Cleveland reacts to deaths of citizens as the result of police use of force
by Chuck Hoven. The tragic death of 12-year old Tamir Rice on November 22nd at Cudell Recreation Center has had a profound affect on the citizens of the City of Cleveland. The impact of this event on Cleveland’s children is of special concern. Cleveland’s youth are ultra aware of what happened when two police officers pulled their vehicle within a few feet of Rice and an officer shot him within less than two seconds after exiting their vehicle.
Evidence of how the incident is weighing on the minds of Cleveland’s children is portrayed by questions children ask and the concern they portray. At a December 10th block club meeting at Simpson Church at W. 86th and Clark Avenue, a young girl asked her elderly neighbor if he had heard about the 12 year old boy, Tamir Rice, that died at Cudell playground. The neighbor replied that he had. The young girl then told him that Tamir Rice was her friend. She said Tamir Rice was in the sixth grade at Marion Seltzer and she was in the seventh grade. The school they both attended is just behind the playground where Rice was shot.
After witnessing the death of her mother at the hands of Cleveland Police, Tanisha Anderson’s daughter, Mauvion Green, a 16-year old student at the Cleveland School of the Arts, was quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as saying, “I am hoping for a change in the police system. If they have a job to protect people, that’s what they should be doing.”
At the December 18th Cleveland Board of Education Meeting held at the Bard High School and Early College Program at W. 117th and Worthington, Angelique McGuire, a high school student in the school’s Social Justice Club, talked about the opportunity she had to meet with United States Attorney General Eric Holder. She said she participated in a discussion with Holder about the relationship between the community and police and about children and men getting killed by police. She talked about the opportunity she had to have her voice heard by Attorney General Holder and about how the Bard Social Justice Club planned to host a discussion at her school on the role of the community after the tragedy. She said she hoped students would share their opinions on how to change tomorrow – so tragedies like what happened to Tamir Rice won’t be repeated.
As the community wrestled with the aftermath of this tragedy, the United States Department of Justice released a fifty-eight-page report on the excessive use of force by Cleveland Police Officers.
While the report did not address the most recent incidents of the use of force by police officers, recent incidents were on the minds of citizens and enhanced the local impact of the report. With police use of force involved in the death of Tamir Rice on November 22nd and the death of Tanisha Anderson ten days earlier, the impact of the report in Cleveland was magnified. Anderson died shortly after Cleveland police officers slammed her to the ground when she resisted getting into a squad car. Anderson went limp while police manhandled her as her family watched in horror. Her family had called 911 for assistance in taking her to the hospital for a mental health emergency.
Clevelanders have rallied demanding action. Protesters organized by the New Abolitionist Association shut downtown streets in protest and filled a City Council meeting on December 8th. Numerous other protests and community meetings are in process.
On December 10th City Council’s Safety Committee, chaired by Councilman Matt Zone, held a three-hour hearing of the Department of Justice’s recently released report on the Investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) which concluded “that we have reasonable cause to believe that CDP engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
United States Attorney Steve Dettelbach of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, who serves this region, explained to Cleveland City Council that in 2004 the United States Justice Department had brought up issues of a pattern and practice of excessive use of force by the Cleveland Division of Police. He said in 2004 the City of Cleveland entered into a voluntary agreement in which they promised to improve training of officers and develop a process to handle complaints of excessive use of force by police officers.
Dettelbach said it was unusual for a city to be back in the same place a decade later after a Pattern and Practice investigation. Given that, he said the goal of the Department of Justice is now to “make sure this time reforms are comprehensive and they are maintained and sustained over time.”
The 2014 Department of Justice Investigation of the Cleveland Division of Police includes reviews of over six hundred use of force incidents that occurred from 2010 to 2013. The Justice Department’s review included numerous interviews of citizens, police personnel, independent police experts, as well as input from community meetings. “Our independent investigation, conducted at the request of the Mayor and others, revealed troubling patterns of the use of force in the Cleveland Division of Police,” said U.S. Attorney Dettelbach.
In reviewing his report for the Safety Committee of Cleveland City Council, Dettlebach called for the practice of constitutional policing. He called for “building trust between police and the community,” which he said is “central not only to community safety, but to police safety as well.”
Touching on some aspects of the report, Dettlebach noted the many incidents where there was undue force when police were charged with the welfare of a person with mental disability. Officers were too often involved in escalating a situation rather than in de-escalation.
U.S. Attorney Dettlebach urged Cleveland City Council members to look at the root causes, identify structural issues and work together with the city to address them. He urged action at the management level, the policy level, city council level and the mayor’s level to come up with a “comprehensive blue print to community reform.”
Critical of the current Cleveland process of investigating use of force by police, Dettlebach says investigators saw their role as “standing in favor of officers.” He said they were using a “beyond a reasonable doubt standard” which he said is “obviously not a standard for administrative review.” Dettlebach cited one of Cleveland’s systemic flaws as not holding its officers accountable for their use of excessive force.
Dettelbach explained that Mayor Frank Jackson has signed a statement of principles committing his administration to working with the United States Department of Justice to develop a consent decree. The consent decree will be submitted to a Federal Judge. An independent outside monitor would then make sure the terms of the consent degree were enforced,” said Dettelbach.
Dettelbach told the Cleveland City Council Safety Committee that Mayor Jackson’s involvement in requesting the Justice Department review and his presence at the signing of the statement of principles made him think there is “ a real opportunity for hope and progress going forward.”
At the Safety Committee meeting Safety Committee, Chair Matt Zone promised the Safety Committee would hold meetings in Cleveland neighborhoods where they will listen to residents’ concerns and suggestions. “We will create ample opportunity for the public to comment. We are just starting this process,” Committee Chair Matt Zone promised. Zone said City Council would hold the listening sessions in December and January issue a “white paper” by mid to late February on their findings. Zone said some of the findings could result in legislation from Cleveland City Council.
City Council representatives at the Safety Committee meeting made many inquiries of Dettlebach and Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry whose testimony followed.
Explaining the role of the monitors in enforcing the agreement between the Justice Department and the City of Cleveland, Dettlebach said it is key that the monitors make sure both parties are living up to the terms of the agreement. He said the monitors would be looking for “objective measurements of compliance.”
City of Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry told City Council members that by agreeing in principle to enter into a consent decree the city is saying it is willing to work out a solution now rather than enter into a lawsuit. “The mayor is committed to constitutionally compliant police services. Above and beyond that, he is committed to superior police services. I believe our officers are as well.”
Langhenry said the city of Cleveland acknowledges that the Department of Justice report raises some important issues, “we need to honestly and openly address them,” she said. She told city council that the process going forward is an adversarial process and going to be difficult. “We as a community should not be afraid of challenges. Out of challenges, come opportunity — we should look at this as an opportunity, ” she said.
Langhenry hoped that through the process of engaging with the Justice Department, the city of Cleveland can “come up with ways to make our police services the finest in the land.”
Several City Council members requested public records from Director Langhenry.
Councilman Jeff Johnson requested a list of all of the police use of force incidents from 2010 to 2014, the number of those cases that were brought to the City Prosecutor for criminal review and the result of those reviews.
Councilman Brian Cummins for a copy of a document the administration produced on use of force between 2006 and 2013.
Councilman Mike Polensek asked for an accounting of the Police Review Board and how many times they have taken action against a police officer. He asked for the names of the members, their duties and responsibilities, their legal authority and information on how they are appointed.
Polensek also asked for an accounting of the cost to the City of Cleveland of all judgments, lawsuits, and out of court settlements that have resulted from police use of force from 2004 to the present. He said if the $10 million dollar figure cited in the Plain Dealer was correct, 100 police officers could have been hired with the settlement money.
Safety Committee Chair Matt Zone asked that the public record requests be sent to the committee for dispersal to all its members.
Editor’s Note: Cleveland City Council Safety Committee held several Listening Tour sessions in the month of December. The next one is scheduled for December 30th from 6-8:00 p.m. at Sagrada Familia Church, 7719 Detroit Avenue. For possible future meeting dates for the Listening Tour visit Cleveland City Council’s website at: www.clevelandcitycouncil.org.