Cleveland Makes a Deal with DOJ as City Erupts in Protests Over Officer's Acquittal

By Michael Nam

The city of Cleveland reached a settlement on May 25th with the Justice Department over the police department’s use of excessive force and civil rights violations, according to a report by the New York Times. The DOJ investigation was sparked by the 2012 car chase and shooting of the unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both Black, by Officer Michael Brelo.

The announcement of the deal comes shortly after a judge acquitted Officer Brelo of manslaughter charges in the Russell and Williams case. Protests in Cleveland grew after verdict went

public on Saturday and became more aggressive as the day progressed. There were 71 arrests according to police, but the rallies were peaceful as of Sunday, May 24th.

The 2012 incident that has outraged Cleveland residents began when the vehicle, driven by Russell, likely backfired, which may have been mistaken for gunshots. The police gave chase, and at the end of the chase, the 13 police officers unleashed a hail of 137 bullets. Officer Brelo, singled out for criminal charges, had jumped on the hood of the car and fired 15 of the last 18 shots.

Like Ferguson and Baltimore, the protesters’ anger stems from more than the Officer Brelo incident. The New York Times describes a particularly scathing Justice Department report of a pattern of abuse by the Cleveland police department:

Investigators said officers unnecessarily used deadly force; used excessive force against mentally ill people; and inappropriately resorted tostun guns, chemical sprays and punches.

The report also details an incident when officers kicked a handcuffed Black individual while he was on the ground. It was not compiled in time, however, to cover the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a young black child gunned down by police with astonishing speed while he was playing with a toy gun.

The Justice Department and FBI addressed the acquittal of Officer Brelo in an official statement:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have been monitoring the extensive investigation that has been conducted around the events of Nov. 29, 2012. We will now review the testimony and evidence presented in the state trial. We will continue our assessment, review all available legal options and will collaboratively determine what, if any, additional steps are available and appropriate given the requirements and limitations of the applicable laws in the federal judicial system. This review is separate and distinct from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office’s productive efforts to resolve civil pattern and practice allegations under 42 U.S.C. 14141 with the city of Cleveland.

While details of the DOJ deal were not made available, the settlement does avoid a costly legal battle for the city with the federal government, unlike the city of Ferguson currently negotiating terms of their reforms with a high-profile attorney.

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