I-Team: Prosecutor defends offer to drop charges for money in deadly chase case

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The FOX 8 I-Team went one-on-one with the East Cleveland law director about her offer to have charges dropped against police officers if they each pay $5,000 to the court.

The I-Team noted this looks like justice-for-sale, but Willa Hemmons said, "I mean, if that's the way you want to characterize it, you can, but I think it's been grossly distorted." She added, "Sometimes money is justice."

Five Cleveland police supervisors still face charges of dereliction of duty for a chase in 2012 that ended in East Cleveland with two suspects dead. Now, a firestorm has been stirred up as the I-Team revealed discussions between East Cleveland and the lawyers for the officers.

The East Cleveland law director confirmed directly to the I-Team, if those five Cleveland police supervisors each come in with a check for five thousand dollars, she’ll walk down the hall to the judge and ask him to drop the charges.

Willa Hemmons said, otherwise, she’s prepared to take the officers to trial for their roles in the chase. She said, "They authorized, they allowed, they condoned, they encouraged; it was up to them to call the reins in on those police that did come in."

Defense lawyers for the officers call the offer improper. Thursday, Henry Hilow said, "In fact, to a lay person this would be extortion." He added, "She has an ethical responsibility; she has a moral responsibility. But she's not a person that's going to be collecting money from individuals to get a dismissal. That's not gonna happen."

Hemmons points out East Cleveland is a city struggling with severe money problems. So, she says she has to consider what it could cost to put those cops on trial. Her office is filled with potential evidence and exhibits. And, she says she also is considering what it cost the city to investigate the case.

Hemmons said, "Justice costs."

The I-Team wondered, can anyone charged with a crime in East Cleveland come up with money for the court to have charges dismissed? Hemmons said no. But she says she has done this before with suspects in drug cases and others. Hemmons considers this all a part of plea negotiations.

Two of the defense attorneys involved tell the I-Team they’ve never seen anything like this before. They do not consider it a standard plea bargain.

The initial I-Team report Thursday has stirred up activists leading them to speak out against the offer to settle the case this way before a trial.

Continuing coverage.

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