CLEVELAND – A bean bag shooting by law enforcement at a Cleveland Black Lives Matter protest that left a man blinded in one eye is under investigation by state and local authorities, an official said.
It was unclear in reports last week who fired the bean bag at John Sanders, 24, on May 30 outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. A cellphone video from the protest, one of the many demonstrations nationwide following the killing of George Floyd, showed Sanders being struck in the face as he walked away from a confrontation outside the justice center.
Cuyahoga County spokeswoman late Tuesday confirmed that sheriff's deputies deployed non-lethal weapons that resemble shotguns to fire bean bags that day.
“While the Sheriff's Department has yet to receive a complaint from the individual regarding the incident, they have initiated an investigation of the allegation together with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification,” county spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan said in an email.
Sanders' attorney, Dennis Murray Jr., said he left a message with the Sheriff's Office on Monday asking for an interview. Murray said he has received photographs showing officers firing weapons through a broken window at the Justice Center that day.
“John's life has been turned upside down as a result of his peaceful exercise of his First Amendment rights," Murray said.
In an interview Wednesday, Sanders said he went to Cleveland to photograph the protest organized after the police death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The protest in Cleveland began peacefully but then turned destructive, damaging numerous downtown businesses, after officers standing guard in front of the Justice Center fired tear gas into a crowd.
Later that afternoon, Sanders said, he approached the building to make photos of graffiti on a Justice Center pillar when tear gas was fired. He said he warned two men on the other side of the pillar about the tear gas and then walked away. He was on a sidewalk when he was struck by a bean bag fired from behind a broken window.
People rushed to his aid and carried him out of harm's way, Sanders said. Paramedics arrived within minutes and transported 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” to have been injured while doing nothing wrong.
“It's really the most ironic thing I can think of,” Sanders said. “I try not to make light of the situation, but it's almost comical. You go there and become the victim of the thing you're there for.”
More surgery will be needed to repair broken bones in his face and to deal with a problematic skin graft intended to repair his damaged eyelid. He said he suffers almost daily from “terrible” headaches in addition to nose bleeds, numbness in his face and difficulties eating.
It is uncertain if he will be able to use a prosthetic eye.
“When I'm out in public, I don't want to freak people out, so I wear an eye patch,” Sanders said.