Cleveland Police Reach Settlement With Justice Department Officials Following Two-Year Investigation

The New York Times reported on Monday that the Cleveland Police and Justice Department Officials had reached a settlement concerning what the department cited as a "pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force," following a scathing two-year investigation. Authorities close to the situation said an announcement could come as early as Tuesday. The settlement follows a Cuyahoga County judge's decision on Saturday not to convict Cleveland Police officer Michael Brelo for the deaths of two unarmed black citizens, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — a decision which immediately incited frustrated protests on a national stage.

While the Times could not specify exactly what sort of deal the city had reached with the Justice Department, it is likely Cleveland authorities will be required to acquiesce to certain independent monitoring conditions, meant to "oversee changes" within local police precincts, and implement further use-of-force training procedures like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reported the paper.

In December of last year, Justice Department officials released a report highlighting several instances of excessive force within police ranks. Just days prior to the report's release, the police department again came under fire for the death of 12-year-old African American child Tamir Rice, who had been brandishing a pellet gun when he was shot down by officers within moments of their arrival on the scene. It was later revealed that the witness who had originally called emergency dispatchers allegedly told them that the gun was fake, prompting further accusations of police brutality from the public.

The Justice Department inquiry was originally opened in 2013, following Russell and Williams' deaths the year before. Investigators found that the two had been shot to death after a high-speed police chase which ended with officers riddling the Chevy Malibu with 137 bullets. Brelo, who was on the call that night, had purportedly climbed atop the vehicle and fired 15 times, hitting both Russell and Williams and fatally wounding them. On Saturday, Brelo was acquitted of any wrongdoing, but remained on paid leave.

Following a 2011 car chase, the Justice Department also found that police had used excessive force on an unarmed man when, after pinning him to the ground and handcuffing him, they allegedly began kicking him in the head. Only a year earlier, officials reported, one officer had allegedly shot at a suspect as he drove away in his car, hitting him in the shoulder.

The incidents, as well as several more cited in their official report, represented a clear pattern of use-of-force issues, said Justice Department officials. In their findings, they wrote:

Discipline is so rare that no more than 51 officers out of a sworn force of 1,500 were disciplined in any fashion in connection with a use of force incident over a three-and-a half-year period.
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The report also concluded that, while Cleveland Police officers were indeed working hard to maintain a safe atmosphere for the community, the specific incidents of misconduct had tarnished their trust and reputation with the community:

We recognize the challenges faced by officers in Cleveland and in communities across the nation every day. Policing can be dangerous. At times, officers must use force, including deadly force, to protect lives, including their own. ... Nonetheless, we found that CDP officers engage in excessive force far too often, and that the use of excessive force by CDP officers is neither isolated, nor sporadic.
Making constitutional policing a core Division value, and building systems of real accountability that carry out that value, will support the vast majority of CDP officers who strive to and do uphold their oaths to protect and serve the City of Cleveland. This will foster trust with the community, allowing all CDP officers to perform their jobs more safely and effectively.

Officials are expected to announce the terms of the settlement later this week.

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