By Sharon Danann
Published May 23, 2010 11:00 PM
Rebecca Whitby and her family are celebrating a temporary reprieve. Judge Stuart Friedman declared a mistrial on May 14 before the jury had even been selected. The charges, including resisting arrest and obstruction, that Whitby and her mother are facing arose from the brutal beating of Whitby by police in the family’s home in April 2009 and her mother’s attempts to protect her daughter from repeated punches in the face.
Although they face felony charges with possible sentences totaling 50 years in prison, Whitby and her mother — also named Rebecca Whitby — courageously refused all plea deals offered to them, including misdemeanors and probation-only. The felony charges were concocted after the family filed a report with the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards and the Civil Rights Division of the FBI.
Marva Patterson, Whitby’s aunt, explained: “Refusing to plea bargain is incredibly important. When you plead guilty, you lose your constitutional rights, such as the right to redress and the right to cross-examine the police officers who brought the charges.”
“I think the judge did not want to have to choose between the police allegations and us with all the evidence we have,” stated Timothy Walker, Whitby’s father. “It would be ugly. He washed his hands of it.”
Widespread community support and the presence of television cameras in the courtroom may have been other motivations for declaring the mistrial. Marches had been held repeatedly, along with rallies at the 5th District police station, Cleveland City Hall and the co-called Justice Center where the trial was about to begin. The streets echoed with cries of “Charge the cops!” and honks of support from passing motorists.
There may be a connection between several of the prosecution witnesses — police officers who were on or near the family’s porch during the April 2009 night of horror — and officers who were videotaped this May 13 roughing up two teenaged women outside Collinwood High School. The students were participating in a protest against teacher and staff layoffs and school closings. They are being represented by an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union and have nationwide and international support. Whitby’s father viewed the videotape and says he recognized some of the same police as being there during the beating of his daughter.
Although more than a year has passed and family members say that investigators at both the CPD and FBI informally told them that the cops who beat Rebecca Whitby committed wrongs, no reports have been produced.
The family believes that the prosecution is currently attempting to tie the night when Whitby was beaten to an accident four years earlier in which she fell from a second-story window. In trying to make the fall look like a suicide attempt, they could claim that Whitby has schizophrenia.
Such a diagnosis would bolster the officers’ assertion to hospital staff in April 2009 that her injuries were self-inflicted, rather than due to their use of excessive force. It might also provide cover for the administration of the powerful psychotropic drug Geodon to Whitby at the hospital against her will, without diagnosis or prescription, apparently to keep her from telling her story.
The prosecution will have to reconcile their schizophrenia theory with the fact that Whitby, now 24 years old, graduated in 2004 from high school with honors in chemistry and, the month following her beating, took college-level exams and passed them.
“To accuse Black women of mental illness is a common tactic. They are weaving this tapestry,” says Patterson. “We have to find the one thread to pull it apart.”
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