Source: Cleveland reaches deal with Justice on policing
Washington — The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the police department, and the agreement could be announced as soon as Tuesday, a senior federal law enforcement official said.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the settlement ahead of the official announcement and spoke Monday on condition of anonymity.
News of the settlement comes days after a white police officer was acquitted of manslaughter for firing the final 15 rounds of a 137-shot police barrage through the windshield of a car carrying two black, unarmed suspects in 2012. The suspects’ backfiring vehicle had been mistaken for a gunshot, leading to a high-speed chase involving 62 police cruisers.
Once the suspects were cornered, 13 officers fired at the car.
The case prompted an 18-month Justice Department investigation into the practices of the Cleveland police. In a scathing report released in December, the department required the city to devise a plan to reform the police force.
The specifics of the settlement, first reported by The New York Times, were not available Monday.
Messages left with Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson and the police department seeking comment weren’t returned.
The Justice Department’s report spared no one in the police chain of command. The worst examples of excessive force involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.
Supervisors and police higher-ups received some of the report’s most searing criticism. The Justice Department said officers were poorly trained and some didn’t know how to implement use-of-force policies. The report also said officers are ill-equipped.
Mobile computers that are supposed to be in patrol cars often don’t work and, even when they do, officers don’t have access to essential department databases, according to the report.
Police Chief Calvin Williams said in December that while it’s not easy to have to share the federal government findings with his 1,500-member department, he is committed to change.
“The people of this city need to know we will work to make the police department better,” Williams said.
The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behavior and often did little to investigate it. Some told the Justice Department that they often wrote their reports to make an officer look as good as possible, the federal agency said. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.
The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities this time have been negotiating a consent decree designed to serve as a blueprint for lasting change within the police department. Several other police departments in the country now operate under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.
The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police forces in the last five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Missouri and, most recently, in Baltimore.
Saturday’s bench verdict on the manslaughter charge against patrolman Michael Brelo led to a day of mostly peaceful protests but also more than 70 arrests. Those arrested were arraigned on misdemeanor charges Monday.
But two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: a boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.
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