Akron prosecutors Friday dropped all charges against area bar owner James House in exchange for him signing a waiver agreeing not to sue the city or police over his August arrest.
The deal ends the legal saga for House, who faced four misdemeanor charges after having words with police following a shooting inside a rival’s Merriman Valley bar.
Now House, 42, is trying to regain his reputation.
Police who arrested House that night said in a report that he yelled racially charged remarks, shouting, “If they're black, they're guilty," and, "They're all the same."
House said police got it wrong — both on the charges and what he said.
“I yelled, ‘We’re all the same,’ ” House said Friday outside Akron Municipal Court, meaning that police shouldn't assume black people are guilty.
Police body cam video verifies what he shouted, he said. The Beacon Journal on Friday requested the video from the city and House’s attorneys, but it was not immediately made available.
House on Friday pointed out that he was arrested outside one of his bars where he had just spent the night with four childhood friends from Akron's East high school, three of whom are black.
One of those black friends — Ronell Mainor — was also arrested that night for disorderly conduct. House said Mainor jumped to his defense, questioning why officers pulled House out of an Uber car and put him on the ground face first during his arrest.
The misdemeanor against Mainor, who is also House's business partner, is still pending.
House said Friday that police hurt his shoulder during the arrest and spending the night in jail was humiliating. What came next, however, was worse, House said.
Police quoted House making racially charged statements after the shooting in a police report on House's arrest. Akron attorney Eddie Sipplen posted the report on Facebook and said that House owned all the bars in Liberty Commons except Mickey’s, where the shooting happened. Sipplen suggested people avoid bars owned by House.
Sipplen's Facebook post was shared more than 200 times and the Beacon Journal wrote a front page story about House’s arrest, the accusations made in the police report and Sipplen’s post.
House did not defend himself publicly at the time. He said his attorneys advised him against speaking to the media. After the legal matter was resolved Friday, House spoke to a reporter with his attorneys’ blessings.
House said the false allegations of racism hurt his businesses. Fewer people, both black and white, patronized his bars and valuable black employees who worked for him — not only in Merriman Valley but at the dozen bars he owns throughout Greater Akron — quit.
Profits dropped so much, House said, he had to cut back on kitchen help at his facility with a restaurant in Merriman Valley.
“Perception became reality,” House said.
It not only hurt him, House said, but it also hurt the 200 people who work for him and his 17-year-old son, who had to explain to his black friends that his dad is not a racist.
On Friday, House said that Sipplen is friends with the owner of Mickey’s bar, where the shooting happened the night of House’s arrest. House suggested that Sipplen’s Facebook post drew media attention away from the trouble at Mickey’s and put it on House.
Sipplen on Friday said House was “grasping at straws.”
When Sipplen was in Merriman Valley, he said he frequented both Mickey’s and Johnny J’s, which is owned by House. Sipplen said he only stopped visiting House’s bar after the police accused House of making racially charged statements.
Sipplen, a frequent critic of Akron police, said he was not surprised the charges against House were dropped because House employs off-duty Akron police as security.
Until his arrest, House said, he did employ three off-duty officers three days a week. But when business dropped, he said, he no longer needed the security and let them go.
House said he was arrested because he challenged police at the scene.
As House tells it, he and his friends were leaving his bar and walking toward Uber cars to drive them home when House asked police about the shooting at Mickey’s.
Officers, he said, assumed he was a bar patron and not a bar owner trying to get information that could impact his businesses.
One officer told him to leave or he would arrest him, House said.
“I told him, 'You can’t arrest me,’ because I hadn’t done anything,” House said.
After House got into his Uber and buckled a seat belt, he said the officer ran up to the car. The driver had started pulling away and the officer — who House could not identify by name — ordered the driver to halt. The officer then pulled House out of the car and, with other officers running to assist, put him on the ground.
In the days after his arrest, House said he tried to meet with or text employees to explain that he said nothing racist.
On Friday, about three months after his arrest, he talked to a reporter hoping his words would reach the larger community.
"I want people to know what was said [about the racially charged comments] wasn’t true,” he said. “I’m not that guy.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.