Justice Dept.: Cleveland Police Has Pattern of Excessive Force

Catherine E. Shoichet et al., CNN, December 4, 2014

A sign you’d expect to see in a war zone, hanging at a police station. Two unarmed civilians shot more than 20 times after a high-speed chase. A man in the middle of a medical emergency, jolted with a Taser while strapped to a gurney.

These are alarming examples, federal investigators say, that show police in Cleveland have been using unnecessary and unreasonable force at a “significant rate,” employing “dangerous tactics” that put the community at risk.

A report released Thursday details a nearly two-year Justice Department investigation which found that Cleveland police use guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists excessively, unnecessarily or in retaliation. Officers also have used excessive force on those “who are mentally ill or in crisis,” the Justice Department said.

Now a federal court will keep tabs on the Cleveland police as part of a legal agreement going forward.

The Justice Department’s investigation started in 2013, after several incidents, including a controversial case the previous year when more than 100 officers were involved in a high-speed chase that ended with the deaths of two unarmed civilians.

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The results of the federal review come as the Cleveland Division of Police is under fire for the November fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. {snip}

Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams has defended Rice’s shooting, saying he reached for an air pistol that was “indistinguishable from a real firearm.”

While Thursday’s announcement was set in Cleveland, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the problems it highlights aren’t contained by city limits.

“As President Obama and I have indicated, the time has come, we think, to do even more. The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans, including just last month, the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, have really raised urgent national questions,” Holder said Thursday. “And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities that they serve and protect.”

What’s next?

Authorities say Cleveland police need better training and more accountability going forward.

“Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers’ use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible,” the Justice Department’s report said.

The department fails to review its officers’ use of force, investigate other allegations of misconduct, “respond to patterns of at-risk behavior,” enforce appropriate policies and establish “effective community policing strategies,” according to the Justice Department.

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As a result of the findings, the city and Justice Department have signed an agreement “to develop a court-enforceable consent decree that will include a requirement for an independent monitor who will oversee and ensure necessary reforms.”

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