If you’ve driven downtown recently, you know that good parking spaces are at a premium. Even more so if you're physically challenged. So who’s parking in all those handicap spaces? We went looking for answers. Over several weeks, Carl Monday's Investigative Team documented government vehicles, including those from nearly a dozen government agencies, occupying the coveted spots.
Surveillance video at the Justice Center shows police vehicles from Cleveland, Bedford, Garfield Heights, North Olmsted and the Cleveland Clinic.
"Officer, can I ask you about your handicap," Carl Monday asked a North Olmsted Officer as he walked from the Justice Center to his illegally parked cruiser. "I was getting to court," he replied. When asked what would happen if someone else used that excuse, he got into his car and drove off.
But local police weren’t the only violators. We also found vehicles from the Ohio Highway Patrol, a Cleveland Housing Court Bailiff, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff, and the Cleveland Fire Department, ironically parked in front of a fire hydrant to boot. Not a single one ticketed. All taking spaces that could be used by people who truly need them, like Evelyn Manigault. Evelyn says drivers often circle the Justice Center two or three times before locating a designated handicap spot.
So why are government vehicles getting special treatment? They shouldn’t be according to Cleveland Director of Public Works Michael Cox, who oversees parking enforcement.
"If you do not have a handicap sticker, you should not be parking in a handicap zone," Cox said. "No matter who you are."
But we found, who you are does matter when it comes to getting ticketed in a handicap zone. That includes the parking spaces right in front of Cleveland City Hall. Records we reviewed show 164 handicap tickets were issued at City Hall since March of 2014. Of the 31 tickets appealed, only one of the $250 tickets was tossed out and two had the fines reduced by a Hearing Officer. All three involve city employees.
One of those challenged tickets belonged to Jeffrey Gordon, Deputy Commissioner of Operations and Security at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Gordon was ticketed for parking his personal vehicle in front of City Hall. Before his hearing, he admitted to us that he was wrong. "I’m OK with that. But $250? I was in there for six minutes. So all I’m asking is, can they reduce it, so that it’s a little more plausible?"
Gordon had the good fortune of making his case before Hearing Officer Brian Mahon. Mahon remains under investigation after we discovered he failed to show up for court on a moving violation of his own from two years ago, then wiped out a fine. On the day we interviewed Mahon in September, the fine was mysteriously paid.
Gordon, who at $93,000 a year can probably afford the $250 fine, saw his ticket reduced by Mahon, to just $25. Gordon partially blamed his illegal parking on confusing signs in front of City Hall.
Martha Crim, an elderly woman on fixed income, used the same excuse when she got ticketed at the very same meter. Her fine: $250. She thinks Gordon got a break.
"I’m sorry, that’s ridiculous," Crim said.
Abuse of downtown handicap parking spots doesn’t sit well with Adam Helbling, either. Helbling, who has written a book about his remarkable recovery from a serious car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, has seen his share of illegal handicap parking.
"There's people that really, really need them, and they’re taking up valuable spaces for those people that need them," said Helbling.
City wide, we found only about 6,000 handicap tickets written over the past two-and-a-half years. Rarely are those tickets issued to those who ought to know better. Government employees.
Carl Monday approached two Cleveland police officers who were seen parking in front of a handicap sign at the Justice Center. The officers claimed they weren’t aware it was a handicap parking area, and blamed it on poor placement of signs.
"Well, it’s time to move then," one of the officers proclaimed, before promptly moving the police cruiser to a legitimate spot.
Director Cox says, no excuses. "If someone’s parking there and not getting a ticket, that’s a problem."
What exactly does the city do to fix the problem? We’ll tell you in the days ahead.
Be sure to check out Carl's Facebook Page to see some of the law enforcement vehicles we found parked in handicap spaces.
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