Garfield Heights, OH – The City of Garfield Heights and the Garfield Heights Police Department are facing an excessive use-of-force lawsuit after an arrest officers made on Jan 23.
Bodycam footage of the arrest shows the officer’s encounter with unarmed 28-year-old Kenta Settles. During the arrest Settles was punched, kicked and stunned with a Taser by police while he was on the ground.
The attorney representing Kenta, Jeremy Tor, said officers not only used excessive physical force on his client, but they also taunted and used profanity on Settles as he laid on the ground handcuffed.
According to Tor, Settles suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD and is ADHD, for which he takes medication.
Tor said that on the night of the encounter, Settles had taken a bus to Garfield Heights to refill his prescription and was planning on walking to his brother’s house to get hair clippers to give his 2-year-old son a haircut.
According to Tor, when Settles arrived at the CVS on Granger Road he realized the store was closed so he attempted to get his prescription by walking up to the drive-through pharmacy window.
Tor said Settles tried to speak to a driver in a car that also waiting for a prescription, but the driver felt threatened and called the Garfield Heights police.
Settles then left the CVS and was confronted by Garfield Heights police officer Michael Malak while walking down Turney Road.
Tor says the bodycam footage shows that officer Malak didn’t ask Settles any questions or tell him why he was stopping him before he detained Settles. Saying Malak only told Settles he refused to stop, he was being detained and ordered him to put his hands on the police car so he could be searched.
According to Tor, Settles only resisted arrest after it appeared he was going to handcuffed without explanation.
“This is another unfortunate example of police brutality against members of our community,” Tor said.
“From the get-go, the officers approached him with hostility and in a very aggressive manner.”
“He was simply there to pick-up his psychiatric medication and another gentleman was also there to pick-up medication just misperceived the situation and he got concerned and he called the police.”
“This was a perfect illustration of how things could have gone so much better if the police officer approached Kenta with the appropriate level of respect that I think he and everyone in our community deserves.”
“Rather than yell and bark orders at Kenta and haul him to the front of a police car without explanation, they could have approached him calmly, talked to him like a human being and said, hey how’s it going, what’s going on, everything okay?”
During the arrest, the bodycam video shows officer Robert Pitts use his taser and then repeatedly hit Settles with a close fist while he was on the ground.
“There weren’t just two officers involved, there were 5 officers, including a sergeant and a lieutenant, and I think that speaks to the systemic problem,” Tor said.
“Three officers pressed down on this back, shoulders and leg, that’s the kind of compressive force that killed George Floyd.”
Settles was charged with felonious assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, and was held in jail on a $250,000 bond.
But Tor said last week Settles was finally released from jail after a judge issued him a personal bond on June 8.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office told News 5 when the bodycam video of the arrest was shown to him on June 10, he called the attorney representing Mr. Settles and informed him the charges against Mr. Settles would be dismissed and the entire matter would be re-presented to the grand jury at a later date.
The case against Mr. Settles was officially dismissed on June 12.
The prosecutor’s office did not comment on the dismissal or explain why the case was dismissed.
Garfield Police Chief Robert Byrne stood behind the actions of his officers during the encounter and arrest. Saying his internal investigation concluded that the officers acted properly.
Bryne said the officers only used physical force when Settles refused to cooperate and started resisting.
However, Bryne agreed that his officers should not have used profanity or mocked Settles during the arrest. He also acknowledged that is was a valid question to ask why officer Malak didn’t ask Settles any questions before detaining him.
Byrne said officers were on high alert when they pulled up on Settles because of a report of an armed robbery at the CVS and hour and a half earlier.
Still, Tor believes the Garfield Heights officers used unnecessary, outrageous and unreasonable use of force and need to be held accountable.
“This coming to light, we’re at a time when the public is finally not tolerating this kind of police brutality no more, and I hope this momentum continues,” Tor said.
“Police officers play an important role in our community, a lot of police officers do a lot of good every day, but this type of conduct cannot continue.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on June 11, includes officer Michael Malak, officer Robert Pitts, officer Brian Regovich, officer Rob Jarzembak, Sergeant William Gall, Lieutenant Todd Vargo, and the City of Garfield Heights.
Read the full lawsuit here.