The City of Euclid attempts to shutdown Mig's Pla-Mor Skating Rink rather than face its own failings
Exclusive coverage of Euclid's latest hostile action against its Black citizens
Much of the research for this article was conducted for State of Injustice, a new documentary series executive produced by Black Lives Matter Cleveland, directed by Roger Glenn Hill. Visit www.stateofinjustice.com to watch full episodes and contribute to our Indiegogo to fund future episodes and seasons.
Euclid city officials have supposedly had enough with unruly teenagers getting into fights, causing property damage, and showing a general lack of respect for the police. A central front in their fight against these troublesome teens is Mig’s Pla-Mor, a roller skating rink that has operated in the city for generations.
On April 7th, the City of Euclid filed nuisance charges in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against Miguel Sanders, operator of the Pla-Mor, in an attempt to shut down the rink. This case was important enough that it was presented by Euclid’s Law Director, Kelley Sweeney, and required testimony from Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail, Police Chief Scott Meyer, and Captain Jeff Cutwright.
The city hoped that the narrow set of facts they presented to Judge David Matia would lead him to conclude that Sanders is a careless operator, whose business is a hotbed of criminal activity. After a closer look at all the facts surrounding the case, not just those presented by the city or permitted by the judge, it is difficult to take the city’s case seriously.
On June 12th of 2019, a middle and high school overnight “lock-in” event was scheduled at the Pla-Mor. In the weeks leading up to this, Sanders reached out to a Euclid police officer to arrange security. Text messages exchanged two days prior to the event show that Sanders was told two officers would be available to work security.
At 9pm on the night of the event, Sanders started to wonder if the officers were going to show up. His contact with the department sent him the following text message close to 11pm:
“No one signed up for it. It won’t be your fault for not having security. You got the permit and notified me. That’s all that matters.”
Fortunately, Mr. Sanders went above and beyond the city’s requirement that he hire two city police officers, and brought on four additional private security guards for the event. Unfortunately, the Euclid police showed up anyway.
One of the security team’s tasks was to ensure that the venue stayed below it’s legal capacity of 440 persons. When Euclid police arrived, 250 skaters had already been admitted and another 150-200 more waited peacefully in line outside. The officers entered the building and abruptly informed Mr. Sanders that he could only admit 100 more people.
The Euclid police then announced to the crowd that the capacity had been reduced and that many of them would have to go home. This immediately created a chaotic situation as a couple hundred teens pushed forward trying to make sure they would get inside. A few of the many suddenly disappointed and frustrated adolescents started fighting.
Even the kids who peacefully resigned themselves to missing out on the event had no choice but to linger, since most of them were dropped off by parents who thought they were getting a night off. Sanders was attempting to coordinate an orderly pickup process for the stranded children when the Euclid police started using pepper spray balls and aerosol as a first-resort dispersal tactic.
The kids outside went running in every direction, coughing and gagging, searching for shelter in nearby retail stores. The use of pepper spray also created chaos inside the rink as it wafted into the building, forcing the 250 patrons inside to also come flooding out into the streets and nearby commercial properties. This police-induced pandemonium would later be held up as a “riot” by police, city officials, and uncritical media outlets (Hanna Catlett of Channel 19 incorrectly reported that the teens were only turned away after the rink reached its capacity).
City officials refused to place any blame on the police. The next day Sweeney notified Sanders by email that he did not follow the permit process correctly and the city would be taking steps to shut his facility down. Sanders testified in last week’s hearing that during this time “she told me that it was personal for her and she didn’t like the business.”
Citizens Stand Up, the City Backs Down
City officials weren’t prepared for the amount of citizens that rallied in support of the Pla-Mor at the next Euclid City Council meeting on June 17th. Dr. Richard Montgomery was the first to speak, offering a detailed account of the systemic failures that led to the riot. He chided Mayor Gail directly, stating that her “lack of transparency and hands-off approach to managing our police-community relations has landed our city in the news cycle yet again.”
Montgomery was followed by BLM Cleveland co-founder Kareem Henton, who was unequivocal in placing the blame on the Euclid police. “We have different sets of laws for adults than children for a reason,” Henton reminded city lawmakers. He concluded his remarks by saying “When law enforcement is interacting with young people, they should act appropriately. You didn’t because you don’t value our children.”
For nearly two hours, city officials heard from skating enthusiasts, civic leaders, activists, and average citizens who came out to speak in support of the Pla-Mor and admonish the police department’s handling of a crowd of minors.
One of the early speakers was Warren Hatchett, former operator of the rink, who defended the event and how the Pla-mor staff conducted it. The final speaker was Dorothy Curtis, a longtime volunteer “Operations Director” who was working at the booth when pepper spray was deployed outside. Both Hatchett and Curtis returned to testify in the most recent hearing.
In the wake of this popular show of support, the city administrators and police commanders agreed to meet with Sanders and formulate a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU). It included strict protocols regarding teen attendance and restrictions on the amount of special events that targeted youth. The agreement also stipulated that the Euclid police would have the first opportunity to work security.
Now, two years later, the city is seeking to permanently shut down the Pla-Mor, claiming that Sanders runs his business in a fashion that is recklessly placing the community at risk. To support their case, the city called Chief Scott Meyer to the stand and asked him to summarize the six incidents linked to the skating rink in 2021.
Meyer read off summaries of two minor assaults and three instances of groups of teens fighting in escalating numbers. Meyers does not mention any property damage, but does note several times that witnesses and even victims of assault refused to cooperate with the police.
The title of the final report was simply “Rape.” On April 3rd, two Euclid officers took a call from the Cleveland Clinic Police at the South Point Hospital from a woman who claimed she was raped after being drugged at the Pla-Mor.
The woman told officers that she went to the rink the night before around 11pm to meet a friend who was working as the DJ. While she was near the booth, a man approached and offered to buy her a drink. He returned with a Gatorade and left shortly after. She started feeling disoriented and asked her friend to taste the drink, who confirmed that it tasted strange.
The woman then left the Pla-mor and was attacked in her car. She had a vague recollection of trying to fight off the sexual assault before passing out and waking up on the side of the road somewhere else the next morning.
Miguel Sanders didn’t agree with the first five incidents being held against his business and his majority law-abiding patrons, but he wasn’t surprised by the attempt. When Chief Meyer read his last report into the record, however, Sanders would later say, “It blew me away. That was the first time I ever heard anything about a rape.”
Chief Meyer sounded deeply concerned and troubled as he summarized the rape report. It is noteworthy that his department has not performed any actions that would demonstrate the credibility and seriousness of this incident. At the time of this writing, ten days since the alleged rape occurred, no Euclid officer has canvassed the Pla-Mor or requested to review security footage of the DJ booth or the concession stand where this rapist reportedly drugged this woman.
Captain Cutwright was called to testify about his relationship with the Pla-Mor, which he characterized as “managing the crowds, the violence, the property damage, and disturbances associated with the patrons of that business.”
Cutwright’s testimony contained some overt inaccuracies, such as when he claimed that his officers have had to deal with “400 kids fighting all at once.” He also claimed that he had once observed only six adults present for sixty kids, in violation of the supervisory requirements of the MOU. Sanders would later directly dispute this in his testimony, as well as Cutwright’s estimates of how many kids were fighting outside, stating his video cameras would back up his side of the story.
Swerve and Deflect
Dorothy Curtis was called to testify regarding measures that Sanders has taken to improve security, such as upgrading lighting and installing a new security system. She also talked about formalizing a mentorship program for teens at the rink, which she has already been doing in an unofficial capacity for years.
Curtis also noted that even though the Euclid police refuse to work as security at the Pla-Mor, they will regularly park their cars in sight of the rink. She testified that the officers would then wait for fights to break out so they could write up the incidents, rather than have a visible presence in front of the rink to deter bad behavior.
When discussing the events of June 12th, 2019, Curtis said she was “appalled at what I saw with my own eyes”. After taking a moment to compose herself, she recounted seeing police in tactical gear chasing children with rifles pointed. It was a much more reserved telling than the emotional testimony she gave in front of city council in 2019, days after the incident.
On cross-examination, Law Director Sweeney pointed out that Curtis was not a “trained police officer,” in an attempt to diminish Curtis’ opinions regarding “when tactical measures are appropriate.” This line of questioning insinuated that there is an appropriate time to use chemical weapons on unarmed minors.
During both their times on the stand, Chief Meyer and Captain Cutwright lamented the lack of respect and sometimes outright hostility that teens often exhibit towards their officers at the Pla-Mor. They cited this hostility as one of the reasons many officers refuse to work security for the rink. For anyone familiar with the Euclid police’s history of violence against its Black residents, the obliviousness being exhibited by Meyer and Cutwright was an odd spectacle.
Just two days after this hearing, a $450,000 settlement was announced between the city of Euclid and Richard Hubbard III, who was brutally beaten by Euclid police officer Michael Amiott during a wrongful traffic stop in 2017. Less than four months prior, a $475,000 settlement was reached with Lamar Wright, who was also brutalized during a wrongful arrest in 2016 by officers Kyle Flagg and Vashon Williams. These events book ended the killing of Luke Stewart in March of 2017, a man who was unarmed and sleeping in his car when he was first approached by Euclid police officers Louis Catalani and Matthew Rhodes.
Director Sweeney and the rest of the city officials are seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was “trained police officers” who cost the city nearly one million dollars in damages. Meanwhile, the nuisance fines levied against the Pla-Mor over the last two years amount to twelve thousand dollars. Whatever vandalism or shoplifting has occurred at nearby businesses, the damages are most likely not approaching four- or five-figure totals, much less seven.
According to Chief Meyer and Captain Cutwright, none of the recent incidents at the rink have resulted in any severe injuries with the notable exception being the alleged drugging and rape incident. However, that incident appears to be yet another example of the Euclid police failing their community and blaming it on Mig’s Pla-Mor, considering the lack of crime-scene canvassing that has been done in that case.
In an interview following the hearing, Sanders wanted to emphasize the deep communal roots of his establishment. “There’s been numerous engagements here on the skate floor. A couple just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and 90th birthday at the skating rink.” One of these elderly patrons even came out to the courthouse to support Sanders, but was unable to watch the proceedings due to pandemic restrictions. Unfortunately, the deep affection that many residents of Euclid and surrounding areas have for Mig’s Pla-Mor was not admissible at the hearing to shut the rink down.
Employees of the Pla-Mor did not wish to speak on the record, but they all held a strong affection for the space. None of them felt that the rink was a factor in teens fighting any more than the local movie theater, high school sporting events, or any location where youth congregate and act like youth. Closing the rink won’t mitigate the problem, only migrate it and exacerbate the already tense relationship between the city and its Black residents.
On the Saturday following the hearing, about sixty skaters were enjoying the regular family skate night. Some kids huddled around the sides with friends, laughing over their phones, most were enjoying the simple thrill of circling the rink to catchy songs. Everyone left peacefully and happily at the close of business, as they do most nights at the Pla-Mor.
Full interview with Miguel Sanders, conducted on the Friday after his hearing.
Yesterday I went to the Pla-Mor for an hour and interviewed some of the patrons as they left the rink to find out what they thought of the city’s case against the facility and its owner.