Two East Cleveland patrolmen have been fired amid allegations they drove a suspect to a city park and beat him.
The alleged attack left 28-year-old Jesse Nickerson hospitalized for parts of three days, his family and attorney said.
Patrolmen Gerald Spencer and Denayne Dixon were fired Thursday after a swift investigation by Police Chief Michael Cardilli. The firing was upheld by East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton.
“At some point, police officers stopped being police officers, and that’s when we have to step in and police ourselves,” Cardilli said. “I think it goes to show we’re policing our own, and we’re not afraid to make hard decisions.”
The officers could not be reached for comment.
The city has contacted Cuyahoga County prosecutors and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, an arm of the Attorney General’s office, to look into the officers’ conduct.
Both officers have been with the department for about two years.
Nickerson appeared in East Cleveland Municipal Court. He was hunched over and walked slowly as he took a seat next to public defender Heather McCollough. His fiance’, Ashley Smith, had waited two hours for the hearing. She never made it inside the courtroom.
In an unusual move, Judge William Dawson banned the public from the hearing, allowing only media inside. A reporter who questioned the judge’s decision was threatened with expulsion.
Ohio courtrooms are considered open to the public under law, unless the judge cites reasons for closing a hearing. Dawson never cited a reason on the record.
Outside the courtroom, Smith, 29, said it was several days after the incident before she was able to speak to Nickerson. The couple lives in Euclid and are the parents of a 2-year-old boy.
“Jesse told me all he remembers is going up to Forest Hills Park and when he woke up, he was in the hospital,” Smith said.
According to family members and friends, Nickerson was driving near East 134th Street and Shaw Avenue early Sunday morning when he stopped, handcuffed and taken into custody by Spencer and Dixon.
Instead of jail, however, the officers are accused of driving Nickerson about a mile away to Forest Hills Park. Nickerson was then uncuffed and assaulted, friends said.
“The police are here to protect and serve and not to harm and fear,” said Norton.
Community activist Art McCoy was outside the courthouse and urged the community to protest the conduct of police. The alleged attack on Nickerson comes at a time when law enforcement across the country are under intense criticism for using excessive or deadly force.
“When did felony charges results in the police department taking an individual to an East Cleveland park and beating him half to death?” McCoy said.
Nickerson remains jailed under a $50,000 bond. He is charged with receiving stolen property, illegal weapons possession, carrying a concealed weapon and tampering with evidence.
He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Monday. McCollough, his court-appointed attorney, called the allegations against the officers – if true - “reprehensible and completely unacceptable conduct.”
“You expect a certain level of professionalism from the police,” she said. “If you’re going to arrest them, arrest them. You don’t take out personal grudges or gripes.”
Meanwhile, Smith said she wants justice for Nickerson. And, to her, that means his release and the incarceration of the officers.
“They need to be in court for what they did,” Smith said. “What if they killed him? What would I tell our 2-year-old son?”