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April 17, 2015. The Plaintiffs in Obergefell, et al., v. Hodges et al. and Henry, et al., v. Hodges, et al. filed their reply brief in the Supreme Court this morning.  The cases are now fully briefed and will be argued on April 28, 2015.  The Court’s decision is expected at the end of June or early July.  You can learn about the plaintiffs in the two cases here.

Covington, Kentucky. April 15, 2015. Today the family of Samantha Ramsey filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death suit against Boone County Deputy Tyler Brockman and Boone County, Kentucky.  Nineteen year old Samantha Ramsey was shot and killed by Brockman on April 26, 2014.  The deputy approached Ramsey’s vehicle on foot as Ms. Ramsey was slowly exiting a field where many people had attended a party.  Without any warning to Ms. Ramsey or her passengers he jumped onto the hood and demanded that she stop her car.  As Ms. Ramsey was stopping the car Brockman fired his weapon four times through the windshield, killing Ms. Ramsey and terrorizing her three passengers.

Attorney Al Gerhardstein, one of the attorneys on the case, stated, “This deputy was not indicted or disciplined.  He was wrong to jump onto the car; wrong to shoot while Samantha was slowing down; and wrong to shoot at this young lady at all before he jumped back off the hood.  Samantha’s shooting and death was completely unnecessary and avoidable.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Covington.  The issues raised by this shooting match those raised in numerous other police shootings across the nation where police have killed unarmed civilians. Gary Franke is co-counsel for the Ramsey family and Colleen Hegge and Ryan Reed are co-counsel for the passengers.  For further information, please read the Complaint.

April 2015, Vermilion, Ohio.  A nightmare has come to an end for Billy McCauley.  After being wrongfully prosecuted for public indecency by the City of Vermilion, he has settled his civil rights lawsuit against the city for $137,500.  The charges leading to his prosecution were baseless and the police chief has since recognized the investigation was flawed from the very beginning.  Despite his innocence, Mr. McCauley was forced to stand trial.  His reputation was tarnished in the community and his personal life was deeply disrupted.  Three years later he is finally getting the public recognition of his innocence that he deserves.  ”You can’t un-ring a bell,” said his attorney, Al Gerhardstein, “but he’s done the best he can to say to the world ‘They were wrong.’ ”  Read more:

Gerhardstein & Branch filed Obergefell v. Hodges on July 19, 2013.  The case will be heard in the United States Supreme Court this term along with Henry v. Hodges, also from our office, and four other cases from the Sixth Circuit.

Jim Obergefell

Jim Obergefell (pictured on right) met the love of his life, John Arthur, in 1992 in Cincinnati. The couple made a life together here—working, renovating homes, collecting art, traveling, and enjoying time with friends and family.

John was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011. After the Windsor decision striking down part of the federal government’s discriminatory law against same-sex married couples in 2013, the couple decided to make their commitment official. On July 11, 2013, through the loving efforts of their friends and family, Jim and John were able to fly on a medically equipped airplane to Maryland. While the plane sat on the tarmac and John was on a hospital gurney inside the plane, they were married in a ceremony officiated by John’s aunt. The couple sought the comfort of knowing that when John died his death certificate would not indicate that he was unmarried. John wanted the last legal record of his life to reflect his love and commitment to Jim. The district court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction, and after John Arthur died on October 22, 2013, his death certificate was issued stating that he was married and that his “surviving spouse” is Jim Obergefell. The district court was overturned by the Sixth Circuit, and therefore John’s death certificate stands to be amended, potentially erasing Jim from this important record.

Jim carries John with him in his heart and knows that John is watching over him as he continues this legal struggle they started together—all the way to the Supreme Court!

David Michener

David Brian Michener (pictured on left) and William Herbert Ives were committed partners for 18 years. They adopted three children and raised them together in Cincinnati. The family owned a second home in Delaware where they enjoyed summers together near the beach. On July 22, 2013, the couple was married in Delaware shortly after same-sex marriage was authorized by the Delaware legislature. Just over one month after the wedding, William unexpectedly died of natural causes. He left behind David and the couple’s three kids, ages 13, 10, and 3. In the wake of this terrible loss, David Michener joined the lawsuit already started by Jim Obergefell and James Arthur. He sought a death certificate for William that reflected the true nature of William’s identity. Now, the ultimate fate of that death certificate, which does now read that William was married to David, is in the Supreme Court’s hands. The couple’s three children and David hope that the Court rules that the State of Ohio must recognize loving families like theirs.

Robert Grunn

Robert Grunn is the owner of a funeral home in Cincinnati. In his capacity as a funeral director, he is responsible for submitting death certificate information to the state. Robert joined the Obergefell lawsuit as a plaintiff so that he could be secure in his decision to afford grieving married same-sex couples the dignity and respect they deserve by acknowledging their marriages when reporting deaths to the state. As a gay man himself, Robert is excited that the Supreme Court will be deciding the important issue of marriage equality this term.

Henry-Rogers Family

The Henry-Rogers family welcomed their first child, a son, to the world in 2014. When Brittani Henry was pregnant with their son, the couple sued  because they wanted to ensure that both of their son’s parents would have equal status as his parents in their beloved home-state of Ohio. The Henry-Rogers couple believes that Ohio’s denial of the true nature of their family demeans and harms them and their son, and they hope the Supreme Court will put a stop to that harm by their son’s first birthday.

The Yorksmith Family

Pam and Nicole Yorksmith were married on October 14, 2008, in California. They combined their last names “York” and “Smith” so that when they had children the whole family would share the same name.  In 2010, Nicole gave birth to their first son. In June 2014, the family welcomed their second son to the world. The Yorksmith couple has arranged various legal protections for their family that an opposite-sex married couple does not have to do such as establishing medical powers of attorney so that if one of them is sick hospitals will hopefully recognize them as family. The Yorksmith couple is excited that the Supreme Court of the United States is taking up this case because they hope the Court will rule that their marriage deserves the same dignity and protection as opposite-sex marriages.

Noe-McCracken Family

From the very beginning of their relationship, Kelly Noe and Kelly McCracken discussed having children.  They were married in May 2011 in Massachusetts, and two years later, Kelly Noe was pregnant with their first child.  Their daughter was born in June of 2014 in Ohio. As a result of this lawsuit, their daughter’s birth certificate does list both of her parents, but because of the Sixth Circuit’s decision, the birth certificate is threatened to be amended to remove Kelly McCracken’s name. The Noe-McCracken family hopes the Supreme Court will overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision so that their baby’s family will be afforded the same treatment as a family headed by an opposite-sex married couple.

Marriage equality is important to the Noe-McCracken family because their little girl deserves legal recognition of both of her mothers who love her dearly.

Vitale-Talmas Family

Joe Vitale and Rob Talmas have been in a happy and committed relationship since they met in 1997, and were married in New York in 2011. They both have large, supportive families and they always wanted children of their own. In 2013, their beloved son was born. Joe and Rob were there in the Ohio hospital to welcome him into the world, and they have never wanted to leave his side since. To the couple’s surprise, after they took their baby home to New York and the adoption was final, Ohio refused to recognize both of them on their son’s birth certificate like they would do for an opposite-sex married couple. Ohio asked them to choose only one dad. The Vitale-Talmas family is hopeful that the Supreme Court will see that both  parents should be recognized on the birth certificate because the Vitale-Talmas child should not be singled out by Ohio due to the gender of his parents.

March 12, 2015, (Louisville, KY) — In a settlement announced today, the Louisville Metro Government has agreed to pay $1.5 million to four young African American men who were racially profiled, falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned last March for crimes they did not commit.  The four young men were represented by Gerhardstein & Branch along with Nick Brustin and local counsel Larry Simon and Jan Waddell.

“While we are grateful that we have reached a settlement on behalf of our clients, we remain troubled that the Louisville police continue to use discredited witness identification procedures that are known to produce bad results, especially when white victims are identifying black suspects,” said Nick Brustin, a partner with the civil rights law firm of Neufeld, Scheck and Brustin based in New York. “These false arrests were a result of the same unconstitutional identification practices that we uncovered in previous litigation in Louisville– practices which not only have been condemned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but which the police promised had ended in connection with our prior settlements.”

In June 2014 a Jefferson County grand jury declined to indict the “misidentified four,” as they were dubbed by supporters.  But the arrest upended the lives of the young men – causing them to lose their jobs and fall behind on bills, derailing college plans for one and causing another to miss the birth of his first son. The incident has also further sown distrust of police in the black community at a time when police misconduct is the focus of a national conversation.

“Being wrongfully accused is pretty much a living nightmare,” said 21-year-old Craig Dean, who not only lost his job but had his car repossessed while he was in jail. “This day is really important to me and my cousins because finally we can prove to the world that we’re innocent.  All we want now is to go on with our lives and pursue our dreams, just like anyone else.”

“This settlement recognizes that the arrests of these young men should not have happened, and our clients and their family now want to make sure it never happens again,” added Al Gerhardstein, a civil rights attorney based on Cincinnati and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “We call on the Metro Police to make good on their promise to mend their ways. They could start by making an apology to these blameless young men.”

The case arose on March 22, 2014, when Tyrone Booker Jr., Craig Dean, Jerron Bush and Shaquazz Allen – all cousins – were sitting on the front porch of Jerron’s home.  A police car approached and an officer asked them to line up on the sidewalk.  Moments later, while a police cruiser shone a bright light in their faces and they shielded their eyes, two white robbery victims sitting in the back of the cruiser drove by and identified them. All four men were arrested despite the fact that their clothing did not match the victim’s descriptions and the victims only identified some, but not all, of the men as perpetrators.

To make matters worse, after the young men’s photos were shown on the news that night, two other crime victims called police to accuse Tyrone and Shaquazz of attacking them during an incident of mob violence in downtown Louisville. The same day Tyrone and Shaquazz were released on bail for the robbery they did not commit, they were arrested for an assault they did not commit and spent months in jail.  Cell phone records would later show they were nowhere near the scene of the assault.

“There is no excuse for this wrongful arrest, but there are steps Louisville can take to make sure this does not happen again,” said Louisville co-counsel Larry Simon.  “Specifically, the police should simply follow their own identification procedures.  Co-counsel Jan Waddell, also of Louisville, added, “We proved through cell phone records in the criminal case that these boys were not near the crime scene.  If that strong evidence had not been available these suggestive identifications would have ruined their lives forever.”

Scientific studies have given an increasingly clear picture of the various factors that influence the accuracy of witness identifications.  Just last week, The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that law enforcement agencies adopt identification procedures that implement scientifically supported practices that eliminate or minimize the chances of presenter bias or influence.

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