CLEVELAND (WJW)– A scathing progress report was filed in federal court by the group overseeing reform within the Cleveland Division of Police, as part of the U.S. Department of Justice consent decree.
The city entered into the consent decree in 2015 after charges of systemic police brutality, unnecessary use of deadly force and a lack of accountability for officer misconduct were leveled against the department. Some of the changes included more training, more diverse hiring practices and using body cameras.
“It holds police officers accountable and may actually cause them to hesitate to do something they may have done, but it also ensures that civilians don’t make frivolous complaints,” Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at the time.
But the first published review, filed by the Consent Decree Monitoring Team on Monday in U.S. District Court, cites numerous ongoing issues and singles out recently-retired Director of Public Safety Michael McGrath.
“Overall, the Director of Public Safety’s decision-making with respect to the imposition of discipline either failed to comply with the Court-approved Disciplinary Matrix or was unreasonably lenient,” said monitor Hassan Aden.
The report examined and detailed how McGrath handed down punishments involving 46 officers in 39 cases between March 2018 and 2020.
According to Aden, McGrath showed a “lack of timeliness” and a clear pattern of “imposing discipline on the low end….imposing suspensions in lieu of terminations.”
The report cites the case of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson who suffered mental illness and died while being restrained by officers. Her family called police for medical help when Anderson was having a schizophrenic and bipolar episode. The manner of death was deemed a homicide, but according to the report, one officer was given only a 10-day suspension and the other a written reprimand.
Another case involved an officer using a “vulnerable person’s debit card.” According to the report, the victim stayed at a shelter and the officer made an “unauthorized withdrawal of $403.50” from the card. The officer could’ve been suspended up to 30 days and faced criminal charged, but was instead suspended for 15 days after making full restitution.
In the audit, Aden concludes that “the city has not complied with the consent decree with respect to discipline.”
McGrath retired in June, but Monday night the city released the following statement.
“There is work to be done in order to have a fair and balanced disciplinary system that all Clevelanders and the Division of Police can believe in. Still, significant progress has been made in the functioning of the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the Civilian Police Review Board and the Division’s office of Internal Affairs. Hundreds of OPS backlogged investigations of civilian complaints have been completed; and all involved are committed to timely and thorough completion of current investigations and dispositions. We will review the audit and consider all recommendations.”
The court responded to the audit by convening a “status conference” in order to hear from all parties and the monitoring team.
“Should the court determine that the city is out of compliance with the consent decree, remedies should be discussed to realign the city with the path to compliance.”
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