Internal Investigation Into Pursuit And Shooting Results In The Suspension Of 63 Cleveland Police Officers
from the most-massive-wrist-slap-to-date dept
A year-long review of a police shooting in Cleveland has finally concluded. The investigation stems from a police pursuit late last year that resulted in the deaths of both suspects in the vehicle, who were at the receiving end of 137 bullets fired by Cleveland police officers.
This is only one of several investigations into the chase/shooting, as Reason points out.
A state investigation previously concluded there was a systemic problem of an attitude of “refusal to look at the facts,” and handed the case over the prosecutors. In August, East Cleveland’s mayor said prosecutors were considering filing charges against the cops involved in the shooting, but as of this month the shooting is still being investigated.
The city of Cleveland asked the Department of Justice to review police policies following the chase and shooting, and the DOJ obliged by opening a civil rights investigation into misconduct and the possible systematic excessive use of force in March. The investigation could take up to a year and a half.
Both suspects were killed by the barrage of gunfire. The driver, Timothy Russell, was shot 23 times. His passenger, Malissa Williams, was shot 24 times. No weapons or casings were found inside the vehicle.
The chase began when an officer thought he heard gunfire coming from the Russell’s car. Another witness on the scene thought it may have just been the vehicle backfiring. Either way, it led to a 23-minute chase involving five dozen police vehicles and nearly 100 officers and supervisors. Both suspects had criminal records, which may have influenced their decision to flee.
The pursuing police were ordered to stop by their supervisors but overrode this decision because they thought a police officer had been wounded. In order to right this perceived wrong, officers chased Russell at speeds of up to 120 mph before stopping him in a middle school parking lot. Thirteen officers then fired 137 shots, a majority of them in just over 20 seconds.
Those thirteen officers are facing an additional investigation (a memo from the state prosecutor suggests charging 12 of the 13 shooters with negligent homicide), but the other officers involved (including supervisors) have received their punishment from the PD.
An initial review of the chase found 75 patrol officers violated orders, but the disciplinary hearings reduced that number to 64 officers. All but one received a suspension, with the longest being 10 days, McGrath said.
None of the violations was so serious it warranted termination. Some of the officers received a written warning.
Police previously announced punishments for 12 supervisors stemming from the chase. One sergeant was fired. A captain and lieutenant were demoted, and nine sergeants were suspended.
Additional charges most likely await the thirteen officers who fired 137 shots into a single vehicle, including one officer who managed to squeeze off 49 rounds in less than 20 seconds. The DOJ’s investigation also hangs overhead, but it could be another year or two before it reaches any conclusions. What’s been handed down so far barely amounts to a slap on the wrist for the 63 officers being punished. The maximum suspension is only 10 days. Their supervisors appear to have fared worse, with one firing and two demotions.
The police officers’ union has (of course) defended the actions of the thirteen shooters.
The union has said the shootings were justified because the driver tried to ram an officer.
One wonders if the union feels every bullet fired was “justified” or just the 47 kill shots. One also wonders how many stray shots (with only about a third of the shots hitting the targets) went wandering into the nearby neighborhood. The state AG’s animated reconstruction (above) indicates some remedial gun safety training might be wise, as the officers form (more than once) a semi-circle, firing shots in the direction of each other. (That this hail of gunfire took place at night made it even more dangerous for everyone involved.)
For the rank-and-file, the punishments being handed down are too light to discourage insubordination and unsafe pursuits in the future. For some cops, ignoring supervisors’ orders in order to “avenge” one of their own is always justified and any resulting punishments are worn as badges of honor. But make no mistake, this pursuit wasn’t about justice or any higher duty. It was a squad of officers looking to extract revenge as self-appointed judges, jurors and executioners. Nothing else explains the massive number of shots fired or the dozens of officers facing (minimal) suspensions for directly disobeying orders.