In a development that should surprise precisely nobody, the Department of Justice’s 21-month investigation into the use of excessive force by Cleveland police has yielded depressingly awful abuses by cops of suspects and bystander citizens, and the department will be getting a new federal babysitter to watch over them.
The so-called “pattern or practice” report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was released Thursday afternoon as DOJ and the city announced plans to develop a court-enforceable agreement that would impose an independent monitor on the Cleveland Division of Police.
“Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a press conference on Thursday.
Just a few of the examples in the report:
According to the DOJ report, Cleveland police officers “carelessly fire their weapons, placing themselves, subjects, and bystanders at unwarranted risk of serious injury or death.” For example, the agency pointed to an incident in 2011 where officers “fired 24 rounds in a residential neighborhoods,” with six rounds striking houses and 14 hitting parked cars. In another case, “An officer’s decision to draw his gun while trying to apprehend an unarmed hit-and-run suspect resulted in him accidentally shooting the man in the neck.”
The Justice Department also claimed to have identified “several cases” where “officers shot or shot at people who did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or others.” For example, in 2013, the report noted that police shot at a victim who had been kidnapped by armed assailants after he fled the house in his boxers. The sergeant believed that the victim had a weapon because he raised his hand.
In another case detailed by the Justice Department, a 6’4″, 300-pound officer punched a 5’8″” 13-year-old boy who was handcuffed inside a police car and kicking the door, “three to four times” until he was “‘stunned/dazed’ and had a bloody nose.”
The agency noted that, “supervisors’ analyses of use of force incidents is superficial at best and, at its worst, appears to be designed to justify their subordinates’ unreasonable use of force.” For example, in the case of the teenage boy, the agency said that, the officer’s supervisor “failed to even consider that the punches might have been retaliatory [perhaps because the officer was angry] and unnecessary to secure the boy.”
And this is all on top of last week’s shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by an officer who we later found out was judged unfit for his previous position as a cop.
As they say, it’s a start. But there’s hundreds of thousands of cops out there in America, and way too many of them think people who look like me are their enemies, not the people they are supposed to serve and to protect.