Doug LivingstonAkron Beacon Journal
Police are reviewing whether a non-uniformed Akron officer in a personal vehicle broke department policy or the law when he brandished his holstered gun while boxed in by a group of 100 bikers running red lights through downtown.
The incident happened Oct. 11 as motorcycle enthusiasts met at Chapel Hill Mall for a “big get-together” ride through the city. The gathering drew riders from across the region on an assortment of Harleys, 125 cc Honda Groms, sport bikes and high-pitched on-/off-road dirt bikes.
The riders did not request a police escort. And they did not obey traffic laws. Their own videos capture them popping wheelies and stopping traffic to run red lights.
“It was just pretty much a community ride,” said Corey Paul, who recorded the event on his helmet-mounted camera.
The procession was heading south on the All-America bridge into downtown Akron when the light turned red at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The last in the line of bikers kept driving as spotters signaled for traffic on either side to stop and let them pass.
Some cars stopped. A Honda HR-V did not. The SUV’s driver maintained his speed and turned south on High Street, squeezing into the row of bikers.
In another video of the incident posted to YouTube, a biker pops a wheelie to catch up to the Honda HR-V, getting close enough to capture the license plate number. Other riders swarm the vehicle’s front and passenger sides, sending a plume of burnt rubber over the car’s windshield. A rider tries to kick the SUV. Paul takes the narrow path along parked cars to reach the vehicle’s driver side where he sees a holstered handgun pointed at the roof of the SUV.
Paul quickly taps the brakes and falls back to a safe distance while motioning to the rest of the bikers that the driver is armed. He then races back to the driver’s side door as the motorist presses his police badge against the window.
“I’ve got the whole thing” on video, Paul yells, circling his hand in the air. “I’m going to send it in to your supporting officer. Good luck finding a new job in the coronavirus.”
The incident ends as Paul loudly revs his bike and speeds away, followed by the other bikers who caged in the driver until the procession got ahead.
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Capt. Dave Laughlin, a spokesman for the Akron Police Department, said the matter is being investigated by internal affairs. A sergeant saw the video on Facebook and initiated the review.
“The important thing that we want to convey is that it didn’t take someone filing a formal complaint to look into this,” said Laughlin. “We got the video and it was immediately assigned to the Office of Professional Standards and Accountability,” which is Akron’s version of internal affairs.
“I don’t know if he was on duty or off duty,” Laughlin said. “I don’t know why he brandished [the gun]. People are going to make their own speculation.”
Paul sent his video to the Akron Police Department’s Facebook account, which asked him to comment further. Paul declined, saying he feared retaliation from the officer in the video.
“He should have brandished his badge first. He may be a little bit of an asshole, but he’s not above the law,” said Paul. “If it would have been us. If we pulled up and we showed him a gun, we’d be sitting in jail on brandishing charges.”
The biker conceded that he and others were obviously breaking the law by running red lights. That’s how they roll, he said. If there are 10 or 15 bikes, they wait at the light. If there are more, “spotters” act like traffic cops.
Laughlin said police are focused on reviewing the officer’s conduct, not on chasing down dozens of bikers seen breaking traffic laws.
Some motorcycle rides are more organized than others. Riders can seek a permit with the city to host them. This group did not. The permit process requires the petitioner to pay for a police escort. It’s how the Akron Founders Day Ride or Teddy Bear Run are organized.
But that still doesn’t mean they’re safe, Laughlin said.
“Those are dangerous to be involved in,” he said. “It’s dangerous for the group to do. It’s dangerous for the police officers to leapfrog the group.
“And it doesn’t abstain them from abiding by traffic laws,” Laughlin added.
Reach Beacon Journal reporter Doug Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3792.