The Justice Department issued a scathing report Thursday, concluding that Cleveland’s police department is engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
The announcement from Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderArkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats Oregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE comes against the backdrop of several controversial shootings involving police officers — one of them in the Cleveland area.
In remarks Thursday, Holder attributed “a pattern or practice of using excessive force” to a litany of factors, including “insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.”
The 58-page report that the Justice Department delivered to the city is a searing indictment of its policing practices.
It describes a department where officers are not adequately trained, including in the use of firearms.
“We saw too many incidents in which officers accidentally shot someone, either because they fired their guns accidentally, or because they shot the wrong person,” the report says. “In additional incidents, it was pure luck that officers did not accidentally shoot a suspect, a bystander, or another officer.”
The department’s investigation found that the Cleveland Division of Police unnecessarily used deadly force, including headshots, and also less-lethal force.
They found that officers used lethal force against people who did not present an immediate threat to them.
The report recounts the story of a man who was being held hostage inside a house. As he ran out of the building toward police, they told him to stop. They then shot at him. Police told investigators that they believe that the man was going for a gun when he lifted his hands to point at them.
In other instances, the department found, officers struck people in the head with their firearms. In some cases, this resulted in the weapons accidentally discharging.
The department also used less lethal force in inappropriate ways, the report finds. Force is considered “less lethal” when its intended purpose is not to kill — though the use of less lethal force can result in serious injury or death.
In one instance, an officer punched a handcuffed, 13-year-old boy as he sat in a police car.
The child had been arrested for shoplifting, according to the report, and while in the squad car began to kick at the door. He struck an officer, who then sat on the boy’s legs.
The boy, who like many of the victims of police violence who are mentioned in the report is not named, kicked the officer. The officer then punched him in the face “three to four times until he was ‘stunned/dazed’ and had a bloody nose,” according to the report.
Officers also used excessive force against mentally ill individuals. Tasers were also against mentally ill people, including a suicidal, deaf man who may not have understood what officers were saying to him.
Dangerous tactics also placed police officers “in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”
The review conducted by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division found that systemic problems within the police department led to the problem incidents.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Vanita Gupta said that the department failed to “implement effective and rigorous accountability systems.”
“Force incidents were too often not properly reported, investigated, or addressed with corrective measures,” she said.
“Supervisors throughout the chain of command have endorsed questionable and sometimes unlawful decisions by officers.”
The department’s internal investigators failed to properly look into incidents in which force was used, the report says, and actively worked to aid accused officers.
“Deeply troubling to us was that some of the specially-trained investigators who are charged with conducting unbiased reviews of officers’ use of deadly force admitted to us that they conduct their investigations with the goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible,” the report says.
Cleveland will enter into a “consent decree” with the federal government that can be enforced by the courts. They will allow an independent monitor to have oversight over reform initiatives.
Holder’s comments on the report Thursday came less than 24 hours after he announced that the DOJ would begin a civil rights investigation into the death of Eric Garner, a New York man who was killed in July when a police officer placed him in an apparent chokehold.
On Wednesday, a grand jury decided not to charge the officer who killed Garner.
The report also comes as Cleveland residents continue to learn more about the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer.
Rice was shot by an officer as he played with a toy gun outside a recreation center. A 911 caller had told an operator that the gun was probably fake, though, the police union claims that information was never relayed to the officer who shot Rice.
The Rice shooting was not part of the Justice Department’s review, which launched in March 2013 after several use-of-force incidents.
Still, the problems plaguing the department have cast a pall over the Rice case.
It was reported on Wednesday that the officer who shot Rice, Timothy Loehmann, had nearly been fired from a previous police job in part because he had a “dismal” record with handguns. The Cleveland police department had not checked his record from that job before it hired Loehmann.
The Rice shooting has also raised recurring questions about the way police departments interact with minority communities.
Rice was black, and the officer who killed him was white.
The Justice Department said in its report Thursday that the Cleveland police department had failed to cultivate good relationships with those communities.
“During our investigation, we found that CDP’s method of policing contributes to the community’s distrust of and lack of respect for officers,” the report’s authors wrote.
The Justice Department does not have any imminent plans to implement a federal investigation into the Rice shooting, officials said, so that the local investigation may proceed.
“I think that it is appropriate to allow the local investigation and process to go on with us monitor it and a commitment to review whatever is done after that,” said Steven Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
The Justice Department is also currently investigating the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
This story was updated at 3:36 p.m.