CLEVELAND — The City of Cleveland has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a protester who was arrested for burning a flag at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016.
Gregory Johnson, a San Francisco resident, filed the lawsuit in January of this year, alleging that Cleveland police officers arrested him by falsely claiming he set himself on fire, then attempted to justify prosecuting him by relying on false claims from InfoWars representatives that he assaulted them.
"It was a lie, a dirty lie and no one has been held accountable.... all the way up to the brass that repeated the lies,” Johnson’s attorney, Subodh Chandra, said.
Johnson also claimed the city violated his First Amendment protections on free speech by stopping his flag-burning demonstration, protections he helped establish in the landmark 1989 Supreme Court Texas v. Johnson, which determined that burning the American flag is protected symbolic speech.
Johnson and 15 other protesters were prosecuted for their flag burning and demonstration outside the RNC, according to a news release from Chandra Law Firm, the firm representing Johnson. A Cleveland Municipal Court dismissed the criminal case against Johnson in January of 2017, with the judge citing the Texas v. Johnson case.
“The city settled this case because they knew our arrests and prosecutions were an assault on a Supreme Court precedent that I won 30 years ago,” Johnson said at the news conference Tuesday. “Burning the American flag in protest is constitutionally protected symbolic speech, and in my case, it expresses unmistakable contempt for what this country and this government stands for in the world.”
Johnson came to the 2016 RNC to express his beliefs, and to protest the rising authoritarianism represented by then-candidate Donald Trump, the release states.
During the news conference Tuesday, Chandra Law Firm representatives played video from the demonstration to debunk Cleveland police claimed that Johnson lit himself on fire, and lit others on fire as he pushed officers away. The department even tweeted a picture of the protest with the text: “May be flag burning….Cleveland Fire on scene to take care of that.”
During the conference, Chandra called on the media and the people of Cleveland to hold the city accountable for misrepresenting the protest.
"Why does the truth about what the video footage shows happened apparently not matter to a single Cleveland official?” Chandra is quoted as saying in the news release. “Where is the internal-affairs investigation? Where is the Civilian Police Review Board investigation? Where were the county or city prosecutor's offices, which let the statute of limitations run out on prosecuting these officers for their false claims?"