It All Started With a Hat

How a $59 theft at the mall led to a police shooting, rancor on city council and questions from the community

“I think there are areas where we could have done better,

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“I think there are areas where we could have done better,” City Council President James Pasch said. “In terms of the video, could it or should it have been released sooner? We could have done a quicker job. It’s incumbent to review what happened and decide what we could have improved upon and what we did well.”

Marc Wilson, an African American Beachwood resident and owner of the spa Everything By Face,  sat at home after an unremarkable day. He scrolled through his phone when he came upon a post from Cleveland 19 news: ‘New video shows moment officer shot at shoplifting suspect as he fled from Beachwood Place Mall’. 

As he continued reading, Wilson felt angry.

“I thought it was clandestine and needed to be exposed. It ignited my cause for action.”

Since last year, questions have been swirling about the June 27, 2019 shooting of 19-year-old Jaquan Jones by Patrol Officer Blake Rogers.

“Why did it take 13 months for this case to be brought to a grand jury?”

“Why wasn’t the footage released all at once instead of a year later?”

“Why aren’t Beachwood council members speaking up?”

Many in the community are demanding answers to these questions about the handling of this case.

The Incident

On June 27, 2019, at approximately 2:38 p.m., Beachwood Patrol Officers responded to the theft of a $59 hat at Dillards, according to the incident report. These officers located a black male wearing a red hooded sweatshirt just outside of the Next store on the upper floor of Beachwood Place. The man, later identified as Jaquan Jones, was accompanied by two other people. Upon seeing the officers approach him, he fled on foot, ran down the escalator and ran toward Saks Fifth Avenue. At 2:43 p.m., Patrol Officer Blake Rogers, who was stationed in the parking lot of Saks Fifth Avenue, spotted Jaquan Jones exiting the north entrance of Saks.

The rest of this incident was captured on officer Rogers’ dash cam. After fleeing the officers, the suspect ran out of the Saks Fifth Avenue entrance and hid in bushes by the door. After being spotted by Blake Rogers, Jones sprinted forward into the parking lot, according to Cleveland 19 news

Rogers began accelerating and made a sharp left turn.

Rogers yelled out, “You better stop or I’ll f***ng tase you!” The officer pulled the car up and quickly got out, pulling out his gun almost immediately. 

Jones hopped into a gray 2014 Nissan Sedan belonging to Steve J. Orosz, who had previously reported it stolen, and tried to pull out of the parking lot. Rogers continued yelling at the suspect, saying “Get out of the car! Get out of the f**king car!” 

As another police car blocked him in, Jones tried to pull forward to escape. Rogers later said that Jones ran over his foot.

 “There were tire tracks on my boot and my foot was deeply bruised,” Rogers reported to Cleveland 19 news

Rogers fired two shots into the car windows to prevent Jones from escaping. Jones pulled away and a chase ensued. In his escape, Jones sideswiped a Black 2009 Porsche Cayenne in the Dillards Parking Lot and a White 2015 Audi A6 when exiting eastbound on Cedar Road. Beachwood Police continued to chase Jones north to Richmond Heights before he fled the car and escaped on foot. 

A loaded firearm was found during the search, according to Cleveland 19 News.

According to Fox 8 news, U.S. Marshals joined the search for Jones that continued throughout the east side suburbs. 

Dashcam footage shows Rogers pointing his gun  as he approached Jones.
Jones turned the car sharply towards Rogers and ran over his foot.

The Aftermath

Immediately after the shooting, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) was called in to conduct the criminal investigation. Patrol Officer Blake Rogers was removed from the scene and stripped of his duty gear and weapon. He was then put on leave per Beachwood Police policy.

On Thursday July 26, Jones was finally apprehended by police for trying to sell heroin, according to Cleveland.com. He was driving around with a stolen car with  stolen license plates, and even rammed a police cruiser prior to being arrested. He is now in jail for charges of drug trafficking, felonious assault on a police officer, receiving stolen property and carrying a stolen weapon. He is also being charged with the June 27 incident on counts of felonious assault on a peace officer, failure to comply, obstructing official business, receiving stolen property and petty theft. He initially pleaded not guilty to these charges, but later pleaded guilty. 

The BCI investigation of the incident began the day of the shooting and finished in late Oct. of 2019, but it was not officially approved by the BCI supervisor until Dec. 9, 2019.

According to Mike Burkons, a city council member who has looked into the case, the Beachwood Law Department’s review should have investigated the officer for  potential felonies. However, they only looked for misdemeanors. This mistake was not caught until April 2020. Instead of starting the proper process, there were more delays due to the law department’s lack of experience reviewing BCI investigations. 

Additionally, the Beachwood Police Department improperly withheld public records from a Cleveland 19 investigation. Finally, the proper process was finally established and the Ohio Attorney General accepted the felony review on July 29, 2020. 

The Beachwood Police and Law Departments declined to comment for this story. The police department replied with a statement:

“It is not our policy to do interviews regarding cases currently under review.”

In 2017, a supervisor wrote that while Rogers was an extremely motivated officer and committed to his profession, he “takes it personally when the bad guy gets away.” The supervisor explained to Rogers during a meeting that he shouldn’t let his intense need to catch the bad guy lead him to violate policy.”

The Cop

Cleveland 19 News reported that prior to the mall shooting, Patrol Officer Blake Rogers had a history of using force and participating in questionable pursuits, according to a supervisor in 2017:

  •  A supervisor claimed that Rogers exhibited signs of “tunnel vision while engaged in emergency/stressful situations.” The supervisor also stressed that this behavior needed to be addressed “regardless of intentions.”
  • The supervisor also remarked that while Rogers was an extremely motivated officer and committed to his profession, he “takes it personally when the bad guy gets away.” The supervisor explained to Rogers during a meeting that he shouldn’t let his intense need to catch the bad guy lead him to violate policy. 
  • Rogers was reprimanded in March 2017 for a dangerous pursuit of  someone with a license plate violation, a non-violent offense. Two months later, in May 2017, a supervisor considered Rogers’ driving to the scene of a hit and run to have been dangerous as his police cruiser reached speeds of over 93 miles per hour without using lights or sirens. 

In the June 27, 2019 incident there were also unanswered questions. 

Video showed that Rogers’ sirens and lights were not activated. Beachwood Police implemented technology that prompts policemen’s body cameras to turn on with the overhead sirens. However, there is no footage from the mall shooting from Rogers’ perspective. Rogers claims his body camera malfunctioned, and he had to turn it on manually after firing his gun. 

On Nov. 2, 2020, Beachwood City Council authorized purchase of 15 new dash cams and 60 new body cams to make sure that footage would be available in any future incident.

In his own report, Rogers wrote that he felt his life was in danger and that he feared the suspect would run him over and subsequently kill him. He also stated that he “hesitated” to use his gun since there was a family nearby, although video of the incident contradicts this narrative as he discharged his weapon within seconds of exiting his car.

In spite of these questions, on Oct. 9, 2020, a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury declined to indict Rogers for shooting at Jones, returning a “no bill” to the Ohio Attorney General, meaning that there was not enough evidence for Rogers to be indicted on any felonies.  

“For more than a year, the city of Beachwood and Cuyahoga County dragged and fumbled this process at great cost to taxpayers, to public trust, and to Officer Rogers. However, this troubled process evidenced why independent, transparent investigation and review is crucial to due process,” Roger’s attorney, Kim Corral, stated to Cleveland.com.

However, the city of Beachwood will also conduct an internal investigation of Rogers, handled by new police chief, Kelly Stillman, who previously served as police chief in Rocky River.

Mayor Martin Horowitz told Cleveland Jewish News that per Beachwood Police Protocol, Rogers will remain on paid administrative leave, retaining his annual salary of $92,206.40 plus benefits. 

On Oct. 12th, Rogers announced that he will be taking legal action against the city of Beachwood. Details have not been released on specific charges. His 41-page lawsuit demands reinstatement of his position, promotion to sergeant, a trial jury, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees and “other costs for relief”. 

This incident did not receive much public scrutiny or attention until Cleveland 19’s extensive investigation and an anonymous letter dropped in the mailbox of one community member.

 2016 BHS graduate Sydney Eisenburg  had just finished up with her remote internship. Shortly after, her parents called her downstairs and pointed out that she had mail sitting on the kitchen table for her. She picked up the envelope to see her name and that of her friend Lexi Stovsky printed on the front. There was no return address, but the words “BLM in Beachwood” were printed on the envelope. Inside was a letter titled “Beachwood Has a George Floyd Problem.” 

For more than a year, the city of Beachwood and Cuyahoga County dragged and fumbled this process at great cost to taxpayers, to public trust, and to Officer Rogers.”

— Rogers' Attorney Kim Corral

The Letter

The letter stated that Beachwood officials were “hypocrites” and “pure opportunists” using the murder of George Floyd to frame themselves as progressives outraged at police brutality. The letter stated that city council members who were trying to “brand themselves as caring about police brutality were silent a year ago.” 

The letter continued to inquire about the lack of action from Beachwood’s law department and city council.

The letter closed with a statement: “Shoplifting and fleeing are not death penalty crimes, and this cop was shooting to kill.” The phrase “Silence is Consent” was repeated throughout this letter.

The author of the letter remains unknown.

After reading the letter and sharing it with her friend Lexi Stovsky, Eisenberg wondered: “Why wasn’t anyone doing anything?”

“It made me feel very suspicious,” she reported. “There wasn’t much information online, aside from  minor details about the incident. The only readily available information was a brief description about the incident and the shoplifter’s information.”

Eisenberg, who is white, has a history of human rights activism and wrote a letter last summer to demand curriculum change at BHS. 

Receiving this anonymous letter prompted her to publicize the incident on social media. 

“I ultimately made my Facebook post because no city council members were commenting on it, and the police officer was still receiving his full salary despite his actions.”

The Facebook post with the letter attached began circulating among Beachwood residents. It caught the attention of City Councilman Mike Burkons.

Shoplifting and fleeing are not death penalty crimes, and this cop was shooting to kill.”

The Councilman

Mike Burkons, who assumed his office in Jan. 2020, became very concerned about  the police shooting. There are specific issues about this case that made him concerned: the lack of transparency and urgency from his peers on city council, footage from another car that captured the whole shooting that was being held from the public at that time, the malfunctioning of Rogers’ camera and the city’s handling of the aftermath.

“On the night of June 18, I sent a text to all of Council asking for all the video to be released or to understand why it wasn’t,” Burkons said. “I didn’t get an answer, so I asked for a committee meeting… This request was ignored.”

“There also seems to be a very troubling double standard,” he added. “Two weeks after this incident occurred, the City released almost all the footage of the incident, including the foot and car chase of Jaquan Jones, before any legal action could take place.” 

Meanwhile, Burkons explained, footage that may have been damaging to police was withheld.

“However, more than a year after the shooting happened, the city denied the release of the rest of the footage because the investigation wasn’t complete yet and didn’t want to unfairly taint potential legal proceeding,” he said. “These are the systematic issues that many people are fighting to change, and they should be changed.”

Burkons currently faces a criminal charge in Shaker Heights Municipal Court for a separate incident for allegedly interfering with the civil rights of another person.

According to Burkons’ website, Beachwood resident and University Heights special prosecutor Alix Noureddine witnessed an incident that disturbed him: “An off-duty police officer [was] harassing a young black kid at his daughter’s tennis match.” 

Noureddine emailed Beachwood City officials about it a day after it happened, and said that he believed that the incident was not racially motivated, but that the officer was merely acting inappropriately. 

However, according to Burkons, a year later during a town hall, Noureddine then changed his stance, claiming that city officials did not respond to this incident and didn’t really care about race issues since they had ignored what he had emailed them about a year prior. 

According to Burkons, Noureddine proceeded to repeatedly email Mike Burkons about this incident, asking them to use their powers to investigate the policeman. Burkons decided to forward these emails to University Heights city officials because he felt that Noureddine’s behavior as an assistant law director was troubling. 

Noureddine then accused Burkons of “blatantly keeping him from exercising his First Amendment rights” by reporting him to his job. Burkons was then censured by Beachwood City Council. Shortly thereafter, a text message from Burkons came to the attention of council. According to Eric Synenberg, Burkons texted that the email he sent to University Heights City Council, “should shut him [Alix Noureddine] up for a while.” 

Because of this, Law Director Diane Calta proceeded to charge Burkons on grounds that he did not seem remorseful and did it to purposefully stint Noureddine’s speech.

Calta declined a request for comment. 

It is our practice not to comment on pending or active police matters,” she replied.

Burkons believes the charges he faces in University Heights  to be a retaliatory action for demanding transparency from Beachwood’s law department and actively speaking out about the police shooting.

“This is what happens when you speak out and call out our law department‘s failures and mistakes on a police shooting,” Burkons wrote in an email.

Burkons also now plans to sue Beachwood Law Director Diane Calta and City Council President James Pasch on the claim of First Amendment retaliation. 

We are not really able to get involved with police matters including handing over video. It’s an administrative policy. Some people think we know everything that goes on in the city and we don’t; it’s impossible.”

— Council Member Eric Synenberg

The City Council

We contacted several members of Beachwood’s City Council. Here are their responses to critical questions concerning this case:

What is the City Council’s Role in Conjunction to the Beachwood Police Department?

James Pasch: “[The police dept.] is overseen by the Mayor, who is also the Safety Director. He has the ability to hire or fire the police chief. Policemen report to the police chief and the chief reports to the mayor.”

Eric Synenberg: “We do certainly pass the budget for any and all funding for police. Anything from salaries to uniforms to vehicles to cameras to the police department itself. It doesn’t typically extend outside of funding.”

What influence does the police chief have on the Police Department in addition to the Mayor’s powers?

James Pasch: “Chief Stillman has tremendous influence because the chief, along with the mayor, sets rules for the department.  Whether it’s use of force policies or discipline, they set anti bias training and sensitivity training. They also decide on use of force policies and determining whether or not you can shoot at a moving vehicle. Those are policies put in place by the mayor and police chief. The chief sets the tone and culture for the department from the top down.”

Do you believe Blake Rogers did anything wrong during the incident?

Eric Synenberg: “My general rule, because I’ve never carried a badge or a gun, is to not substitute my judgement on a police officer. However, with this incident. I fell in the middle. I did see something on that video that did upset me. It was Blake Roger’s use of profanity when speaking to the suspect. Without equivocation, I will throw my judgement on that part of the situation. I would hope our officers would maintain a level of professionalism during moments like these.”

James Pasch: “In my opinion, my feelings today are the same as the statement I made which was that the shooting was avoidable.” 

Do you believe the city has done its best to stay transparent and accountable with the community?

Barbara Bellin Janovitz: “I believe we are pretty transparent. We have town halls to gain input, we broadcast our meetings via the city website, and we also provide mailing lists.  I also welcome phone calls from all community members as well. I hope that our community begins to utilize these resources and become more active with the city council.”

I am sponsoring legislation that will ensure more transparency into administrative leave and outside investigations by requiring that the Mayor update City Council in an open session about the status of investigations and when city workers have been on administrative leave for more than three months.”

— Council Member Alec Isaacson

Eric Synenberg: “Yes, I do. We are not really able to get involved with police matters including handing over video. It’s an administrative policy. Some people think we know everything that goes on in the city and we don’t; it’s impossible.”

James Pasch: “I think there are areas where we could have done better. In terms of the video, could it or should it have been released sooner? We could have done a quicker job. It’s incumbent to review what happened and decide what we could have improved upon and what we did well.” 

Mike Burkons: “No.”

What is your opinion on collective bargaining in union contracts as it ties into policing?

James Pasch:Many years ago, unions existed to bargain for better wages, sick leave and vacation for policemen. At some point, cities across the states started negotiating discipline for officers. In my opinion, discipline should not be a negotiated right in a police union contract.” 

Do you believe Mike Burkons’ charges are retaliatory due to him being the most openly outspoken board member on this issue?

Eric Synenberg:Absolutely not. Mike is oftentimes outspoken on different issues and I don’t think that council minds that as long as it’s done in a civil way.”

James Pasch: “I have nothing to do with the prosecution taking place. I’ve never spoken to the law department about it and it’s not a city council involved issue.”

Why weren’t you more vocal about getting involved in a more quicker release of the video to the Beachwood public? 

James Pasch:For me, my concentration was less on the video and more on the incident that occurred and what were the next steps in the investigation. I watched it in the chief’s [Former Chief Gary Haba] office and the questions I had for the chief were “what is happening to the officer right now?” and “who’s leading the investigation?”. The answers I got was he’s not allowed in the building and he’s been put on leave and BCI was called…  I will be meeting with both of them [Mayor Horowitz and Kelly Stillman] to make clear my opinion on the changes that should be made.”

As a council member, what are the next steps you plan to take in order to be more straightforward with Beachwood citizens whenever incidents like this occur?

Alec Issacson: “I am sponsoring legislation that will ensure more transparency into administrative leave and outside investigations by requiring that the Mayor update City Council in an open session about the status of investigations and when city workers have been on administrative leave for more than three months.”

Justin Berns and Kelly Stillman could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Martin S. Horowitz declined to comment on the situation pending ongoing investigation.

We just want transparency and safety so we as citizens can be more prepared and conscientious. It’s being not only transparent but brings trust within the community.”

— Beachwood Parent Ericka Owens

The Black Community

Ericka Owens and Machelle Knight have one thing in common: They have black sons in the Beachwood school systems.

Owens has been a resident of Beachwood for eleven years and has one son attending the high school. She is grateful that the city is taking steps to confront racial injustice in the city, but she is disheartened by the handling of this incident.  

The lack of transparency has really made the situation a lot worse,” she said. “As we were in discussions about racial justice in town halls and protests, this incident had not been brought to the public at that time.”

“The town hall [would have been] a perfect forum to bring up this incident, but since they didn’t, it did leave me skeptical about their involvement and the accountability in their roles of power,” she added.

Knight, who has lived in Beachwood for four years and has a son attending the middle school, echoed this sentiment.

“It seems there’s some sweeping under the rug. [For example], some parts of this incident are not being addressed,” she said. “It seems like they’re hiding vital information and trying to end it as quickly as possible and not being transparent with the public.”

Knight also highlighted the emotional turmoil incidents such as this cause her as she raises a black son in Beachwood. 

“I’m raising a young black male in the City of Beachwood, and I just hope that my child doesn’t make a mistake and then excessive force is used on him for that mistake,” she said. “It’s concerning when you’re raising a black male to live in a city where they’ve been dragging their feet on this situation and getting it resolved.”

Spa owner Marc Wilson felt that the officer clearly used excessive force. 

“The officer was excessive, out of control and dangerous,” Wilson said upon reviewing the footage. “I think the officer has some type of motivation and was poorly trained.”

Knight agreed.

“The officer used unnecessary excessive force,” she said. “This was a kid who stole a hat. It’s just excessive force on black people.”

Owens reserved her judgments.

“We don’t know all of the information, and they seem to still be investigating the situation. I’m not taking a stance on whether or not the shooting was justified because the city has yet to be forthcoming to the public with this information.”

Wilson, Knight and Owens all had some input on how Beachwood could improve from this incident.

“I don’t think that the Beachwood Police Department should be called for petty theft [of a $59 hat],” Wilson said.

“They get paid way too much to be called into Beachwood Mall for shoplifting,” he added.

Knight wants to see the police department restructured.

“The city and police need to come together to reorganize and review how police handle issues,” she said. “[The police need] extensive training with de-escalation and racial sensitivity classes.”

Owens wants more accountability from city officials.

“Any time there is a police use of force situation, the public should be notified immediately with a statement from the Beachwood police,” she said.

“The officer used unnecessary excessive force. This was a kid who stole a hat. It’s just excessive force on black people.” ”

— Beachwood Parent Machelle Knight

Both Marc Wilson and Machelle Knight were critical of Member of Council June Taylor, who published an op/ed in the Cleveland Jewish News emphasizing the importance of being thorough and not rushing the investigation.

“It’s upsetting when we have June Taylor, a woman of color,  going along with everyone else [on City Council], and not demanding the full truth be released to the public.” Knight said.

Wilson feels that she is not doing enough for Beachwood’s black community.

“I haven’t seen her do anything for the African American community in Beachwood, and she [represented that she would do that] when she took the role on city council,” he said.

Taylor responded to these criticisms in a later interview.

“I take all comments very seriously,” she said. “I am aware of the constructive criticism I have received as well as the praise.” 

“I work very closely with City Council President Pasch and Mayor Horowitz and all the city staff to make sure that …  we consider all of our citizens because our community is very diverse,” she said. “It’s more diverse than it’s ever been, and we need to keep that in mind.”

The Cleveland NAACP issued a  comment on the situation:

“The NAACP Cleveland branch is aware of the Beachwood Police shooting on June 27, 2019. We are concerned about the shooting, the investigation, policies and procedures and the release of information as it pertains to open record requests. We welcome the opportunity to further discuss these and other issues of concern in your community. We would like to be included in any further steps. Thank you again for your consideration.”

I would encourage people in our community to run for office. You get a totally different perspective than being on the outside looking in. It gives me a much greater appreciation for council members and the mayor and how much time and effort it takes to keep the city stable. Until you’ve done it, you won’t understand it. If you have an interest or a motivation, I would definitely encourage you to pursue the opportunity.”

— Barbara Bellin Janovitz

Calls for Reform

Many community members feel that this incident brings to light the need for increased accountability. 

Ericka Owens: “We just want transparency and safety so we as citizens can be more prepared and conscientious. It’s being not only transparent but bringing trust within the community.”

Sydney Eisenberg: “I believe that Beachwood always focuses on white comfort and Beachwood needs a huge shift in all aspects of justice for everyone who lives here. It’s always about sweeping things under the rug and never having the hard talks and the true confrontation about things and going through the rough patches of these situations.”

Machelle Knight: “I’m a proud citizen of Beachwood, and I moved here because of the excellent school district. I just hope that people begin to embrace all sides of our community and policies are reflective of that.” 

Marc Wilson: “It is important that you know as a young person, you have to be involved in your community at an early age and you have to learn at an early age, city officials hide behind and only care about policy. You have to be smart enough to know that change extends beyond rallies and marches. Nothing’s going to happen until you change the policy. I encourage people to major in political science, pay attention in your government and US studies classes, know political language, and make the change.”

James Pasch:I understand the frustration being expressed about the length of the investigation and other areas. It is incumbent for us to see the policies that worked and didn’t work and what we can do from the top down and the bottom up.  I want to put policies in place that exist long past the time I serve as a city councilman. It is about how we learn from a policing aspect and how we try to prevent a similar occurrence.”

Eric Synenberg:I know this year has been very tense in the country at large and within our own Beachwood Bubble. I think when you step back and look at the future, I am hopeful that most people would see that it is still a good city and that we do function well. We welcome citizen input and involvement with city council and reaching out via email or phone number. We can’t know everything and it is very helpful when citizens reach out to us.” 

June Taylor:  “I consider myself an anchor in the community who is focused on moving the city forward rather than having any personal agenda. I believe it’s important to first and foremost listen and work well with others and set priorities together. I am passionate about having excellent communications with our residents and responding to their needs. Yes, I am fully aware that I am African American and a female, but I’m also a mother of a child in the school district. I am very sensitive to all walks of life in our community that need to be respected. It’s not always about race or gender.” 

Barbara Bellin Janovitz:  “I would encourage people in our community to run for office. You get a totally different perspective than being on the outside looking in. It gives me a much greater appreciation for council members and the mayor and how much time and effort it takes to keep the city stable. Until you’ve done it, you won’t understand it. If you have an interest or a motivation, I would definitely encourage you to pursue the opportunity.”

*This story was revised on Nov. 8 to include additional information.

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