Elyria Men Wrongly Accused of Throwing Firecracker at Game Awarded $1M Each

CLEVELAND (AP) - A jury awarded $1 million each to two men who claimed they were wrongly accused of throwing an explosive device akin to a firecracker at a Cleveland Indians game in 2002.

Clifton Oliver, 26, and Donald Kreiger, 27, sued the city for malicious prosecution, false arrest and causing emotional distress.

A third man, Andrew Mendez, was convicted of aggravated arson, assault and three counts of negligent assault in the case. He was sentenced to three years in prison and served seven months.

All three men were arrested after the explosion, which injured four people and briefly disrupted the game on June 11, 2002. Witnesses said the blast happened after someone dropped a device from the upper deck.

Oliver, Kreiger and Mendez, all from Elyria, southwest of Cleveland, went to Jacobs Field together that day. Oliver and Kreiger moved down to lower-level seats during the game, leaving Mendez alone in the upper deck.

Police arrested all three men and accused them of acting together. Oliver and Kreiger spent four days in jail before being released because security video showed they weren't with Mendez when the explosion happened.

An attorney for the city told jurors during the trial that police had good reason to suspect the men, and that the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office and stadium security also were responsible for the arrests.

A Common Pleas jury disagreed Thursday and determined that both men had been wrongfully arrested and prosecuted, awarding each man $400,000 in compensatory damages and $600,000 in punitive damages.

"This is a day we've waited four years for," said Oliver, who wept in court and hugged Kreiger's parents.

Kreiger, who is in the Air Force and stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, was not in court.

"The money wasn't important. As long as the verdict came back that we were innocent bystanders, I would have been happy with whatever the amount of damages were," Oliver said.