Attorneys push to question Cleveland mayor in lawsuit over use of force

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(Photo: Ohio BCI)

CLEVELAND– A battle is raging in federal court over whether Cleveland’s mayor should be questioned in a lawsuit with city police officers claiming discrimination against them after they used deadly force.

Nine officers filed suit claiming the city discriminates against white or non-African-American officers who shoot and kill African-American suspects. The officers were among the 13 who fired 137 shots and killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012 after a long chase.

The attorney for the officers wants to question Mayor Frank Jackson in a deposition. But lawyers for the city have filed a motion to block that.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, attorney for the officers, wrote in court papers:

“Mayor Jackson is a named defendant. The allegations in the complaint still pertain to him. He is the only political official who answers to the voters. The other defendants serve at his pleasure and report directly to him. Plaintiffs believe and seek to prove that Mayor Jackson has caused the other defendants to take the actions alleged in the complaint for his political benefit in addition to his direct participation.”

Lawyers for the city wrote, “Mayor Jackson’s time is valuable and his ability to serve the City of Cleveland would be greatly challenged if he were required to appear to testify in all civil cases.”

Rosenbaum also said, as part of the suit, non African-American officers spend much more time, in these cases, placed by the city on restricted duty and off the streets. Rosenbaum argues, by contract, officers in fatal shootings should get assigned to the police gymnasium for 45 days. But they often spend much longer doing “menial and unpleasant tasks.”

Rosenbaum wrote in court papers African-American officers in these situations only spent an average of 79.42 days on restricted duty while others have spent an average of 239.38 days on restricted duty.

City lawyers have said, “The actions at issue in this case, the length of time Plaintiffs were ordered to remain on restrictive duty, was decided and undertaken by then Chief of Police Michael McGrath.”

But Rosenbaum is still pressing to question the mayor. He wrote, “The claim that deposing him for three hours will bring the city to its knees is preposterous.”

A city Hall spokesman said the city does not comment on litigation.

A federal judge hearing the case will decide the matter.