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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Cleveland Said to Make Race an Issue for Cops

CLEVELAND (CN) - After a high-speed car chase ended with the shooting deaths of two black suspects, Cleveland police unfairly disciplined nine officers, eight of whom are white, they say in Federal Court.

The officers filed the complaint Friday, when courts were closed, against the city of Cleveland; Mayor Frank Jackson; Chief Executive to the Mayor Martin Flask; Chief of Police Calvin Williams; and the chief's predecessor, Michael McGrath.

The complaint details a 2012 high-speed chase that lasted nearly 25 minutes, reached speeds in excess of 100 mph and eventually ended in a parking lot.

Believing the driver or passenger had a gun, the officers said they opened fire and eventually killed Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams, the two suspects.

No weapons were found in the vehicle.

"Almost immediately the news media began to sensationalize the events," the complaint states. "They reported the officers who discharged their weapons as being 12 white and one Hispanic and the deceased as African Americans. The news media reported that members of the community called the shootings murder, executions, and demanded that the officers involved be punished."

Per standard procedure, the officers were placed on administrative leave and ordered to serve a 45-day "cooling-off" period after the shooting, according to the complaint.

The officers say they were all cleared to return to active duty by July 1, 2013, after the Attorney General's Office completed an investigation.

Chief McGrath himself placed the officers on active duty but played dumb on Oct. 24 when "the news media inquired about the status of the officers involved in the shooting," telling reporters he had no idea the officers were on active duty, according to the complaint.

"As a result of the media inquiry, he ordered the officers who fired their weapons back to restrictive duty within their own districts because it was politically expedient based upon the plaintiffs being non-African Americans," the complaint states. "McGrath ordered the commanders to inform the plaintiffs they could not work part time jobs. Plaintiffs were in effect subjected to 'unofficial punishment' in violation of their constitutional rights."

The officers seek punitive damages for discrimination, civil rights violations and breach of contract, and claim that their 16-month "cooling-off" period was excessive.

Erin O'Donnell is the lead plaintiff alongside officers Wilfredo Diaz, Christopher Ereg, Michael Farley, Cynthia Moore, Michael Rinkus, William Salupo, Brian Sabolik and Scott Sistek.

They are represented by Jonathan Rosenbaum of Elyria, Ohio.

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