CLEVELAND (AP) – A beanbag shot by law enforcement officers during a Cleveland Black Lives Matter protest that blinded a man with one eye is under investigation by the state and local authorities, an official said.
It was unclear in reports last week who fired the beanbag at John Sanders, 24, on May 30 outside of Cuyahoga County Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. A cell phone video of the protest, one of many demonstrations across the country following the murder of George Floyd, showed Sanders slapped in the face as he walked away from a confrontation outside the justice center.
The Cuyahoga County spokeswoman confirmed late on Tuesday that the sheriff’s deputies used non-lethal weapons that resemble shotguns to fire firebags that day.
“Although the Sheriff’s Department has not yet received a complaint from the individual about the incident, they have initiated an investigation into the allegation with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification,” said provincial spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan in an email.
Sanders’ lawyer, Dennis Murray Jr., said he left a message with the Sheriff’s Office on Monday asking for an interview. Murray said he received photos that day of officers firing weapons through a broken window in the Justice Center.
“John’s life has been turned upside down as a result of his peaceful exercise of his First Amendment rights,” said Murray.
In an interview on Wednesday, Sanders said he went to Cleveland to photograph the protest organized after George Floyd’s police death in Minneapolis. The Cleveland protest began peacefully, but then became destructive, damaging numerous downtown businesses, after agents on duty in front of the Justice Center shot tear gas into a crowd.
Later that afternoon, Sanders said, he approached the building to take pictures of graffiti on a pillar of the Justice Center when tear gas was fired. He said he warned two men on the other side of the pillar about the tear gas and walked away. He was standing on a sidewalk when he was hit by a bean bag that was fired behind a broken window.
People ran to his rescue and carried him out of the danger zone, Sanders said. Paramedics arrived within minutes and took him to a hospital where he underwent unsuccessful surgery to repair the damage to his left eye. It was removed during a second surgery the next day.
Sanders, who is black, said “it really hurts inside” that he was injured doing nothing wrong.
“It really is the most ironic thing I can think of,” said Sanders. “I try not to shed light on the situation, but it is almost comical. You go there and fall victim to what you are there for. ‘
More surgery will be needed to repair broken bones in his face and to address a problematic skin graft intended to repair his damaged eyelid. He said he suffers from “terrible” headaches almost every day besides nosebleeds, numbness in his face and difficulty eating.
It is uncertain whether he can use a prosthetic eye.
“When I’m in public, I don’t want to scare people, so I wear an eye patch,” said Sanders.
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