CLEVELAND — A Shaker Heights police officer has been placed on administrative leave – and an investigation is underway – after the officer was caught on video making an obscene gesture towards a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Cleveland, Tuesday evening.
“Upon learning about this incident, the Shaker Heights Police Department began an investigation and as a result has placed the officer on administrative leave effective this afternoon," Shaker Heights PD said in a statement on Wednesday.
The officer has been identified as Corporal Michael Spuzzillo.
Shaker Heights police officers were working on behalf of the EDGE (Eastside Department Group Enforcement) SWAT team. EDGE is a multi-jurisdictional unit that includes officers from South Euclid, Shaker Heights, University Heights, Cleveland Heights and Beachwood police departments.
Officers were working security for the demonstrations near Wade Oval, before last night's presidential debate.
Our 3News cameras caught the officer flashing the middle finger to a group of demonstrators who were marching.
Shaker Heights police confirmed the officer in question is a member of their department.
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin D. Williams confirmed the officer was taken off the detail by his commander in Shaker Heights, adding, "That's the way we expect our partners to operate in the city of Cleveland."
The officers seen in the footage were wearing riot gear, which drew a negative response from demonstrators. Although there were four arrests, the protests were virtually all peaceful, with hundreds of participants chanting and giving speeches.
That wasn't the only confrontation 3News saw on Tuesday night.
Earlier in the night, about a dozen folks with 'Refuse Fascism' were holding signs on the corner of MLK and Euclid Ave. and within minutes. Officers with EDGE began confiscating signs from demonstrators.
Five minutes later, the signs were returned. So, why were they taken in the first place?
South Euclid Police Chief Kevin Nietert told 3News Investigates that officers took the signs because they believed "They were not in compliance with prohibited items, based on the size of the wooden stakes." As soon as they realized they were in compliance, he sayd "The signs were returned."
Still, demonstrators said the damage was already done.
"What is the crime of having signs that make political statements? The crime is this system cannot even take being criticized?" said a demonstrator, whose sign was taken.
Mayor Frank G. Jackson had requested National Guard assistance for the debate in an effort to avoid a repeat of the riots that took place downtown back on May 30. Jackson is expected to further address last night's events in a press conference Wednesday.