. So no further argument?

Sarah Koenig

It was over. Mary Casa looked very pleased at the end, chatting animatedly with the other lawyers at her table. She knows, everyone in the courtroom knows, in the who are you going to believe contest, the judge tends to presume the cops are telling the truth. So her side virtually always wins.

Spiros knows it, too. He expected the police to say most of what they said today. But the bulge thing—that was a new one. Out in the hallway, Spiros is still arguing. You can't just invent testimony.

Spiros Gonakis

He didn't say there was a bulge, was it?

Man

He was saying he patted—

Spiros Gonakis

He said he patted him down, and then he went inside his pockets.

Woman

He went inside. He did not say nothing about a bulge.

Spiros Gonakis

Did you hear anything about a bulge? I swear that he did not say that he felt a bulge.

Man

Yes, he did.

Sarah Koenig

Spiros is right. I have the tape. Despite what the judge thought she heard, Officer Amiott did not mention a bulge. Bulge or no bulge, Spiros tries to boost Erimius's spirits. It went well, right?

Erimius Spencer

That so?

Spiros Gonakis

Yeah. This bulge is going to be an issue. So—

Erimius Spencer

So how does that work well for me?

Spiros Gonakis

He just can't—even if he can stop you for the marijuana, doesn't mean he can go inside of your pockets and pull out contraband. Reasonable suspicion means he can keep you there and figure out what's going on, right? He can pat you down for officer safety, right?

But that would have been—had a much thorough conversation on direct examination, as to I patted him down, over the top, I felt a bulge. We thought it was a weapon. We went in. That's it.

Sarah Koenig

It's the battle of the bulge.

Spiros Gonakis

Yeah.

Erimius Spencer

So they basically just lied, though.

Spiros Gonakis

Let me know about that. I'm serious.

Erimius Spencer

They just basically just lied, though.

Sarah Koenig

Erimius's mom, Callie, is the only one who laughed at my joke. Erimius, himself, is brimming with frustration. It's been five months. He's having to fight criminal charges he considers illegitimate.

Because of what happened in the hallway, the building management stuck a three-day notice on his apartment door, telling him he had to move out or else face eviction. He said, they told him the incident was a violation of the building's rules. He got an extension, but still.

He says, his girlfriend was harassed in front of the building. He thinks it was the same officers who stopped her. He says, she told them she stayed with Erimius upstairs. They arrested her on a warrant.

And today, he's just listened to police officers tell a version of the original incident, which bears little resemblance to his own. He said, they asked him to stop from down the hall before they even got near him. They said, stop, don't move. He says, he never told them he didn't know whose door he was knocking on. Anyway, why would he be knocking on a door of a person he doesn't know?

Erimius Spencer

They never asked me that question, whose door this is. They never asked me that. They asked me—they stopped me, and they asked me to search me for weapons. They never asked me anything about any drugs. Anything.

Sarah Koenig

So this story that they were telling in there today—

Erimius Spencer

That was false. That's completely false. They lied under oath. I'm sitting there watching them lie under oath. They lied.

Deborah Lebarron

Judge LeBarron denied Erimius's motion to suppress, which means that resisting charge is sticking. Not good.

Paul Cristallo

You know, it's always something like this. The police always have this script with the prosecutor.

Sarah Koenig

Paul Cristallo hadn't gone to the suppression hearing. He was still trying to remain invisible in Euclid. But Spiros had filled him in, and he'd read the judge's opinion which amounted to, the stop, the search, all legal. She'll didn't even get to the bulge. She wrote that based on the suspicious door knocking and the smell of marijuana, we're good.

Paul Cristallo

You know, if it's not the smell of marijuana, or the smell of alcohol, it's—he made a furtive movement with his hands. Or he kept moving his hands. And I wasn't sure—that's a sign that maybe he's got a weapon.

He was acting nervous. And I think, in fact, even in Erimius's case, testified that he was acting nervous. I mean, that's just—I wasn't there, but that's just scripted. I mean, everybody says furtive movements. Everybody smells marijuana.

Sarah Koenig

Another phrase you hear a lot in these cases—reaching toward his waistband. That's where guns live. Waistbands. In their written report, the Euclid officers wrote that Erimius was, quote, "fighting with officers and pulling both arms together toward his waistband area." And a little lower down, "more strikes were delivered until Spencer stopped fighting, and stopped reaching toward his waistband."

Erimius had no weapons, had no nothing tucked in his waistband. Why, then, in the midst of a fight, would he be reaching toward his waistband? Because waistband is a magic word, like furtive, like odor of raw marijuana. It plants a strong seed of reasonable suspicion that blossoms into a tree of probable cause, which can produce untainted fruit, justified use of force in response to resisting a legitimate arrest.

I asked Paul, back when he was working for insurance companies defending cops, whether he'd done the same thing Euclid was doing now. When they could see a civil lawsuit in the distance, would he meet with city officials or cops about doubling down on the criminal charges to try to stop the civil case from gaining traction.

[PAUL LAUGHS]

Paul Cristallo

Yes. You know? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You meet them in city hall, or you meet them over at the prosecutor's office. Put that plan together.

Sarah Koenig

Wait, you're talking about this kind of reluctantly. Is this—why?

[PAUL LAUGHS]

No, seriously, have I pressed some button that's—I shouldn't be—why are you—

Paul Cristallo

Because—I mean—well, I mean, I'm doing my job. When I was doing that, I was doing my job. And so—you know, I don't regret doing my job. And you know, I think just part of defending the police in this dynamic is to sit down with them, and to put that—as much of an airtight defense, the best defense that you can put together.

And I say it hesitantly, or reluctantly, because you're not—I don't know—I just—you're not proud of it, you know? I mean, I'm not proud of that.

Sarah Koenig

Oh, I see. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I didn't mean—I didn't ask it as a way to be like, aren't you ashamed? I didn't mean to do that.

Paul Cristallo

Well, no.

Sarah Koenig

I just was—I was more asking—

Paul Cristallo

And I know you didn't.

Sarah Koenig

I was more asking, practically, as like, are you talking from whence you know? Or are you just, like, I suspect this is what's going on, or are you like no, I know this is what's going on because I used to do this.

Paul Cristallo

Yeah, no, I did this for many years. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sarah Koenig

So this isn't—none of this is surprising, obviously.

Paul Cristallo

It isn't surprising. What's probably surprising is how it remains a constant source of aggravation and upsetted-ness. It's just—it's still hard to watch. And you just don't like to see this happening in a courtroom. People making statements on the stand that aren't necessarily accurate, and they know it. But there you have it.

Sarah Koenig

Of course it's upsetted-ness if a police officer lies. What's more upsetting is when a system of laws and procedures kicks in to support and sanitize those lies, so that it looks and sounds as if justice is happening. I'd even wager that the officers, and the prosecutor, and the judge, they'd all swear, with consciences clear, that Erimius' hearing was fair. By the book.

If Erimius wants these police officers to be held accountable for beating him, he's now gotten the message. The criminal court is probably the last place he should look for help. A few months later, I got a call from Paul on my cell phone.

Sarah Koenig

Oh my God.

Paul Cristallo

I know.

Sarah Koenig

I was driving in a car, heading to the airport in South Carolina. The connection was terrible.

Paul Cristallo

Well, this is so huge. Sarah, listen, this is like manna from heaven. This literally is like—this is that miracle, because they weren't going to come off the resisting.

Sarah Koenig

A video had appeared on the internet.

[SCREAMING]

Woman 1

Oh, wow.

Sarah Koenig

A white police officer pummeling a black guy in the street after a traffic stop.

Woman 2

It's still—

Woman 1

And he's punching him, though.

Sarah Koenig

A woman watching from inside a building across the street had recorded it on her phone. Her child was next to her.

Child

What's he doing?

Woman 1

Shh.

Child

What's the police doing, Mommy?

[WOMAN SCREAMING]

Child

Mommy, what the cop is doing?

Woman 1

Oh my God.

Sarah Koenig

The officer beating the motorist? Michael Amiott, the Euclid weed smeller. The video bounced all over the internet—made its way into national news. What happens to a case then, when everyone's paying attention? That's next time on Serial.

Serial is produced by Julie Snyder, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Ben Calhoun, and me, with additional reporting by Ida Lieszkovszky. Editing on this episode from Ira Glass and Nancy Updike. Whitney Dangerfield is our digital editor. Research and fact checking by Ben Phelan.

Sound design and mix by Stowe Nelson. Music clearance by Anthony Roman. Seth Lind is our director of operations. ZipRecruiter ads are voiced by Stephanie Foo.

The Serial staff includes Emily Condon, Julie Whitaker, Cassie Howley, Frances Swanson, and Matt Tierney. Our music is by Adam Dorn and Hal Willner with additional music from Matt McGinley and Dan Reitz. Our theme song is by Nick Thorburn, and remixed by Adam Dorn.

Special thanks to Amanda King, Subodh Chandra, Lisa Noller, Melissa Georges, Jonathan Witmer-Rich, Kyle Swenson, Matthew Barge, Mike Tobin, Steve Dettelbach, David Doughten, Daniel Hart, Captain Scott Roller and Tina Roeder of the Euclid Police Department, and Lynn Hampton, president of the Black Shield, Cleveland's African American police union.

Thanks also to Pandora, where you can listen to Serial for free. The art on our website was made by Darius Stewart, a Cleveland artist—he created the mural for this episode—and by Moth Studio. They did the animation. Please check it out on our website, serialpodcast.org. That's serialpodcast.org.

We're also, of course, on Facebook and Twitter. Support for Serial comes from ZipRecruiter. Their powerful matching technology scans thousands of resumes, identifies people with the right skills, education, and experience for your job, and actively invites them to apply. Try it for free at ziprecruiter.com/serial. That's ziprecruiter.com/serial. Serial is a production of This American Life and WBEZ Chicago.

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