The Justice Department on Tuesday announced a settlement with the city of Cleveland and its police department, following a deeply critical investigation that had found a “pattern or practice” of excessive law enforcement violence that violated the Constitution.
Under the 105-page consent decree, Cleveland agreed to a series of reforms that will be overseen by a federal monitor. Cleveland will establish a city-wide Community Police Commission, revamp its Police Review Board and adopt new training and policies, among other changes.
“The provisions of this agreement will help ensure the many brave men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police can do their jobs not only constitutionally, but also more safely and effectively,” said Steven N. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
The agreement also calls for an assessment of the police department’s equipment needs, creates a new Mental Health Response Advisory Committee and enhance data collection.
“There is much work to be done, across the nation and in Cleveland, to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve where it has eroded, but it can be done,” said Vanay Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The settlement, announced at a press conference convened in Cleveland, is meant to resolve problems identified in a Justice Department report issued last December. The department’s Special Litigation Section initiated the inquiry after a series of violent incidents.
The investigation cited systemic problems with Cleveland police, including unnecessary and excessive shooting and head strikes, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists and excessive force against the mentally ill, among other issues.
“The result is policing that is sometimes chaotic and dangerous; interferes with CDP’s ability to effectively fight crime; compromises officer safety; and frequently deprives individuals of their constitutional rights,” the 58-page report concluded.
Specific examples cited by Justice Department investigators included a 25-minute car chase on Nov. 29, 2012, when over 100 Cleveland police officers engaged in a high speed pursuit; two unarmed civilians died after 13 police officers fired 137 shots at the fleeing car.
“The officers, who were firing on the car from all sides, reported believing that they were being fired at by the suspects,” Justice Department investigators noted. “It now appears that those shots were being fired by fellow officers.”
In another instance from 2013, officers tased a handcuffed, fleeing prisoner, and then stunned him two more times after having lost control of him while placing him in the back of a police car.
The consent decree announced Tuesday came three days after a judge acquitted Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo for his role in the Nov. 29, 2012 fatal shooting of two unarmed men.
The Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section during the Obama administration has undertaken a record number of such “pattern or practice” investigation, targeting law enforcement agencies in cities ranging from Baltimore to Ferguson, Mo.
At the time the initial report was completed in December, Justice Department and Cleveland officials agreed to a set of principles