White Cops Sue City After Shooting of Unarmed African Americans

Human Rights

Eight white and one Hispanic Cleveland police officers, involved in a deadly shooting of an African American man and woman, are claiming that the department is treating them more harshly than their black counterparts also involved in shootings. 

The nine officers, who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, claim that the department has a pattern of treating non-African American officers more severely than African American cops in the wake of shootings in which they are involved.

The racial discrimination lawsuit stems from fallout from a fatal 2012 police shooting after a high-speed car chase. 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. 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 nine officers involved in the shooting say they were immediately placed on administrative leave for three days and then 45 days of restrictive duty. They said they were asked to do menial tasks and were not allowed overtime during this time. After some returned to regular duty, they were again placed on restrictive duty for 16 months. The plaintiffs say this was done for political expedience and that this duty prevented them from applying for promotions and transfers. The lawsuit says this treatment caused “impairment of their professional reputations, humiliation, emotional distress, mental anguish, and other serious damages.”

An investigation of the shooting revealed that the cops left out some details in their statements, misidentified the suspects and did not specify that police officers had fired shots during the incident. Last month, a judge approved a $3 million settlement from the city for the families of Russell and Williams.

The plaintiffs say that African American officers involved in similar incidents were not treated as harshly. They further claim that failures by a black detective led up to the shooting of Russell and Williams, but he was not disciplined along with them.

The media is also to blame, say the plaintiffs, for sensationalizing the shootings of the couple:

"Almost immediately the news media began to sensationalize the events. They reported the officers who discharged their weapon as being 12 white and one Hispanic and the deceased as African Americans. The news media reported that members of the community called the shootings murder, executions, and demanded that the officers involved be punished. Members of the community representing various factions exerted pressure upon the defendants to punish the officers."

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, comes at a sadly ironic time. A little more than a week ago, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer who believed the boy’s toy gun was a real weapon. A video of the killing shows that Rice likely did not wave or point his toy gun in the direction of the officers, though he did put his hands in his waistband. The two officers involved in the Rice shooting are currently on paid administrative leave pending a decision by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office whether to pursue criminal charges.

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