CLEVELAND (CN) - The Ohio Attorney General's office has been appointed as special prosecutor to investigate the death of Tanisha Anderson, a 37-year-old black woman who died in the custody of Cleveland police.
According to a Wednesday press release, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's to take over the case after Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department investigators told prosecutors about "facts that created a conflict of interest" for McGinty's office. The sheriff's department has been investigating Anderson's death since last June.
Anderson died on Nov. 12, 2014. A January 2015 federal lawsuit filed on behalf of her estate says she suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
According to that lawsuit, Anderson's family called 911 while she was "in the midst of a mental health crisis." Anderson had reportedly become disoriented and left her family home on a cold November evening, wearing only a lightweight nightgown and no shoes. Her family says she was not armed, violent, intoxicated or suspected of having committed any crime.
Two Cleveland police officers arrived, spoke calmly with Anderson and her family, and then left the house with the expectation that Anderson would eat something and go to bed, according to court records.
About an hour later, Anderson again tried to leave her home without appropriate clothing, prompting her family to call 911 a second time.
The officers who responded to the second 911 call, Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers, were rude and disrespectful to Anderson and her family, according to the lawsuit.
The complaint states that, when Aldridge and Myers placed Anderson in the back seat of their zone car to transport her to the hospital for a mental health evaluation, Anderson began to panic and tried to get out of the car.
Aldridge allegedly grabbed Anderson, slammed her to the sidewalk and pushed her face into the pavement.
He then put his knee on her back, placed his weight onto her and cuffed her hands behind her back, according to the lawsuit, which says that Anderson became unconscious moments later and stopped breathing altogether soon afterwards.
The lawsuit also claims that Aldridge and Myers refused to let Anderson's family, who had watched the entire incident from inside their home, provide any assistance to her while she lay prone on the sidewalk with her nightgown pulled up.
When the family asked the officers to check on Anderson, the officers allegedly falsely claimed that she was sleeping. After letting "many precious minutes pass," the officers finally called for medical assistance, Anderson's family claims.
When EMS personnel arrived on the scene, they found Anderson unresponsive and not breathing, with her hands still cuffed behind her back. They transported her to the Cleveland Clinic where she was pronounced dead.
The lawsuit states that the Cuyahoga County Coroner ruled Anderson's death as a homicide, describing it as "sudden death associated with physical restraint in a prone position in association with ischemic heart disease and Bipolar disorder with agitation."
McGinty recently faced backlash from critics and community activists when he rebuffed calls to appoint a special prosecutor for the investigation into the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was shot and killed by Cleveland police while carrying a realistic-looking pellet gun.
Rice's family and attorneys accused McGinty of manipulating the grand jury process in favor of the police, and repeatedly demanded that he recuse himself from the investigation and appoint a special prosecutor.
McGinty pressed forward with his office's investigation. A Cuyahoga County grand jury ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges against the two officers responsible for Rice's death. The decision prompted six straight days of protests in Cleveland, including a four-minute "die-in" that was staged in McGinty's front yard.
The decision to appoint a special prosecutor in Anderson's case came one day after a nonpartisan group of local clergy known as the Greater Cleveland Congregations held an event to demand reforms in Cuyahoga County's criminal justice system.
The appointment of an independent prosecutor in cases involving police use of deadly force was among the reforms demanded by the religious coalition.
McGinty and his opponent in the upcoming primary elections for County Prosecutor were both present at the event.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office told Cleveland.com that politics had nothing to do with the decision to appoint a special prosecutor for the Anderson investigation.
The Anderson estate's lawsuit against Cleveland, Aldridge and Myers is still pending in federal court. The estate is represented by Cleveland attorneys David Malik and Sara Gedeon, as well as Alphonse Gerhardstein and Jennifer Branch in Cincinnati.