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Black journalist fights retaliatory charges

Published Jun 19, 2009 11:31 PM

On May 7 and 8, African-American reporter Kathy Wray Coleman was tried in Municipal Court here on trumped-up charges of resisting arrest, sounding a false alarm, disrupting court proceedings and aggravated disorderly conduct. A jury found her not guilty on all except the resisting charge.

The charges arose from an incident after a tense foreclosure hearing on Coleman’s home on Aug. 7, 2008. As she walked out of the court, two deputies threw her to the floor. The court hallway then filled with more than 20 officers. Coleman began to panic as a crowd of police swarmed down on her.

Coleman was arrested and chained to a hospital bed for several days before being taken to Cuyahoga County Jail. She was drugged with sedatives, kept in a cell nude, and watched constantly by a male officer.

Coleman, a journalist with two masters’ degrees, wrote about conditions at the jail in a series of articles entitled “Jailed Reporter Tells Her Story,” which appeared in the Cleveland Call & Post, an African-American weekly.

Coleman had previously written articles exposing racism in Cleveland schools and reporting on the foreclosure crisis. Her articles were critical of the very judge who later ordered her arrest. She said that a relative of this judge greeted her in jail with, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Assistant City Prosecutor Lorraine Coyne invoked a racist stereotype, accusing Coleman of “playing the race card” to avoid taking “personal responsibility.”

Only one of the 20 deputies who had intimidated Coleman shortly after her arrest testified at the trial. This deputy met Coleman outside of the courtroom, hugged her and said, “I just did it to keep my job.”

Prosecutor Coyne tried to dismiss the abuse, drugging and sexual degradation in the jail by saying, “Jail isn’t supposed to be nice.” She said that if jails were “spas” or “country clubs,” they would not be effective in deterring crime.

The prosecutor also argued that no “responsible” citizen would have had any reason to flee from the police and compared Coleman to her child in elementary school.

Five other prosecutors sat in during the proceedings, perhaps hoping to learn from Coyne’s tactics.

Coyne lectured Coleman and the jury about personal responsibility and tried to dismiss all of the corruption charges against the city prosecutor’s office as “conspiracy theories.”

Coleman took the stand in her own defense and testified about how she was drugged, sexually degraded and held illegally in jail.

Presiding Judge Kathleen Keough often interrupted Coleman and told her to stop speaking. Coleman often ignored these orders and continued speaking, turning to Keough afterword with a defiant grin and saying, “I’m sorry, Judge.”

Coleman spoke of how a deputy had growled, “We’re going to get you in jail if it’s the last thing we do,” as he forced her into handcuffs.

Prosecutor Coyne and her assistant failed to further their case with cross-examination. Coleman ripped their arguments to shreds, one by one, from the witness stand.

Coyne asked if Coleman had any proof that her journalism had motivated the prosecution.

“Yes, it’s related,” she said. “You can’t separate it.” Coleman explained that everything in Cleveland was related, from the foreclosure crisis to the crumbling school system to the racism and violent abuse in the legal system.

“This system is broken at the core,” Coleman proclaimed, as Judge Keough’s face melted into a grim look of disgust.

“My duty as a journalist,” Coleman proclaimed, “is to seek and perpetuate truth.”

Coleman plans to appeal her misdemeanor conviction for resisting arrest. Her supporters left the courtroom feeling victorious that the prosecution had failed in its attempt to railroad her back to jail.