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How the George Floyd demonstration turned into rioting in downtown Cleveland: A look at the hour-by-hour events

On Thursday, the city of Cleveland released its 'After-Action' review of the civil unrest that took place on May 30.

CLEVELAND — On May 30, 2020, downtown Cleveland erupted into chaos.

A peaceful demonstration to protest the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minn. five days earlier, would turn into violence and civil unrest. 

A city-wide curfew lasted for nearly a week, while 70 arrests were made. 13 arrested individuals were indicted for felony charges, and two are pending. Three of those arrested are charged with felony federal charges. 18 of the arrested individuals went in front of a special Grand Jury presented by a task force of detectives. These detectives have also charged 26 of the original arrests.

The images of that day are well known. Now, the Cleveland Division of Police and the City of Cleveland are providing a first-hand account of the events that unfolded on May 30 with the release of its "After Action Review."

ALSO: City of Cleveland leaders say "mistakes were made" during May 30 civil unrest

The 50-page document utilizes data that came from

  • Communication logs from police radio
  • Officer reports and Form-1 Memoranda
  • Recorded radio traffic which spanned from May 30th, 10 a.m. until May 31, 5 a.m.
  • Wearable Camera Systems (WCS) (i.e., body-worn cameras)
  • News and social media reports and posting
  • Internal intelligence from members of CDP
  • A two-day after-action review with the Cleveland Division of Police Command Staff, supervisors from the Division of Police, the Chief of the Division of Fire, members of the East Cleveland Police Department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cleveland Office of Emergency Management, and several regional SWAT teams. Retired Lt. Col. Michael Black of the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) facilitated the after-action review

Here now is a look at the events of May 30-31 in Cleveland through the eyes of the men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police.

Before the protest

  • At 10:29 a.m., Communications Control Section (CCS) received a call from an individual indicating that she heard protestors are coming from Solon, South Euclid and Euclid. She stated that the youths are responding from all over and that more than just Cleveland Police should be sent in response. 
  • At 10:54 a.m., all radio channels were advised to send units to assist with the demonstration.  At 10:57 a.m., District 1 reported they had no zone cars to send. 
  • At noon, the Mobile Command Vehicle went operational with an additional dispatcher monitoring the channel. 
  • Prior to the 1:30 p.m. protest, the Cleveland Divison of Police's Incident Commander (IC) made contact with the event organizer. The organizer statedthere were several planned speakers at the Free Stamp with no plans to march.
  • Due to the large volume of people at the Free Stamp, at 1:06 p.m., the Traffic Commissioner (TC) closed Lakeside Avenue between E. 9th Street and East 6th Street. Additionally, Westside Drive was closed except for the Willard Garage.
  • At 1:14 p.m., Lakeside Avenue was closed to all traffic from E. 9th to Ontario streets.

The first 90 minutes

  • The protest began around 1:30 p.m. with more than 1,000 people at the Free Stamp.
  • At 1:40 p.m., the east and west ramps of Route 2 on 9th Street were closed.
  • At 1:44 p.m., Lakeside Avenue was closed for westbound traffic beginning at E. 12th St. Additionally, E. 9th Street at St. Clair Avenue was closed for northbound traffic, and westbound traffic was limited with eastbound traffic diverted.
  • At or near 1:57 p.m., the crowd expanded and spilled onto Lakeside Avenue up to the Federal Building (1240 East 9th St.) across from the Free Stamp. 
  • At approximately 2:40 p.m., the demonstrators at the Free Stamp began to march. Smaller groups split from the larger group and marched in different directions. The bulk of demonstrators assembled on the north side of the Justice Center from Ontario Street to West 3rd Street. Most remained there during this period. Other groups were on the east and west sides and moved periodically. In addition to these groups, others remained mobile and marched in various directions throughout the downtown area. 
  • Around 2:49 p.m., several of the protestors kicked an unoccupied marked police vehicle sitting near the ramp to the Justice Center. 

From a protest to rioting

By 3 p.m., more than 1,000 demonstrators assembled at the Justice Center. During this period, some protestors became violent, throwing hard items at officers and damaging property. Some protesters had items such as: baseball bats, frozen eggs, frozen fruit and vegetables, fireworks, frozen water bottles, hammers, milk jugs, oven mitts, wasp spray, a leaf blower and other items. 

Cleveland Police and Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s deputies formed a skirmish line so that the faction of increasingly hostile protesters could not enter the Justice Center. As officers and deputies held the line, protestors pelted them with various items and threatened bodily harm. As this type of behavior escalated, on-scene officers prepared to respond and munitions were requested. 

Traffic Units redeployed officers and controllers to divert as much vehicular traffic away from downtown as possible. Also, during this time, many protestors became rioters and the Incident Commander initiated reading the dispersal orders.

Between 3:00 and 3:10 p.m., the following took place:

  • Undercover police officers stated that there was talk within the main crowd that there would be an attempt to get into the Justice Center and "free the prisoners."
  • A Sheriff’s Deputy reported that protestors were hitting the windows at the north entrance of the Justice Center with bats, fists and other objects in an attempt to make an entry.
  • Officers broadcast that "They are throwing stuff, we do not have near enough people."
  • An officer transmits that the crowd is throwing garbage cans.

Meanwhile, the protesting spread to other parts of downtown Cleveland.

  • By 3:12 p.m., the intersection at Ontario Street and Rockwell Avenue was blocked by protestors.
  • By 3:20 p.m., a large group of protestors assembled at Public Square and blocked all of the surrounding intersections.

Officers at the Justice Center reported the crowd was throwing hard objects, wrenches and glass bottles and request assistance to step it up. 

At 3:37 p.m., the Incident Commander read the first dispersal order in front of the Justice Center on Lakeside Avenue using a megaphone. She would read it two more times but the crowd did not disperse. By 3:41, police were given the go-ahead to use pepper balls and grenadier bags. However, several officers are reporting issues with opening their pepper ball canisters.

Events began to escalate by 3:44 p.m.

  • Protestors pulled parking signs out of the ground and swung them at officers.
  • A protestor struck an officer on the hand with a bat, forcing him to drop a canister of pepper spray. The protester then picked up the dropped munition and sprayed the officer.
  • At or near 3:44 p.m., the following order was given, “All squads: mask up. Get ready to launch munitions.”
  • Protestors used a launcher to launch rocks and frozen water bottles.
  • Protestors shined a green laser pointer at the officer’s eyes

Just prior to 4:00 p.m., officers were told that all of their less than lethal munitions were approved for use. 

Into the fire

While demonstrators continued to disperse and move across several parts of downtown Cleveland, the brunt of the chaos continued to be at the Justice Center. 

At 4:02 p.m., rioters attacked a cargo van used by police and occupied by one officer. While the officer was still inside, they spray painted it, broke the back window, entered through the rear door, and stole equipment.

At 4:09 p.m., police requested that State Highway Patrol close all freeway ramps into downtown.

One minute later, rioters set two unoccupied police zone cars on fire at W. 3rd Street and Lakeside Avenue.

Reinforcents were called upon as Chief Williams ordered assistance from half of all district personnel. Safety Director Michael McGrath requested assistance from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) Police, OHSP and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) Police.

At 4:17 p.m., the Cleveland Division of Fire (CDF) attempted to put out the zone car fires. Rioters surrounded the fire apparatus and damaged it, leaving it unable to put out the fires. The CDF reported that they could not put out the fire without the assistance of officers. Williams ordered firefighters out of the area.

Between 4:27-4:34 p.m., the following took place:

  • Rioters broke windows on the west side of the Justice Center. People jumped on police cars on the west side of the Justice Center.
  • The IC reported that a rioter in the crowd on the north side of the JC pointed a green laser light officer's eyes.
  • Males were reportedly on St. Clair Avenue with a bottle of gasoline.
  • A male was reported to be mixing something in a white container behind the Cuyahoga County Courthouse. The male ran away when approached by police.

At 4:53 p.m., individuals broke the glass on the guard shack on the south side of the St. Clair Avenue ramp to the Justice Center and set a fire at the Justice Center.

Police say by 5:00 p.m., several dozens of groups were spread throughout Downtown Cleveland. Additionally, rioters set numerous fires and damaged property.

One group of rioters moved to Tower City. Men with baseball bats broke out front doors at Tower City, with several gaining entry and attempting to go into JACK Casino.  

At about 5:15 p.m., a large group formed in front of Police Headquarters on Ontario Street at St. Clair Avenue. Two males wearing masks threw H1000 fireworks at the police. Officer reported some in the crowd threw mortar shells. 

At 5:57 p.m., an officer transmits that, “The County Sheriff's telling us that they’ve made [it] inside of the JC.” Then, at approximately 5:59 p.m., the same officer transmitted the following: “81 to Command Bus." After the Mobile Command Vehicle dispatcher responded with “Command bus. Go ahead.,” the officer stated: “County Sheriff's saying they’ve made it inside the JC, they’re in the County Clerk’s Office, they’re trashing the place.” It was later determined that a Cleveland police officer relayed this information by requestfrom an unknown Sheriff’s Deputy. The breach of the Justice Center did not happen.

A call to Columbus

There seemed to be no end in sight to the rioting as the clock struck 6:00 p.m. Police officers, Fire and EMS personnel were attacked by rioters as they responded to several locations. During this time frame, the number of people grew as people who were not originally part of the protest converged downtown. 

At approximately 6:15 p.m., Mayor Jackson spoke with Gov. Mike DeWine about activating the National Guard in Cleveland. 

By 6:30 p.m., damage to businesses across the city became widespread. Several on Euclid Avenue and Ontario Street were set on fire and had windows smashed. 

At 6:40 p.m., dispatch received a call reporting shots fired at the Colossal Cupcakes at 528 Euclid Ave. At 6:42 p.m., dispatch received a call indicating the employees locked themselves in the bathroom. Later, an officer reported that there was a shot fired into the store.

 At 6:50 p.m., an off-duty officer reported that the Barley House on W. 6th St. was entered and looted. Also, at 6:50 p.m., an officer said several males with baseball bats wrapped in cloth were spotted at E. 4th Street and Prospect Avenue. He added that the group of males stole a mannequin from a clothing store.

At 6:56 p.m., Chief Williams ordered officers to arrest anyone vandalizing property.

At 7:15 p.m., Mayor Jackson signed an emergency proclamation mandating a curfew for the Central Business District and part of the Ohio City neighborhood. 

Throughout this time, rioters entered businesses such as Flannery's, XO Steakhouse, PNC Bank, and caused damage. 

Around 7:55 p.m., the following took place: Dispatch reported that 100 people were attempting to get into the Jack Casino. Looters enter Boost Mobile in Public Square and used boards to break windows at Tower City. Rioters set fire to a construction trailer at West 4th Street and St. Clair Avenue. 

The curfew begins

The curfew began at 8 p.m, but the looting and rioting continued. The House of Blues, Corner Alley, Heinen's, and several other businesses downtown were targeted. 

At 8:21 p.m., OSHP brought in more Troopers to block highway off-ramps. 

At 8:23 p.m., rioters attacked Fire trucks and officers with bats and bottles at East 9th and Euclid. At this time, the number of rioters in this group grew, and the attacks intensified. 

At 8:32 p.m., an alert about the curfew order was sent out over the Wireless Emergency Alert System and Emergency Alert System to the Downtown Area. 

At 8:55 p.m., the alert was expanded to include the entire City of Cleveland. The Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management also sent out a mass notification to the entire county, notifying all residents of the downtown curfew.

At around 8:58 p.m., at 50 Public Square, officers arrested three people for Aggravated Riot and Burglary, and a fourth person for Aggravated Riot, Burglary and Carrying a Concealed Weapon.

At 9:00 p.m., Williams gives the order to arrest anyone out after the curfew.

Just when it seemed like things might be slowly getting under control, at 9:47 p.m., a large group (approximately 70-100) of rioters threw rocks and blocked the intersection of E. 9th Street and Huron Road. During this time, 10-12 rioters threw bottles at officers from the roof of 1211 Euclid Ave.

Looting continued throughout downtown, including at the Indians Team Shop at Progressive Field. Every store at Reserve Square was looted, while rioters threw M80 fireworks into buildings on Huron Road around Prospect Avenue.

18 people were arrested between 10:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. 

Finally, calm is restored

By midnight, the rioting finally began to simmer down. 

Those Cleveland Division of Police officers who had been in since the dayshift began were able to start going home by 12:30 a.m.

By 1:06 a.m., troopers started to reopen ramps to downtown, but were still patrolling the area for the next two hours.

At 3:45 a.m., the final arrest is made at 24 Public Square for Breaking and Entering.

At 5:00 a.m., the police indicate that its detail is secured.

You can read the entire "After Action Review" report below:

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