Court Dumps Cops' Complaint They Were Unfairly Treated After Shooting Two Unarmed Suspects 47 Times

from the out-of-139-total-bullets-fired dept

In 2012, Cleveland police officers engaged in perhaps the most one-sided “shootout” ever with two suspects at the tail end of an (unauthorized) police chase. By the time it was over, officers had fired 139 bullets into a vehicle they had trapped in a school parking lot. Twenty-three of those hit the driver. Twenty-four hit the passenger. Both vehicle occupants were killed.

One officer — Michael Brelo — apparently thought he was starring in his own action film. He unloaded 49 rounds in just over 20 seconds while standing on the hood of the stopped vehicle. All told, more than 75 Cleveland PD vehicles joined the chase/shooting. At the end of a yearlong investigation, 63 officers were suspended for their participation. Six officers were charged.

The genesis of the horrific debacle was nothing more than a car backfiring. One cop mistook this for a gunshot and all hell broke loose. No weapons were recovered from the vehicle.

One of the stranger offshoots of the infamous shootings was a lawsuit filed by several Cleveland police officers who took part in the chase. In their view, they were punished more harshly than African American officers who also participated in the unauthorized pursuit.

Their original argument was more than a little depressing.

The officers – eight white officers and one Hispanic – claim the department has a history of treating non-black officers who shoot black residents “more harshly” than black officers involved in shootings, according to the lawsuit…

Apparently, the Cleveland PD shoots enough black residents that a pattern of discrimination can be discerned. And, apparently enough officers walk away unscathed from shootings that the worst thing complained about is longer suspensions, not actual firings or criminal charges.

Unless these nine officers truly believe the Supreme Court of the United States would be willing to hear their arguments (and the insane incident preceding their complaint) rehashed one more time, it’s the end of the line for this complaint — undoubtedly one of the odder post-police shooting civil rights lawsuits ever filed.

After recounting the law enforcement pursuit-turned-firing squad that led to the punishment these officers felt was unfair, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals gets down to business dismissing their arguments. [PDF]

Apparently, after a shooting, involved officers are sent to a place called the “Gymnasium.” There they are supposed to recuperate and get their heads together for an eventual return to the force. They are also placed on restricted duty, which prevents them picking up overtime, moonlighting at other jobs, or earning pay for court appearances. Those who have been sent to the Gymnasium refer to it as “stressful” and “demeaning.”

Some who find this to be a form of punishment perhaps shouldn’t have been punished. Others, like the suspended officers who engaged in a pursuit no supervisor had authorized, also might have felt a trip to the Gymnasium felt like punishment. That’s probably because it’s supposed to be a punishment.

These officers felt they were unfairly treated, as compared to their African American counterparts who were just as involved in the pursuit and shooting. Unfortunately for them, they failed to provide any evidence of their claims — at least nothing that held up to two courts’ scrutiny.

First, the plaintiffs felt the lower court failed to review their arguments in the light most favorable to them during the city’s motion to dismiss. Part of their claims rest on the assertion that the “sound” of a gunshot justified actions taken past that point. The Appeals Court finds that distinction doesn’t matter at the summary judgment stage. Not only that, but this assertion was made with no evidence backing it.

In its characterization of the events of November 29, 2015, the district court construed the absence of evidence to the contrary to suggest that Russell and Williams were likely unarmed and that the gunshot-type noise was likely Russell and Williams’ car backfiring. The Plaintiffs have not offered a scintilla of evidence that suggests that the noise was actually a gunshot. They also have not cited any evidence in the record that suggests that Russell and Williams were actually armed. Indeed, the evidence they cite suggests that the investigation revealed no such evidence. Thus, the district court did not err in making these two inferences.

Also offered as evidence by the plaintiffs was a spreadsheet purporting to show the difference in Gymnasium time served by African American officers and those of other races. But the spreadsheet doesn’t show what the officers claims it does.

[T]he Plaintiffs claim that the spreadsheet shows that non-African American officers who used deadly force and killed African American suspects spent an average of 239.38 days on restricted duty. However, according to the spreadsheet, that is not true. That average is skewed by the inclusion of dates for which the Plaintiffs were detailed to transitional duty assignments. At oral argument, the Plaintiffs conceded that these dates should not have been included in the calculations.

The plaintiffs also asserted that they were taken off restricted duty temporarily but sent back to the Gymnasium as a result of a “media inquiry,” implying that the orders were discriminatory because they were based on outside pressure rather than established policy. The court finds this claim empty as well.

The Plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden on this claim. The same day that the Plaintiffs were ordered to the Gymnasium for a second time, 19 Action News posted an article online about the Plaintiffs’ employment status. The Plaintiffs argue that this shows that McGrath acted based on racial tensions in the community and the media inquiry—not based on a discovered mistake. However, the news article states that it originally reported that the officers had returned to full duty in June, about four months prior McGrath’s order that they return to restricted duty. The article then states that McGrath has now decided that that decision was inappropriate. Accordingly, he ordered the Plaintiffs “off the streets until a county prosecutor decides on any criminal charges.”

Nothing in the article suggests or implies that it was as the result of a media inquiry that McGrath moved the officers to restricted duty; it only reports McGrath’s decision to assign the officers involved in the Russell/Williams shooting to restricted duty. There is also nothing in the article that indicates that McGrath’s decision was based on the Plaintiffs’ race. If anything, the article undermines those arguments. It pointedly states that it had previously reported the Plaintiffs’ status, and it explains that McGrath decided to order the Plaintiffs to be assigned to restricted duty until all investigations were complete.

Summary judgment for the defendants stands. Nothing remains of these officers’ arguments than the sense of entitlement they portrayed. The overriding concern coming out of an incident where dozens of officers cornered two unarmed people — following a chase where orders to disengage either never came or were ignored — and fired 139 bullets in 30 seconds in their direction is that the punishment they endured (but lived through) seemed unfair.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Court Dumps Cops' Complaint They Were Unfairly Treated After Shooting Two Unarmed Suspects 47 Times”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because to expand ones views is a horrible thing?

We’ve had 1 or 40 other stories about police being stupid, and to pretend that what happens in that sphere doesn’t change anything else in the world is short sighted.

One might have noticed that there is huge inequality in society today and that many of those who are used to being the privileged few sometimes find themselves on the losing end and behave like toddlers. They make demands that make no sense except to someone used to getting their own way. See also **AA’s.

One could also have a discussion about how body cams might have altered things. How else tech could have intervened and avoided these murders. How tech could help build a database of bad officers & make it harder for them to quietly ‘retire’ and move onto another department to keep doing bad things.

The only limitation is those you impose on your own thinking. The box, look outside of it and see the connections between everything in the world and how you might find ways to make connections that improve things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

One could also have a discussion about how body cams might have altered things. How else tech could have intervened and avoided these murders.

Police murder isn’t truly a technical issue. Just a human one. Tech can solve a lot of issues, but it can’t solve purely human ones. This is one reason why the call to install encryption back doors by “nerding harder” is so asinine. (Quite aside from simply being wrong.)

I suppose it’s possible to come up with an audio detection system to discriminate a backfire from a gunshot, but simply getting rid of cowboy LEO (and proper prosecution for murder under color of law enforcement) is likely to have a more immediate and salubrious effect.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And tech could help that to happen, but forcing the data about shootings & ‘retirements’ out into the open.

Tech could look at all of the cases where no charges were filed and prove the bias when someone has a badge. Confronting them with factual data is a much better backstop to the claims. It makes it difficult for them to shrug it off as being racial bias on either side.

Tech could give them a little box that can tell the difference between a backfire and a gun shot.
Tech could give them training sessions designed to expose them to their own biases without having to put someone in danger.
Tech could show them that far to often they magically assume the black person is up to no good when in the same setting as a white person.
Tech could provide better information about the events and what actually happened, rather than allow cops multiple days to get the story just right so it plays well. That information could be used to allow other officers to have the same ‘experience’ to see if they pick a different path.
Tech could provide a system to help them understand people who are not neurotypical & the best way to connect with that person to avoid needless deaths because the autistic man isn’t responding correctly.

There is so much tech could do, but its getting citizens to demand it. Its hard to get them to think logically when they are being told that black people hate white people because they are successful, that brown people are most likely terrorists, that people who are different are scary & a threat. It seems lost on people that they are more likely to die at the hands of a cop than a terrorist, because it hasn’t happened to them so it must not really happen.

Imagine a police chief wearing a VR set to see exactly how his officers roll up on a black man who’s only crime was being black and some scared woman decided he had to be the boston strangler.
Imagine citizens seeing the point of view of officers who roll up on a scene and get fired upon or a crowd threatening them making the situation much worse.

We spend lots of money on giving them the best weapons & hardware, and very little on the people carrying them. We’ve seen mentally ill people outright executed because an officer doesn’t ‘have time’ to deal with this.
We’ve created less than lethal options, and yet rarely see them deployed in the fashion we’d expect… instead used to torture restrained suspects.

Tech can’t solve everything, but I wonder how the very loud law & order types would respond to being in a VR headset in the shoes of a young black male slammed up against a wall because he matches the description of black in a t-shirt.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Cue the world's smallest violin...

Even assuming every single one of their claims about ‘discrimination’ was true, that they were treated ‘worse’ because of their ethnicity the fact that ‘worse’ didn’t include ‘kicked off the force at the least‘ leaves me completely and utterly lacking in sympathy.

Oh noes, they were placed on restricted duty for slightly longer than other cops involved in a shooting, how ever shall they manage to survive that? /s

The mindset on display here is both horrific and disgusting, where you have people whining about the ‘terrible’ treatment they face after shooting someone, a ‘punishment’ that’s already pathetic and toothless, just because the felt that they had to ‘endure’ more of it.

As the article notes that they shoot enough people on such a regular basis that the whiners felt that there was a pattern makes it clear that the entire force has a problem, and it has nothing to do with ‘unfair discrimination in punishments’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cue the world's smallest violin...

Of course, two corpses are someone else’s problem to deal with, while a slap on the wrist is something they have to deal with.

Not to mention it’s not like the people they murdered had badges or anything, so they don’t actually count, it’s just two more bodies of people who should have known better than to drive a car with a bad exhaust pipe anywhere near cops with guns and the ability to fire them.

Really, it’s their fault they were shot so many times in the first place, and it’s totally unfair that any police were punished at all over something they had absolutely no control over. Once they heard a sound that might have maybe sounded like a gunshot they had to call in every cop in the city to chase the offending car down, they had to surround it in a parking lot, and they absolutely had to then shoot it and it’s occupants full of holes. At no point did they have any other possible choices available to them, so it’s completely unjust that they were punished for anything, ever.


Skeeter says:

Re: Cue the world's smallest violin...

I know, let’s eliminate all police and just have one big happy cartel family, where ‘biggest dog rules with unquestioning cruelty’.

This is the declaration I hear, between the lines, when someone is espousing police discrimination, police wrongdoing, etc. To anyone commenting, I ask, ‘have you been to Cleveland, or Detroit, or Chicago lately?’ Those who are gaining major media attention for events showing ‘anti-police sentiments’ rarely if ever offer a solution. They are NOT a part of the answer, they are part of the problem. Fueled by racial hate, they don’t want ‘those white cops’ killing their black men’. Well, ok, why don’t you police your own then?

See, in areas where the population is heavily black, and the police force is majority black, the battle cry is ‘anti-cops’, and where the population is heavily black and the police force is disproportionately white, the battle cry is ‘black-lives-matter’ (implying racial prejudice). In reality, see it for what it is, and that is ‘law-and-order, go away’.

Ok, put the fences around the city and pull the cops out. In a day, you’ll have Darfur and the UN saying it is ‘genocide in there’. This paints a totally different picture, and that is ‘you can’t cater to their complaints, when they don’t have any answers themselves’.

The humor is, the blacks are now giving confirmation to Charles Manson’s ideals regarding a race war, and too uninformed to see how all sides are manipulating them to this point. They might want to read what Manson said was the end outcome of this horror, before they get there.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cue the world's smallest violin...

Why not instead have some goddam accountability for the police instead of acting like the only option is to remove them completely?

When a cop breaks the law, he should be held to a greater degree than when a non cop does, solely because he is entrusted with upholding the law and is given priviledges based on him doing his job honestly.

Why is your first thought that people want all police removed instead of people want police to be police not criminals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cue the world's smallest violin...

I know, let’s eliminate all police and just have one big happy cartel family, where ‘biggest dog rules with unquestioning cruelty’.

So either we let them unload their weapons completely in under a minute or dissolve them altogether?

If any civilian unloaded their weapons in the same way, would they be “punished” with a vacation?
Or given some time to compose themselves?

These cops are whiny fuck ups and if it’s them or criminals, at least we don’t have to pay criminals for doing a shitty job.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

That’s NOT how the police are supposed to work. No matter what the threat, real or perceived, they are supposed to work toward a non-lethal take-down, with deescalating the threat supposedly the initial goal. Even someone who’s shot a dozen people right in front of the police is SUPPOSED to be brought in alive to stand trial for their crimes. This shot first, and shot often training that cops get these days only makes the problem WORSE. Because criminals know that the cops are looking to make lethal force the first and only method, they have no reason to allow themselves to be taken without a fight. There’s absolutely no incentive to surrender.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

maybe these dirty cops get off of murdering people. Or what I believe is they are being trained to abuse, brutalize and murder from higher up in the police command chain.

Push people until revolt then you have justification for more heavy handed laws. I strongly suspect someone is trying to turn America in a police state dictatorship.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

Yep. And there’s the problem: put up with it until you snap = terrorism; put up with it and hope it doesn’t come your way = part of the problem.

I personally believe that a sustained campaign to force accountability on people in authority is the answer. The people need to take responsibility for ensuring that the rule of law is upheld and until they do this kind of thing will continue.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: And knives. Don't forget about knives.

There’s a trial going on right now in New Mexico where two police are charged with killing a homeless man because he had a knife (well, they claim he had TWO knifes). Never mind that when they shot him, the only things in his hands was camping equipment (they were arresting him for camping on public land).

So don’t try to say cops only shoot people with guns. They’ll shoot you for holding ANYTHING these days.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: And knives. Don't forget about knives.

After five seconds of searching, just now. Two entries in fact in one article, the second being a suicidal man shot for threatening himself with the knife. According to ‘The Counted‘ database put together by The Guardian 118 of the reported deaths for 2016 are categorized as being ’caused’ by a knife-wielding person, accounting for just over one-eighth of those listed.

I know you have an anti-gun obsession but really, your exercise of that obsession this time, trying to make it sound like the cops were justified because ‘anyone might be armed!’ is just sleazy. Sometimes, and this is just going to blow your mind, a gun is neither the cause, nor justification of something horrible happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 How about a game controller?

“Did they think it was a knife? Or a cruise missile, maybe?

How about a grenade?

A very dangerous cheese sandwich, that you could get food poisoning from just from smelling it?

No, it was none of these things. The cop thought it was a GUN.



They were 4 feet away. Explain how they didnt know it was a gun. You are obviously a current or former POS cop.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

yes…75 cop cars chasing one, possibly armed, suspect who was accused of firing a single shot that produced no bodies is an entirely reasonable and justified force response level. as is firing 137 rounds in the span of 30 seconds. /sarc

You know how “threatened these cops felt? one of them got up on the police car, completely exposing himself to return fire, so he could get in on the extrajudicial murder. There was no goddamn threat and they knew it.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: one of them got up on the police car, completely exposing himself to return fire

That’s how they do it in your Hollywood movies, don’t they? Those same Hollywood movies that so many of you seem to believe are a guide to how things work in real life. The propaganda that glorifies gun culture works too well. So that in a moment of crisis, unconscious instinct takes over and your behaviour is governed, not by a training manual, but by a blockbuster film script.

Skeeter says:

Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

Russia has a murder rate 7x the U.S., and the predominant weapon used is a bludgeoning instrument (hammer, steel bar, tire iron, etc.). In general, they are an ‘unarmed society’.

Talk me through how guns are ‘bad’ when 11,000 people were killed by a firearm in the U.S. last year (total, including justified defense shootings) when 35,000 died in car wrecks and 300,000 died due to coronary complications (we won’t even discuss those 433,000 they just reported dying as a result of sitting too much).

FYI – death and taxes, both are inevitable, and you cannot avoid either. You can, however, avoid being ‘spun’ by liberal media – considering that there are 2x more cars in America than guns, and they are killing 3x more people each year than guns. The answer is clear: BAN CARS! (hint: you’ll never hear this battle cry until oil and auto manufacturing are no longer world economic forces – get the clue?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: In A Nation Awash With Guns ...

I totally agree an armed populace is a great idea. Give those folks in high-crime cities more guns I say.

However, that doesn’t address the real problem – when cops see someone with a gun (especially if they’re black), they tend to get really really a-scared.

So if you want to argue for more guns, that’s fine.

Just tell me exactly how you plan to drill the right to bear arms into the heads of these fucktarded, shit-scared cops?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But wait, it gets worse.

Nearly eight months later, a grand jury has returned charges against six of the officers. Five of the officers — all supervisors — are facing misdemeanor charges of dereliction of duty. Officer Brelo, the cop who single handedly delivered over a third of the 137 bullets, will be facing something more severe.

The Cuyahoga County Grand Jury today voted to indict Cleveland Police Patrol Officer Michael Brelo on two counts of Manslaughter for the killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams on November 29, 2012.

Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2903.03, Manslaughter is a felony of the first degree, carrying a mandatory prison sentence of from three to 11 years.

Out of everyone involved, five were charged with misdemeanors for ‘dereliction of duty’, with the guy who jumped on the car’s hood and emptied several clips into two unarmed people faced not murder charges but manslaughter, as though it was purely accidental that 49 rounds split between two people was enough to kill them.

David says:

Stupid question:

Has the car been examined in order to establish its likelihood of backfiring and making gunshot-like noises before the officers started making gunshot-like noises?

Because the average car would seem to be better at holding its composure to me than the involved officers. And an exhaust pipe does not sound all too much like a gun barrel anyway since it is not built for accelerating bullets.

DB (profile) says:

Stupid quesiton:

From the pictures of the shot-up car, it was a 1980’s-era car (squared-off grill, rectangular sealed-beam headlights). That makes it likely using a carburetor. A backfire is certainly likely. Bump up the chance since this type and era of car is in the still in the ‘junker’ category rather than being a well-tended classic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stupid quesiton:

Assuming that a car actually made a loud noise …

it would more likely be from what is called afterfire rather than backfire. Backfire occurs at the carburetor and results in a very small noise which does not sound like a gunshot. Afterfire occurs in the tailpipe and could be confused with a gunshot depending upon circumstances, ymmv.

Anonymous Coward says:

The "N"-Word

“…eight white officers and one Hispanic – claim the department has a history of treating non-black officers who shoot black residents “more harshly” than black officers…”

These are the same kind of non-black guys, who express a sense of confusion and disappointment at the unfairness that black people are permitted to use the “N”-word without the same degree of public censure as non-blacks. ‘Cuz these wipes would actually only use the “N”-word playfully to express a sense of camaraderie and shared experience.

Anonymous Coward says:

i wonder if we will evolve to a level sufficient to re-think the whle idea of a domestic terrorist organization lacking in intelligence, common sense, and courage, and create a more sensible, highly paid organzations of teams working security kiosks, walking beats, and equipped with non-lethal devices.

we need to get “them” out of their tanks, toys, military attitudes and reitroduced into a civil mindset. someday… maybe.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...