CLEVELAND – The Fox 8 I-Team has found officials with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office have not yet been able to start reviewing a 2014 death of a woman in police custody even though the case was to be transferred to them months ago.
The Attorney General’s Office says after all this time, they haven’t been able to move forward because they have not yet received the file on Tanisha Anderson’s case.
“We aren’t going to go away,” said Joell Anderson, Tanisha’s brother. “I just have to ask the judge, and the special master, if this was your sister, or your daughter, would you treat the case the same way? Would the delay be this long?”
Tanisha Anderson died in police custody in November 2014 when her family wanted her taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. They say she was handcuffed and slammed to the ground, something police union officials dispute.
The case was first investigated by Cleveland police, then the Cuyahoga Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s department gave the investigation to prosecutors in June 2015 to determine if the case should be presented to a grand jury to determine if the officers should face criminal charges. And at that time, the family thought they were finally going to get answers but they say they just got another delay.
In February, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed to the case, saying that the investigative file contained statements officers gave as part of an internal investigation and those documents should not have been given to prosecutor’s handling the criminal case.
Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John Russo granted that request. In April, he assigned a special master – to review the case file , remove the statements prosecutors are not allowed to have, and send the file to the attorney general’s office.
But so far that has not been done.
In May, the first special master recused himself after having the file for weeks, saying he had a conflict on the case. Another special master, Retired Lake County Judge Joseph Gibson, was appointed in May, and the file remains with him.
A spokesman for the Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said Friday the office has not yet received the file and they are not allowed to contact the special master.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court said Sunday the judge has not yet been notified that the special master has completed the report. He said they did not know when the special master would be finished.
Tanisha’s family says they are left to wonder how much longer they will have to wait.
“We have been trying for months to get an answer as to what happened, all we get is delay, delay, delay,” said Tanisha’s uncle, Michael Anderson.
Attorneys Alphonse Gerhardstein, David Malik and Sara Gedeon, who represent the family in a federal civil suit say the delay has been agonizing on the family.
“When the system works perfectly, the amount of time it takes for the authorities to investigate homicides caused by the police is still a long and difficult journey for the family,” said Atty. David Malik.
“Sadly, long and difficult is the nature of Cuyahoga County’s criminal justice system with respect to police misconduct cases. When the system breaks down even further, as it has done on the criminal side of Tanisha’s case, the system is a living hell for the family.”
An expert hired by the family as part of the civil case, Lou Reiter, a retired deputy chief for the Los Angeles Police Department, filed a report in July saying the officers , who were dealing with Tanisha Anderson, who had a mental illness, was “contrary to generally accepted police practices.” Reiter also said the officers use of force were “unreasonable.”
Meanwhile, Tanisha’s mother, Cassandra Johnson continues to struggle.
She says opening the front door of her Cleveland home is something she dreads every day.
“Some people say it’s just the street out there, but not to me,” Johnson says as she wipes away tears. “I can’t help but remember seeing my daughter on that street, down on the cold street in a night gown, with two officers by her and there was nothing I could do. And I still can’t do anything. I can’t even get her justice.”