A Gary man is suing northwest Indiana police more than a year after he alleged that officers sprayed him with pepper spray and knelt on him when they encountered him near a protest over George Floyd’s death.
Randall Smith’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court in Hammond, names Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez and county police officer Jay Cruz as defendants and seeks damages “for deprivation of his civil rights.”
The federal lawsuit comes more than a year after Smith filed a tort claim notice in July 2020 seeking $700,000 in damages from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s commissioners.
That claim, a precursor to a possible lawsuit, said Smith was watching a protest on May 31, 2020, near Southlake Mall in Merrillville that was spurred by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody when some officers “forced demonstrators” from a parking lot.
Smith’s attorney, James Hortsman, said Smith did not participate in the protest.
An officer then “aggressively approached” Smith and “got in his face telling him to leave,” the tort claim states. But as Smith turned to leave, the same officer “pushed him from behind, and several officers took him to the ground,” leaving him with a chipped tooth and other injuries, it alleges.
“Officers were kneeling on Smith and Maced him, despite the fact that (Smith) was not resisting,” the tort claim states.
Smith’s lawsuit states that Cruz “came into contact” with Smith and “physically assaulted” him, but does not name any of the other officers involved.
Hortsman said there is video evidence that Smith was following police directives before he was sprayed with pepper spray.
“We have video showing he complied,” Hortsman told the Post-Tribune of Merrillville.
Smith alleges he was told he was being detained for disorderly conduct, but he ultimately was not arrested.
Martinez’s spokeswoman, Pam Jones, said in an email that the department “is aware of the lawsuit” but that it does not comment on pending litigation.
This article was first published in Insurance Journal.