Cleveland Strikes Deal With DOJ on Use of Force

     CLEVELAND (CN) – Settling charges that its police force routinely violates the rights of citizens, the city of Cleveland agreed to widespread reforms Tuesday.
     The city’s negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday’s consent decree have been ongoing since an 18-month federal investigation revealed that Cleveland had a pattern of using excessive and deadly force against suspects.
     That investigation was prompted in part by the fatal shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed, black suspects who led police on a high-speed, 22-minute car chase.
     State prosecutors had pressed charges against one of the 13 officers who fired a total of 137 shots at Williams and Russell after cornering their vehicle in a middle school parking lot.
     They noted that the officer Michael Brelo had waited for a lull in his fellow officers shooting to launch himself onto Russell’s 1970 Chevy Malibu and fire 15 shots through the windshield.
     Cleveland and the Justice Department moved for approval of the settlement at the end of an uneasy Memorial Day weekend marked by a judge’s decision to acquit Brelo of manslaughter charges. The Justice Department filed the complaint simultaneously with the settlement in federal court.
     A significant portion of the 105-page settlement focuses on policies and procedures related to the use of force.
     It requires officers with the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) to use de-escalation techniques whenever possible and to afford suspects an opportunity to submit to arrest before force is used.
     Officers must also stop using retaliatory force to punish individuals who attempt to flee or resist arrest, and the use of force against people who are handcuffed or otherwise restrained is prohibited as well.
     Other actions that the agreement prohibits are head strikes with hard objects, the use of a firearm as an impact weapon, and the use of neck holds.
     CDP officers must immediately inspect suspects for injuries and obtain any necessary medical care after a use of force, under the deal with the DOJ.
     To repair the police force’s damaged relationship with the community it serves, Cleveland will improve officer training, revise its search-and-seizure guidelines and integrate bias-free policing principles.
     It will also create a Mental Health Response Advisory Committee trained to identify and appropriately respond to situations involving individuals in mental health crisis.
     The settlement additionally calls for Cleveland to hire an inspector general – a civilian who cannot be a current or former police officer – to review policies and practices, conduct investigations and rule on complaints against police officers.
     Coupled with this oversight, the city will organize a 13-person Community Police Commission to assess the CDP’s bias-free policing policies, to make recommendations to the city and the chief of police, and to keep the community informed about the progress of police department reforms.
     Members of the commission must include one representative each from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Shield, a professional association of black officers.
     U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio called the agreement “an example of what true partnership and hard work can accomplish – a transformational blueprint for reform that can be a national model for any police department ready to escort a great city to the forefront of the 21st Century.”
     Cleveland’s consent decree marks the 16th such agreement that the DOJ has entered into with a law-enforcement agency.
     Other cities where the DOJ is enforcing consent decrees include New Orleans, Seattle, Albuquerque and Detroit. In the past three years, the DOJ successfully concluded the implementation of similar consent decrees in Los Angeles and the District of Columbia.

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