As the entire nation closely watches Cleveland to see how local authorities handle the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, there was a sign this week that the investigation is moving in the right direction as city officials appear to be on the verge of taking the investigation away from the troubled Cleveland police department and handing it to the county sheriff.
This is the kind of move activists around the country have been asking for—to take police-involved shootings out of the hands of the police and local prosecutors and have them handled by more independent agencies that don’t have to deal with the parties on a daily basis.
Cleveland city officials indicated this is the direction they would like to move in for all officer-involved shootings.
“Not only this investigation, but we would like a different, outside agency to handle all deadly use of force cases,” city spokesman Dan Ball told cleveland.com. “But nothing’s set in stone.”
The Cleveland Division of Police’s use of deadly force investigation team reportedly has been collecting evidence and conducting interviews since the Nov. 22 shooting, but Cleveland Safety Director and former police Chief Michael McGrath has been in talks with Cuyahoga County officials to hand the investigation over to the sheriff’s office.
Less than two weeks after young Rice was killed by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who had already been deemed unfit for police work by a previous employer, the U.S. Justice Department released a devastating report last month that detailed 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 Justice report was especially significant after Loehmann fatally shot 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.
It was subsequently revealed that 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.
The nation is watching Cleveland to see if Loehmann will be indicted—after grand juries have decided not to indict officers in Ferguson and New York City who killed unarmed African-Americans, in addition to in other jurisdictions where police killed civilians.
The Justice Department began its Cleveland investigation 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.