The bizarre saga of Jimmy Bird's visit downtown a few weeks ago began with a beating by strangers and ended in breaches of procedure so fundamental as to raise questions about the justice system.
Bird says he told officers he was a victim of gay-bashing and that he's HIV-positive, so the incident also raises questions about homophobia by police and court officials.
"After I told them that, everything changed," he says.
Bird, 46, says he moved to Cincinnati from Columbus, renting an apartment March 1. One week later, walking around downtown, he was on his way to a bus stop when two men jumped him from behind.
"Someone grabbed my pants pocket and struck me in my back, calling me a 'fucking faggot,' " Bird says. "When I tried to cover myself, they hit my arms. They jerked me backwards and kicked me in the side of my head, knocking out my contact lens. I couldn't really see after that, and I had difficulty walking because of being hit in my spine. I have trouble with my legs anyway. I am disabled, and after being hit in the spine I could hardly walk at all."
Bird says he has neuropathy in his leg. He says he hobbled to the nearest business, Jeff Ruby's Steak House, and asked someone to call police.
"I told them I had been gay-bashed and was having difficulty walking," he says. "They asked me to wait outside. I was under the impression they were making the call for me. After waiting for a while, I went back in to find out if the police were coming. Then two employees grabbed me from each arm and escorted me outside while someone in the bar poured their drink on me. At that point I was upset that they had put their hands on me. I was also upset no one seemed to care that I had been assaulted. When the police came, I told them I had been assaulted and needed medical attention."
But instead Bird was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct while intoxicated.
The 62-word trial
Assuming Bird had committed a crime -- and he insists he did not -- what happened next bears no resemblance to normal procedure:
· Police officers recorded Bird's address as 217 W. 12th St., the Drop-Inn Center. But Bird's state identification card lists his apartment address in Mount Auburn.
"I never resided at the Drop-Inn Center," Bird says. "When I was arrested, nobody asked me for an address. They just took my ID and asked if it was accurate. I told them yes."
· Bird says he was freed from the Justice Center the morning after his arrest. The next business day, March 11, he called the Clerk of Courts to check on the status of his case.
He was shocked to find he'd already been convicted. He called the Public Defenders' office to find out who had represented him. Bird says he was never in court -- and a trial transcript appears to back him up.
· The official transcript shows a trial that involved a total of exactly 62 words, with the judge hearing no statement of the facts behind the arrest, the prosecutor never speaking, no defendant present and a defense lawyer whose name isn't even known.
"I am concerned about the gay bashing, but more about how it was handled," Bird says. "I have been tried and convicted of something I never went to court for."
The official transcript of the March 9 proceeding before Judge Robert Taylor lists Assistant County Prosecutor Keith Forman and shows Bird represented by "Un-Named Public Defender."
Taylor never spoke to the defendant. Taylor didn't ask for a plea but instead decided Bird would plead no contest. In fact, the transcript shows, Bird was not even in the courtroom.
"Well, let him stand by the door and I'll say no contest," Taylor says. "Waive reading."
"OK," the unnamed attorney replies. "I'll do that."
"No contest," Taylor says. "Waive reading. Guilty. Cost remit. Credit time served."
Officials contacted by CityBeat about the arrest seem unable to answer basic questions.
Lt. Kurt Byrd, spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department, could not say whether arresting officers knew Bird was a victim of assault, claiming his copy of the arrest slip was illegible. But the copy of the arrest slip obtained from police records clearly says, in part, "... Subject then collapsed to the floor and said he had been assaulted. Subject was dragged out of restaurant by employees and put on sidewalk ..."
Julie Deardorff, the attorney identified in the transcript as "Un-Named Public Defender," says she represented Bird. But when asked if Bird were in court for his own trial, she declines to answer.
"I can't answer that," Deardorff says. "I can't discuss the case without a waiver from Bird, without his permission."
After Bird granted permission, she still declined to comment.
Judge Taylor says he doesn't remember the details of Bird's trial, because of his heavy case load.
But five minutes after that conversation, Michael Lyon -- an attorney with the firm Lindhorst and Dreidame -- phoned CityBeat unsolicited, indicating Taylor indeed remembers the case.
"We discussed the case with Judge Taylor, whom I understand you have just spoken with," Lyon said. "He has authorized bringing the defendant in and withdrawing the no contest plea. If he wants to, he can withdraw the plea and plead not guilty. It's certainly an option for him."
Bird says he does not want to withdraw his plea; indeed, he says he never entered a plea in the first place.
Lyon called again to emphasize his interest in Bird's case.
"I do work for Julie Deardorff and other lawyers around the city as an intermediary to facilitate resolution of a situation," Lyon said. "I have represented Julie in the past, and when she heard from the newspaper, she called another lawyer for advice."
Lyon repeatedly encouraged Bird to withdraw his plea of no contest.
"If he appeals the case, it may be expensive," he said. "If he wants another lawyer, we can give him that. If he wants to appeal the case, certainly he can do that. We just want to make darn sure he knows what his options are."
Asked why these options were not given to Bird earlier and why the public defender pleaded no contest for Bird without his permission, Lyon said, "I can't answer that."
Maced while cuffed
Bird says he should never have been arrested. The complaint in Municipal Court says he blocked the doorway at Jeff Ruby's restaurant and refused to move.
"(Arresting officers) could smell the scent of an alcoholic beverage on person," the complaint says. "Subject was loud and refused to move, blocking sidewalk."
But Bird says he didn't refuse to move and that he was an assault victim. Restaurant manager Jim Corbett concedes it's possible.
"He did not look to be physically assaulted as in black eyes or a bloody nose, but his T-shirt was ripped," Corbett says.
Although on duty, Corbett says he wasn't a witness. An assistant manager told him Bird was intoxicated, he says.
"It's also certainly possible he never expressed anything other than that he had been assaulted," Corbett says. "However, we felt he was trying to place the blame on us."
Bird says he understands the restaurant's reaction to him.
"I can accept the general view against gay people from the community," he says. "I can rationalize that. I can't rationalize what happened afterward. Aside from the restaurant, the larger issue is the police were aware I had been assaulted. I would like to know why they didn't do anything and why I didn't get any medical attention at all."
Bird says he was maced while handcuffed but denies police allegations that he attempted to kick out the window in a police car. He didn't have the strength to try, he says.
"I am not saying I wasn't loud," Bird says. "I was angry. I felt like the police should have taken an assault report because my clothes were ripped and I had bruises all over my back and arm."
Bird says he hadn't been drinking the night of his arrest.
"Of course, I had something all over my shirt that someone had spilled on me in the bar," he says. "But even giving police the benefit of the doubt because I was staggering, I had told them I didn't have the use of my legs because I had been assaulted. I believe the police interpreted my inability to walk as a refusal of their orders, that my physical condition was a deliberate refusal to comply."
The arresting officers could not be reached for comment.
After arriving at the Justice Center, Byrd says, he was immediately ushered into a cell, where he spent the night. He says he wasn't asked questions about his health.
Jail records show Bird was uncooperative when asked about his health, according to Steve Barnett, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. But when asked for copies of the health interview, Barnett said prisoners' medical records are scanned into a computer and the original paperwork destroyed after their release.
Bird says he wasn't given any kind of interview.
"They just took me to a cell and gave me some clothing to put on in there until they said I was going to court," he says. "Two officers came and drug me out. They took me to what I believed was the holding area of the courtroom. Then an officer came to tell me I was to be released, and all they needed to do was take a picture and my fingerprints."
Bird says he never received any medical attention for his bruises.
"I asked to see a doctor," he says. "When I was released from jail, all my money was put into a check. They gave me that, my clothes and a bus token. I called the emergency number at University Hospital. They asked if it was an emergency. By then, I didn't think it was." ©