Scenes from the Department of Justice Investigation into the Cleveland Police Department

2015-01-11T12:19:58+00:00 December 19th, 2014|

On December 4, 2014, the Department of Justice released an Investigation of the Cleveland Police Department. The report concludes that the Cleveland Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The report, 58 pages long, extremely detailed, and a public document, can be read in full here.

Belt Magazine is publishing excerpts from the report that highlight a few of the many individual and egregious cases  of unjustified, unconstitutional use of force contained in the document. We hope these excerpts will encourage people to read the full report.

Below are those excerpts: summaries by Belt are in bold. Everything else is direct language from the Findings section of the report, which begins on page 12.

Summary of Findings

The pattern or practice of unreasonable force we identified is reflected in CDP’s use of both deadly and less lethal force.  For example, we found incidents of CDP officers firing their guns at people who do not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others and using guns in a careless and dangerous manner, including hitting people on the head with their guns, in circumstances where deadly force is not justified. Officers also use less lethal force that is significantly out of proportion to the resistance encountered and officers too often escalate incidents with citizens instead of using effective and accepted tactics to de-escalate tension. We reviewed incidents where officers used Tasers, oleoresin capsicum spray (“OC Spray”), or punched people who were already subdued, including people in handcuffs. Many of these people could have been controlled with a lesser application of force. At times, this force appears to have been applied as punishment for the person’s earlier verbal or physical resistance to an officer’s command, and is not based on a current threat posed by the person. This retaliatory use of force is not legally justified. Our review also revealed that officers use excessive force against individuals who are in mental health crisis or who may be unable to understand or comply with officers’ commands, including when the individual is not suspected of having committed any crime at all.
“Anthony” was a hostage inside a house; when police came, he escaped, wearing only boxer shorts. Police shot him. 

An incident from 2013 in which a sergeant shot at a victim as he ran from a house where he was being held against his will is just one illustration of this problem. “Anthony”  was being held against his will inside a house by armed assailants. When officers arrived on scene, they had information that two armed assailants were holding several people inside the home. After officers surrounded the house, Anthony escaped from his captors and ran from the house, wearing only boxer shorts.  An officer ordered Anthony to stop, but Anthony continued to run toward the officers. One sergeant fired two shots at him, missing. According to the sergeant, when Anthony escaped from the house, the sergeant believed Anthony had a weapon because he elevated his arm and pointed his hand toward the sergeant. No other officers at the scene reported seeing Anthony point anything at the sergeant.

The sergeant’s use of deadly force was unreasonable. It is only by fortune that he did not kill the crime victim in this incident. The sergeant had no reasonable belief that Anthony posed an immediate danger. The man fleeing the home was wearing only boxer shorts, making it extremely unlikely that he was one of the hostage takers.

In a situation where people are being held against their will in a home, a reasonable police officer ought to expect that someone fleeing the home may be a victim. Police also ought to expect that a scared, fleeing victim may run towards the police and, in his confusion and fear, not immediately respond to officer commands. A reasonable officer in these circumstances should not have shot at Anthony.

Another incident from 2012 in which an officer shot a man who was lawfully armed and appeared to be cooperating with the officers’ orders further illustrates this problem.

“Brian” was legally carrying a concealed weapon and an officer shot him in the stomach.

Two officers observed “Brian” walking with an open container of beer. When officers asked Brian to stop, he initially refused and walked to a nearby porch, set down his beer and then, according to the resulting report, turned towards the officers’ zone car in a manner that indicated he was going to speak with them. The first officer reportedly saw a gun in Brian’s waistband, yelled “gun,” and pointed his service weapon at Brian. The second officer reported that, in response, Brian raised his hands above his head and informed the officers that he had a concealed handgun license. The second officer moved behind Brian to begin to handcuff him. According to this officer’s report, Brian then lowered his hands “a bit” below ear level. Then, the first officer fired a shot that struck Brian in the abdomen. According to reports, Brian’s injuries were significant enough that he required immediate lifesaving measures. While the officer who fired the shot alleged that Brian had reached for his weapon, that account conflicts with the statement provided by the officer’s partner and the eight civilian witnesses who were on or near the porch at the time Brian was shot, none of whom reported seeing Brian reach for his gun.

Numerous witnesses reported that Brian was attempting to cooperate with officers and began lowering his hands in response to an officer’s order that he place his hands behind his back.

The officer’s use of deadly force in these circumstances was unreasonable … Brian took the precise steps advised by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office when a person carrying a concealed handgun is stopped for law enforcement purposes.15 The weight of the evidence suggests that Brian was attempting to comply with officers’ orders and did not pose an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to the officers or others, and the officer should not have fired his weapon.

We also reviewed incidents where CDP officers shot at people who were fleeing in vehicles as the vehicle was moving away from the officer and the suspects’ flights did not pose a threat of serious bodily harm to anyone, rendering the use of deadly force at that point unreasonable.

Shooting at a fleeing suspect violates the Constitution when the fleeing suspect does not pose a threat of serious bodily harm to the officer or others.

Shooting at vehicles creates an unreasonable risk unless such a real and articulable threat exists. First, it is difficult to shoot at a moving car with accuracy. Missed shots can hit bystanders or others in the vehicle. Second, if the driver is disabled by the shot, the vehicle may become unguided, making it potentially more dangerous. The dangers of this practice are recognized in Division policy, in fact. The problem is, however, that the restrictions created by this policy are not consistently enforced. Both the May 2007 and the March 2013 CDP Use of Force policies state, “Firing at or from a moving vehicle is rarely effective and presents extreme danger to innocent persons”….

“David” was driving away from police in his car, and no longer a threat. Police shot at the departing car, hitting “David” in the shoulder.

In an incident from 2010, an officer shot a fleeing individual. There, officers had responded to a home because a woman reported that her ex-boyfriend was outside calling her and making threats. As officers were arresting the suspect (“Charles”), “David,” who had been sitting in the passenger seat of the car in which he had arrived with Charles, started the car as if to leave. An officer approached the car, pointed his gun at David, and ordered him to turn the car off. According to the officer, David then cut the wheels to the left and sped off so that the vehicle brushed against the officer, pushing him backwards. In response, the officer reported, he fired one round at the driver as he drove off, striking him in the back of the shoulder. Again, while the officer might well have been in danger when the car was next to him, the initial threat posed by David to the officer had ended by the time the officer shot at David, and the officer did not articulate any basis for believing that David was a threat to anyone else. Under these circumstances, the officer’s use of deadly force was unreasonable.

These incidents are examples of precisely the type of deadly force prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. ….We found many additional deadly force incidents that violated the Fourth Amendment in our review. These shootings also violated the CDP policy in place at the time, which prohibited shooting at vehicles that no longer pose an imminent threat.

CDP officers hit people in the head with their guns in situations where the use of deadly force is not justified.

An off-duty officer who did not show his badge hit “Eric” on the head with his gun, which then discharged accidentally.

  The officer, who was off-duty and dressed in civilian clothes, observed what he believed to be a drug transaction take place involving two vehicles and about six suspects. The officer approached them without calling for backup and told them to leave. When “Eric” got out of one of the cars, the officer drew his handgun, pointed it at Eric, and ordered Eric to the ground, identifying himself as a CDP officer but not showing a badge. A witness reported that she saw a man, later identified as the officer, holding a gun to Eric’s face while Eric asked repeatedly for the officer to show his badge and expressed disbelief that he was an officer. One of the occupants of the car later told police that he thought they were being robbed. The officer then began wrestling with Eric with his gun still drawn. During the struggle, the officer struck Eric in the head with the weapon, at which time the weapon discharged. Eric then broke free from the officer and ran away. The officer reported that he did not know whether the bullet struck Eric, but that Eric was bleeding from the face as he ran away. The extent of Eric’s injuries is unclear based on the documents CDP provided.

…The officer’s actions could reasonably be predicted to escalate the situation because he engaged with Eric while off-duty without any means to identify himself as a police officer and without communicating with 911 or dispatch for back up. Moreover, the officer’s decision to physically engage with the suspect while holding his gun was dangerous. Barring extremely rare circumstances, an officer should never do this. This officer could have killed this suspect with his blow, and he also risked shooting the suspect, himself, or innocent bystanders.

An officer hit “Fred” on the head with his gun; “Fred” had shoplifted a bottle of wine and a can of beer and was unarmed.

Another example of this dangerous and unlawful practice is an incident from 2011 in which an officer struck an unarmed man in the head with his gun after the man had committed a minor, nonviolent offense. “Fred” had tried to shoplift a bottle of wine and a can of beer from a supermarket. The officer, who was working secondary employment at the supermarket, ordered Fred to stop as he was exiting the store. Instead of stopping, Fred ran. The officer followed him and, even though he did not claim to have seen a weapon, approached Fred with his gun drawn and ordered him to the ground. Fred said, “Shoot me.” The officer again ordered Fred to the ground, and Fred again said, “Shoot me.” As the officer stepped toward Fred, Fred moved toward the officer. The officer then hit Fred on the left side of his head with his gun, forced him to the ground, and handcuffed him. The strike to Fred’s head resulted in a laceration that required four staples to close. Again, this use of deadly force against a man who was not armed, had committed a minor offense, and who presented only a minimal threat to the officer was unreasonable and dangerous.

There are numerous more individual cases contained in the Finding section. Please read the full report here; the Findings section, from which the above are excerpted, begins on page 12. 

 

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