In the wake of the acquittal, in a non-jury trial, of white Cleveland police officer of Michael Brelo in the murder of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, Cleveland once again has come under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice.
Federal officials will review the trial testimony and evidence, and a city panel is investigating Mr. Brelo’s actions and police conduct in the episode. Five supervisors face misdemeanor charges for their oversight of the case.
There are also two ongoing investigations of police shootings in November. One is looking into the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a replica gun when a white Cleveland police officer shot him. That shooting, captured on video, has also garnered national attention and resulted in protests.
In the other, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office is investigating the death of Tanisha Anderson. Ms. Anderson, a 37-year-old black woman whose family said she suffered from bipolar disorder, lost consciousness and died in police custody after being placed face down on the pavement. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide
In an attempt to ease the tensions, the Cleveland Police Department reached a settlement with the Justice Department accepting tougher standards and oversight to insure that the rules are followed.
The agreement is part of a settlement with the Justice Department over what federal officials have called a pattern of unconstitutional policing and abuse in Cleveland. The department found in a review released late last year that police officers here used stun guns inappropriately, punched and kicked unarmed people, and shot at people who posed no threat. The episodes often went unreported and uninvestigated, investigators found.
The new rules in Cleveland prohibit officers from using force against people for talking back or as punishment for running away. Pistol whipping is prohibited, and so is firing warning shots, the agreement says. The city has agreed to allow an independent monitor to track its progress. If the city does not put into effect the changes specified in the settlement, a federal judge has the authority to demand them.
Cleveland also agreed to hire a civilian to lead its internal affairs unit and to appoint an inspector general to investigate police misconduct and analyze policies and trends. The federal authorities believe that those changes, along with an internal panel assigned to review use-of-force cases, will ensure that police keep accurate records and conduct genuine investigations. The city will also form a civilian advisory panel to review policies and advocate better community relations.
This is a good start but there is a lot more within these cities that needs to be done.
More prosecutions of the police who are abusing their powers would go a long way to ease the distrust in cities like Cleveland, Ferguson and New York City. It would would be better if those cities did it themselves rather than the Justice Department. Aside from Baltimore, however, it appears quite unlikely. It’s in your court, AG Lynch.