An Orthodox Jewish homeowner has sued an Ohio city government, alleging its mayor tried to block in-home prayer meetings by siccing private investigators on him.
Daniel Grand, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of University Heights, filed the lawsuit Sept. 8 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
The lawsuit alleges that University Heights Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan sent an unconstitutional cease-and-desist order to Mr. Grand to halt a planned 10-person prayer meeting of Orthodox Jews called a “minyan.”
According to the lawsuit, the mayor also said Mr. Grand would have to obtain a special use permit for the gathering, despite a city rule that such permits are only issued to properties of at least 3 acres. Mr. Grand applied for a permit, but 100 city residents, most of whom were not adjacent homeowners, protested his plan at a public hearing.
Mr. Grand withdrew the application after his attorney at the time said it was unconstitutional to require permits for private prayer meetings.
The lawsuit also alleges the city attempted to intimidate Mr. Grand by hiring private investigators to “sit outside the home of an Orthodox Jewish family to spy on Orthodox Jewish residents and to gain information about Orthodox Jews praying in residential homes on one of the holiest days of the year.” That incident allegedly took place on Sept. 7, 2021, the day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Mr. Grand “credibly feared that the man was a physical threat to him and to the other Orthodox Jews gathering to pray” because of other attacks on Jews and synagogues in recent years, the lawsuit notes.
According to the lawsuit, a city police lieutenant, Mark McArtor emailed uniformed officers to “please make frequent drive-bys” at Mr. Grand’s home for parking violations.
Mr. McArtor, who retired in April 2022, told officers to “be aware, there is a great deal of contention between this address and the surrounding neighbors since the 2343 [Miramar] resident applied to the Planning Commission for approval to operate a Schul [sic],” misspelling the Yiddish word “shul,” which means “synagogue.”
The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Brennan and the police department also viewed “surveillance videos” of the Grand family taken by Jeffrey Porter, a retired police officer whose home abuts the Grands’ property and who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
“Porter acted with impunity based on direction from Brennan to surveil Plaintiff and assurances from Brennan that, as the mayor, he would shield Porter from any consequences,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also says the city skipped garbage collections at Mr. Grand’s home as a form of harassment, requiring him to place cans on the curb when his neighbors were not required to do so.
Mr. Grand’s lawsuit alleges the city is singling out Orthodox Jews for harassment, while allowing others to have presumably “illicit” gatherings that also violate zoning regulations.
In an interview, Mr. Grand said a neighbor regularly has “house parties of 30, 40, [or] 50 people” without police intervention or the city requiring a permit. He said that students from John Carroll University, a Jesuit school near his home, also park “everywhere” for parties.
A reporter for The Washington Times contacted Mr. Brennan for comment on the lawsuit. The mayor said that he would not answer questions and that the city “will be speaking through our court pleadings and in open court. I have no further comment.”
When the reporter attempted to ask a question, Mr. Brennan replied, “I’m going to conclude this phone call now. We’ll send you an email of our statement,” before hanging up. Shortly after, an email from Mike Cook, the city’s communications and civic engagement director, repeated Mr. Brennan’s words.
Attempts to contact Mr. Porter and Mr. McArtor were not successful.
The city has 60 days to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit or an answer to the lawsuit’s claims, said attorney Jonathan Gross, who is representing Mr. Grand. No hearing date has been scheduled, he added.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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