The Department of Justice yesterday released a report detailing its year-and-a-half-long investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. Its findings, and its timing, are devastating, detailing incidents where unarmed civilians were shot 20 times during a car chase, a unarmed man kicked in the head by officers while in handcuffs and many other examples of unnecessary force.
The report comes as the nation grapples with anger over a number of police shootings of unarmed people, especially people of color. Among them is 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot in Cleveland by police last month.
“We have concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that CPD engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the report states. “We have determined that structural and systemic deficiencies and practices — including insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community — contribute to the unreasonable use of force.”
The DOJ launched the investigation in March 2013 after receiving complaints about multiple incidents of use of excessive force by CPD. Those incidents included a November 2012 chase in which two unarmed civilians were shot and killed in their stationary car by 13 officers who fired a total of 137 rounds.
The report says the problems go beyond officers on the beat and extend all the way up to those charged with investigating police misconduct.
"Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers' use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible," the DOJ report says.
As a result of the study, CPD has signed an agreement with the Justice Department that will require the department to undergo independent monitoring while it undertakes serious reforms to its community engagement, officer training and accountability efforts.
"Together, we can build confidence in the division that will ensure compliance with the Constitution, improve public safety and make the job of delivering police services safer and more effective," said Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement on Thursday.
The report comes just two weeks after Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice two seconds after exiting a squad car onto a playground were Rice was playing with a toy gun. The 911 caller reporting the boy states twice that the gun he is carrying is “probably fake,” though a dispatcher does not relay that information to officers.
Loehman said he feared for his life when he shot Rice. Police officials have said the toy Rice was carrying looked just like a real weapon and therefore the officer had no choice but to shoot.
"This is an obvious tragic event where a young member of our community lost their life," said Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba during a news conference after the shooting. "We’ve got two officers who were out there protecting the public who had to do something no one wants to do.”
Yesterday, CNN reported newly uncovered details about Loehman’s past service as a police officer. Before being hired by CPD in March, Loehman was asked to leave suburban Independence, Ohio’s police force in 2012, documents show. A supervisor described Loehman as “emotionally immature.”
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct these deficiencies," Independence Deputy Police Chief Jim Polak wrote in November 2012.