Less than two weeks after 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a Cleveland police officer who had already been deemed unfit for police work by a previous employer, the U.S. Justice Department released a devastating report yesterday that details the Cleveland Police Department’s “pattern or practice” of using unreasonable force in violation of the 4th amendment, including unnecessary shootings and head strikes with impact weapons, excessive use of lethal force and “the employment of poor and dangerous tactics.”
The report specifically noted how African-Americans view the department as targeting the African-American community for excessive force and brutality.
The Justice Department found that not only do Cleveland police officers too often use unnecessary and unreasonable force in violation of the Constitution, but that “supervisors tolerate this behavior and, in some cases, endorse it.”
“Officers report that they receive little supervision, guidance, and support from the Division, essentially leaving them to determine for themselves how to perform their difficult and dangerous jobs,” the report said. “The result is policing that is sometimes chaotic and dangerous; interferes with CDP’s ability to effectively fight crime; compromises officer safety; and frequently deprives individuals of their constitutional rights.”
The Fourth amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, arbitrary arrests and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance.
The report revealed many specific cases where Cleveland officers used excessive force and poor judgment, such as an officer punching a handcuffed 13-year-old boy three to four times in the face; an officer shooting a man who had his hands in the air; officers tasing a man who was already on the ground in handcuffs; and a sergeant shooting at a kidnapping victim who was running toward the officers wearing just boxer shorts.
To curtail a police department that poses a significant risk to the citizens of Cleveland, the Justice Department and the city of Cleveland announced they would be developing a court-enforceable agreement that would impose an independent monitor on the Cleveland Police Department.
“Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference in Cleveland yesterday while releasing the report.
The Justice report is especially significant considering that the nation’s eyes will be focused on Cleveland in the coming months to see what will happen to officer Timothy Loehmann after he fatally shot Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in the park on Nov. 22. Many people across the country were shocked to watch the video footage and see how quickly Loehmann fired his gun at the boy upon arriving at the scene, seemingly directly contradicting the officer’s claims that he told the boy to put down his gun more than once. Loehmann was judged unfit for police work in 2012 by his then-employer, the police department of Independence, Ohio, where a supervisor used words like “distracted,” “weepy,” and “dismal” to describe Loehmann’s handgun performance in an internal memo.
In light of these revelations about the incompetency in the Cleveland police department and the incompetency in Loehmann’s past, the nation will be watching very closely to see if Loehmann is indicted—after grand juries have decided not to indict officers in Ferguson and New York City who killed unarmed African-Americans.
The Justice Department swept into Cleveland in March 2013 at the request of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. After a series of reports in the local newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, detailed numerous instances of excessive use of force by Cleveland officers, an incident on Nov. 29, 2012, demonstrated clearly that something needed to be done. On that day, over 100 Cleveland police officers engaged in a high speed chase, in violation of police department policies, and fatally shot two unarmed African-American civilians.
“The incident inflamed community perceptions, particularly in the African-American community, that CDP is a department out of control and that its officers routinely engage in brutality,” the Justice Department report said.