Cleveland, US Justice Department announce police settlement

Author: Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) – Cleveland agreed to overhaul its police department under the supervision of an independent monitor in a settlement announced Tuesday with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and other abuses by officers.

The announcement came three days after a white patrolman was acquitted of manslaughter for his role in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that left two unarmed black suspects dead. That case helped prompt an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department, which issued its findings in a scathing report in December.

The settlement – outlined in a 105-page consent decree – calls for new guidelines and training in the use of force; a switch to community policing, in which officers work closely with their neighborhoods; an overhaul of the machinery for investigating misconduct allegations; modernization of police computer technology; and new training in avoiding racial stereotyping and dealing with the mentally ill.

“As we move forward, it is my strong belief that as other cities across this country address and look at their police issues in their communities, they will be able to say, ‘Let’s look at Cleveland because Cleveland has done it right,'” Mayor Frank Jackson said.

He said that when the reforms take hold, community policing will become “part of our DNA.”

The plan is subject to approval by a judge, and an independent monitor will oversee it.

Several other police departments around the country, including those in Seattle and New Orleans, are operating under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach said the overhaul “will help ensure the many brave men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police can do their jobs not only constitutionally, but also more safely and effectively.”

The worst examples of excessive force in the Justice Department report involved officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects. Only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

Two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: that of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was killed by a white rookie patrolman last November while playing with what turned out to be a pellet gun, and that of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill woman who suffocated last fall after she was subdued on the ground and handcuffed.

The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities intervened this time by way of a consent decree.

The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police forces in the past five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, and, most recently, in Baltimore.

Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in December that the Justice Department has intervened in 15 police departments in the country, including eight that are operating under court-ordered consent decrees.

Saturday’s verdict by a judge in favor of Patrolman Michael Brelo led to a day of mostly peaceful protests but also more than 70 arrests. Dozens of church parishioners also protested the acquittal in a downtown march Tuesday afternoon just before officials announced the settlement.

Cleveland has paid a total of $3 million to the families of the victims in the 2012 shooting, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. They were gunned down at the end of a 22-mile car chase that began when police mistook automobile backfire for gunshots. Thirteen officers in all shot at the car.

A less-publicized episode that caught the Justice Department’s attention involved an allegation that police officers beat a mentally ill man in 2011. Edward Henderson suffered numerous injuries after a chase in Cleveland, and blurry footage from a helicopter appeared to show officers kicking him as he lay on the ground.

Despite an FBI investigation and a grand jury probe, no charges were brought against the four officers because those on the scene that night refused to say how Henderson got hurt.

Henderson was sentenced to three years in prison for assaulting an officer. The city paid Henderson $600,000 in a settlement.

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