6 Shockingly Brutal Incidents Revealed in Feds' Scathing Report on Cleveland Police Department

Human Rights

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report yesterday saying that there is “reasonable cause” to believe the Cleveland Police Department has consistently used excessive force against suspects as well as innocent victims of crimes, following the conclusion of a civil rights investigation that examined hundreds of cases.

The recent shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a cop with a known "dismal" history with firearms is just scratching the surface. According to the report, the Cleveland Police Department has recklessly and egregiously carried out its duties for years with very little accountability. Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday that an independent monitor will oversee much-needed police reform in the city on the heels of the investigation that looked into nearly 600 use-of-force incidents between 2010 and 2013. Here are the six most egregious and shocking uses of excessive force from that report:

1. Officers punched a 13-year-old boy bloody while he was in handcuffs. A 300-pound Cleveland cop punched the handcuffed 13 year-old in the face three to four times while there was at least one other officer present who could have helped control him. The supervisor who reviewed the incident noted that the officer weighed three times as much as the boy, and acknowledged the boy was handcuffed and other officers were present, but found the use of force was “arguably the best response.”

The supervisor justified the face punches because the boy had earlier kicked the officer and attempted to escape the car. The supervisor didn’t consider that the punches might have been retaliatory and unnecessary to secure the boy. The supervisor said while “at first review” other tactics might have been considered, it would be inappropriate to review the incident in hindsight. The report said the supervisor's conclusion was an abdication of responsibility that allows unreasonable uses of force to continue unchecked.

2. Officers shot an unarmed kidnapping victim fleeing in his underwear. In an incident from 2013, a police sergeant shot at a victim as he ran from a house where he was being held against his will by armed assailants. When officers arrived, they had information that two armed assailants were holding several people hostage. After officers surrounded the house, a man escaped and ran from the house, wearing only boxer shorts and ran towards officers. When the man didn’t respond to an order to halt by one officer, another fired two shots at him, luckily missing both times.

According to the police sergeant who fired the weapon, he believed that the man had a weapon because he elevated his arm and pointed his hand toward the sergeant. No other officers at the scene reported seeing this, and again, the guy was in his underwear. The report concluded that the sergeant’s use of deadly force was unreasonable and it was only “by fortune that he did not kill the crime victim in this incident.”

3. Officers fired 137 shots at unarmed black couple, killing them. The report mentions a fatal 2012 police shooting after a high-speed car chase that involved 100 police officers. After an attempted traffic stop by a plainclothes officer, a Chevrolet Malibu with two occupants sped away from the scene. During the pursuit, some officers claimed they heard gunshots, which they believed were directed at them, coming from the car.  According to the report, it now appears that what they actually heard was the car backfiring.

By police accounts, at least 30 patrol cars became involved in the pursuit, which lasted for 25 minutes and reached speeds exceeding 100 mph. When the chase ended the police unloaded 137 rounds into the car, killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. No weapons or shell casings were found in the car. The report said that this incident “inflamed community perceptions, particularly in the African-American community, that CDP is a department out of control and that its officers routinely engage in brutality.”

Recently, an Ohio judge awarded the families of Russell and Williams $3 million. Perversely, some of the officers involved who were disciplined are suing for reverse discrimination.

4. Officers tased a suicidal man who committed no crime. In response to a request for assistance a Cleveland Police officer tased a suicidal man who posed a minimal risk to officers and had committed no crime. Moreover, the man may not have understood the officers commands before he was tased.

The man’s mother called the police when her son, who suffers from bipolar disorder and communicates only through sign language, held a broken glass bottle to his neck. When officers arrived, the man retreated to the bathroom. The officers followed him there and wrote him notes telling him he had to go to the hospital. The man waved his hands, which the officers interpreted as refusal. The man began to pull away when an officer grabbed his arm, which prompted another officer to tase him in the chest. The report says that the officers should have attempted additional crisis intervention techniques instead of using force.

5. Officer accidentally shot unarmed man in neck. The report made a short note about an incident where an officer decided to draw his weapon while apprehending an unarmed hit-and-run suspect, accidentally shooting him in the neck, critically injuring him. The report said that this incident is just one in an observed pattern of Cleveland Police officers not carefully considering their actions in drawing their weapons and pointing them at suspects. The report says that while such actions may be necessary in some circumstances, it should be far from routine and “fundamentally change the tenor of a police-civilian encounter.”

6. Officers shot a man with his hands in the air. Cleveland Police spotted a man walking with an open container of beer. When the officers asked the man to stop, he initially refused and walked to a nearby porch and set his beer down. According to the police report, the man walked towards the the police car. One officer yelled “gun” after he claimed he saw a weapon in the man’s waistband. In response, the man raised his hands above his head and told the officers that he had a concealed handgun license. While one officer went behind him to handcuff him, the man lowered his hands to  “a bit” below ear level, prompting the other officer to shoot him in the abdomen. The officer who took the shot says that the man reached for his gun, but there are conflicting accounts from the other officer and eight civilian eyewitnesses to the event. Numerous witnesses reported the the man was cooperating with police and lowered his hands in response to an order that he place his hands behind his back.

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