On February 6, 2016, Charles “Chris” Harrell was walking down the street drinking coffee while Cincinnati police officer Baron Osterman followed him on a bicycle. Harrell began recording Osterman with his cell phone, alleging that Osterman was racially profiling him.
Osterman’s actions in the video appear to validate Harrell’s allegation when Harrell, likely distracted by recording Osterman, crosses against a “Don’t Walk” signal on a street that is clearly free of all vehicular traffic, leading to Osterman stopping him for the minor pedestrian traffic violation.
Osterman orders Harrell to put down his phone. Harrell refuses, citing his Constitutional rights, likely referring to his right to record the police, and instead reaches into his pocket to retrieve his identification.
Osterman then orders Harrell to remove his hand from his pocket, then promptly forces the phone out of Harrell’s hand, shoving him against a wall and arresting him.
According to cincinnati.com, Harrell was charged with a pedestrian violation, possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana and resisting arrest. In a sworn complaint, Osterman states that, “The final charge was the result of Harrell’s refusal to stop reaching into his pockets, delaying the arrest.”
There is nothing to indicate that any action before Harrell began recording led to his arrest, and in the video, Osterman is clearly following Harrell, apparently waiting for an opportunity to stop him.
In this case, “jaywalking” (Sec. 506-40-A of Ohio law) gave Osterman that opportunity. It is well documented in The New Jim Crow and elsewhere that minor traffic violations are used to make searches to perpetuate the drug war, and are disproportionately used against people of color, saddling them with criminal charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is exactly what occurred in this case.
These charges can disadvantage people for the rest of their lives, primarily through sending them into a cycle of interactions with the criminal justice system, which has also occurred in this case.
Harrell, who posted the video of his arrest to Facebook on March 1, already appears to be facing retaliatory actions by the Cincinnati police.
After the video went viral, Harrell went to court for the pedestrian traffic violation. He took a photo of three officers standing in a courthouse hallway, one likely to be the arresting officer, and posted them to Facebook.
And that landed him back in jail.
According to cincinnati.com, a warrant was issued for his arrest on Friday for contempt of court after he posted the photo to Facebook. He has yet to be released.
The local news site reported that “the Hamilton County Courthouse security policy bans cell phones and cameras from being used in “in any courtroom or hearing room, jury room, judge’s chambers or ancillary area (to be determined in the sole discretion of the Court) without the express permission of the Court.”
WCPO reported that an assistant city prosecutor named Bernadette Longano “witnessed Harrell taking photos in the hallway of the courthouse Monday and recognized the photos when she was shown them Friday.”
However, nothing in the administrative rules for the courts in Ohio bans taking photographs in hallways, corridors, or lobbies. Indeed, contempt of court is largely reserved for actions committed in courtrooms, not other parts of court houses.
And although the Hamilton Court website states on its website that it bans the use of “cellphones, pagers, cameras, or any other electronic devices” without permission from the courts, it does not refer to a rule or code that would make this statement binding.
History of Abuse
The Cincinnati Police Department has a history of racial bias, most notably leading to the Cincinnati riots of 2001 and subsequent investigations into the department’s practices and policies. Cincinnati is also the city that invented the term “jaywalking” and criminalized the practice.
Officer Osterman has himself been accused of engaging in this department-wide racially-biased policing. In 2003, he was one of two officers who savagely beat an unarmed black man to death, captured on the dash cam video below.
In the civil complaint for this action, the family of the deceased alleged the following:
The city and Osterman filed a motion to dismiss. The judge denied their motion, deciding that a reasonable jury could find the defendants guilty, but a court of appeals overturned that decision and ruled that the city and officers had qualified immunity.
UPDATE: The Facebook page for the Hamilton County courthouse is filled with photos taken inside that apparently did not result in arrest and incarceration.
Call the Hamilton County Courthouse to inquire how often they enforce policy that does not appear to part of any official administrative rule. (513) 946-6029