Cleveland Cops Didn’t Prove Anti-White Bias

     (CN) — Eight white and one Hispanic police officer involved in a Cleveland car chase that left an unarmed black couple dead after 137 shots did not show discrimination in their restricted-duty placement, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     On Nov. 29, 2012, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams died in a hail of bullets when they were surrounded by 13 police officers in a middle school parking lot after a 22-minute chase that started in downtown Cleveland.
     The chase began when Officers Vasile Nan and Alan Almeida heard a vehicle speed by with a loud bang, and mistook the noise for a gunshot instead of a backfire.
     The subsequent pursuit involved 62 marked and unmarked police cars and reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour.
     When the car finally stopped, Officer Wilfredo Diaz opened fire, claiming he saw the passenger reach for a gun.
     Other officers on the scene followed suit, and collectively discharged 137 shots into the vehicle, killing both occupants.
     Both Russell and Williams were black, whereas 12 of the 13 officers who fired on them were white, and one officer was Hispanic.
     The incident provoked immediately public outrage, especially given the Cleveland Police Department’s history of using deadly force against minorities.
     The officers involved were assigned to 16 months of restricted duty after the incident pursuant to department policy.
     Only one, Michael Brelo, was indicted for voluntary manslaughter for firing 49 of the 137 shots. Prosecutors said Brelo continued shooting even after the other officers stopped firing and actually jumped onto the hood of the victims’ car to fire straight down at them. He was acquitted in a bench trial because other officers also fired lethal shots.
     Brelo, Diaz and four other officers were fired from their jobs at the police department earlier this year.
     The five fired officers, without Brelo, and four more who kept their jobs filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the city, claiming they were assigned to restricted duty for a longer period of time than their black colleagues who have been involved in deadly force incidents with black suspects.
     A federal judge dismissed their claims, however, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed Friday.
     The appeals panel reviewed a 19 Action News article admitted into evidence by the officers that states Police Chief Michael McGrath ordered them “off the streets until a county prosecutor decides on any criminal charges.”
     However, Judge Bernice Bouie Donald wrote, “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.”
     Further, the officers’ data showing that non-black officers who killed black suspects spent an average of 239.38 days on restricted duty is “not true,” the 16-page opinion states.
     “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,” Donald wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.
     Without better data, the panel found the officers could not establish that non-black officers were treated differently than black officers for shooting a black suspect.
     The nine officers behind the lawsuit are Diaz, Erin O’Donnell, Christopher Ereg, Micahel Farley, Cynthia Moore, Michael Rinkus, William Salupo, Brian Sabolik and Scott Sistek.
     Russell and Williams’ deaths prompted a Department of Justice investigation of the city’s police force. In 2014, the department found cause to believe Cleveland police engage “in a pattern of practice of the use of excessive force,” due to “insufficient accountability, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.”
     That was the second time in 10 years the Justice Department made such a finding regarding the Cleveland Police Department.
     Just one week prior to the 2014 report’s release, Cleveland officers again made national headlines infor shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a black boy who was playing with a toy gun. The officers involved were not indicted, but the city agreed to pay $6 million to Rice’s family.
     Cleveland agreed to make widespread reforms in a 2015 consent decree.

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