Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cleveland Reaches Settlement With Justice Department Over Police Conduct
MAY 25, 2015
New York Times

CLEVELAND — Cleveland has reached a settlement with the Justice Department over what federal authorities said was a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force, people briefed on the case said Monday.

The settlement, which could be announced as early as Tuesday, comes days after a judge declared a Cleveland police officer not guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a car’s two unarmed occupants, both of them black.

The verdict prompted a day and night of protests and reignited discussions about how police officers treat the city’s African-American residents.

The details of the settlement were not immediately clear, but in similar talks in recent years, the Justice Department has required cities to allow independent monitors to oversee changes in police departments. Settlements are typically backed by court orders and often call for improved training and revised policies for the use of force.

A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Division of Police referred questions to the mayor’s office, which would not comment on Monday. Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also had no comment.

The Justice Department opened an inquiry into the Cleveland police force months after the 2012 shooting of the unarmed occupants in a car, and issued its report in December. Cleveland is among several cities, including Ferguson, Mo., New York and Baltimore, that have become focal points of a national debate over policing and race.

On Saturday, demonstrators spent hours marching through Cleveland after a judge acquitted Officer Michael Brelo of manslaughter for his role in the 2012 shooting, which began with a police chase of the car. While several officers fired a combined 137 shots, Officer Brelo was singled out for manslaughter charges because he climbed onto the hood of the car after the pursuit ended and fired 15 shots into the vehicle.

The occupants, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, died from gunshot wounds. The judge ruled that the actions of Officer Brelo, who is white, were lawful.

Cleveland’s streets have stayed calm since Saturday, when the police reported 71 arrests, some on felony charges.

Dozens of protesters appeared in court here Monday on misdemeanor charges. Some still wore T-shirts with messages like “I Can’t Breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner, who died after being put in a police chokehold in Staten Island last year, and “Black Lives Matter.”

For Cleveland, a settlement with the Justice Department averts a long and costly court fight and the appearance that city leaders are resisting change. Mayor Frank Jackson faces a recall petition from city activists who say, among other grievances, that he has not done enough to prevent police abuses.

The Justice Department has called Mr. Jackson a full partner in its effort to improve the police force.

The Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen investigations into police departments under the Obama administration. Federal investigators found patterns of unconstitutional policing in cities including Seattle, Newark, Albuquerque and Ferguson. Federal authorities recently announced they would investigate the Baltimore police after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died of injuries he suffered while in custody.

In Seattle, the federal inquiry led local officials to overhaul training and focus on how officers can calm tense situations without using force. In Albuquerque, city officials agreed to change the way the police are trained, outfit officers with body cameras and improve how the department investigates officer-involved shootings.

Officials in Ferguson are negotiating a possible settlement over accusations that officers routinely violated the Constitution.

The Justice Department’s report on the Cleveland police was among its most scathing, finding that they engaged in a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force.”

Investigators said officers unnecessarily used deadly force; used excessive force against mentally ill people; and inappropriately resorted to stun guns, chemical sprays and punches.

It detailed tactical blunders, and said officers too often imperiled bystanders when they used force.

The Justice Department also criticized a “structurally flawed” discipline policy that it said made it too hard to punish officers for improperly using force.

The report highlighted one case in which officers kicked an African-American man in the head while he was handcuffed and on the ground, then did not report having used force during the arrest.

“Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers,” Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, said in December. “Officers are not provided with adequate training, policy guidance and supervision to do their jobs safely and effectively.”

The report was compiled too early to cover the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a replica gun in a Cleveland park in November when the police shot him. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to charge officers in his death or in the case of Tanisha Anderson, 37, who died after she was restrained in a prone position on the pavement.

Most of the protesters arraigned Monday were charged with refusal to disperse, and 35 pleaded no contest to an amended charge of disorderly conduct, which carries no jail time. Twenty people pleaded not guilty and will contest the charges. More protesters are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

Talis Gage, 31, a Cleveland native now living in a different part of Ohio, was among those who pleaded no contest and was released Monday morning. As with others who pleaded no contest, he was sentenced to time served and was not issued a fine. Mr. Gage said he joined the Saturday protest because he believed that Officer Brelo was guilty of a crime.

“What happened was not justice,” Mr. Gage said outside the courthouse shortly after his release. “It was unfair for this man to walk away with no jail time at all.”

Mitch Smith reported from Cleveland, and Matt Apuzzo from Washington.

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