75 Cleveland officers broke rules in chase, city says

Associated Press

CLEVELAND — A review of a deadly police chase in Cleveland last fall has found that 75 patrol officers violated orders and police department rules, city officials said Friday. Nineteen officers face disciplinary hearings.

In the November chase, a fleeing driver and passenger were killed when officers fired 137 shots at them. The 23-minute pursuit involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhood before ending in gunfire.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said at a news conference Friday that the violations ranged from insubordination to failure to obtain permission to leave the city. By way of example, he said, an officer might have been driving 100 mph on a side street and was told to stop, but didn’t.

Some officers were cited for multiple violations, he said, but none of the violations was so serious they warranted termination. Punishments could range from a written reprimand to a suspension. Multiple offenders were referred to the public safety director for hearings because their punishment could go beyond a 10-day suspension.

City officials say one of the 75 offending officers has since left for Cleveland’s fire department but still faces disciplinary action.

Police previously announced punishments for 12 supervisors stemming from the chase. One sergeant was fired. A captain and lieutenant were demoted, and nine sergeants were suspended.

Also, a county grand jury is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing among the 13 officers who fired their weapons as the chase ended in a school parking lot in East Cleveland.

The nighttime chase began when an officer thought he heard a gunshot from a car speeding by the police and courts complex in downtown Cleveland. A parking lot attendant thought it might have been a car backfire, a theory endorsed by the driver’s family.

The officer jumped into his patrol car and radioed for help. The chase went through crowded residential neighborhoods, headed onto busy Interstate 90, and eventually into East Cleveland.

Driver Timothy Russell, 43, was shot 23 times and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, was shot 24 times. No weapon or shell casings were found in the fleeing car.

Police say they don’t know why Russell didn’t stop. Russell had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Williams had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction.

The union has said the shootings were justified because the driver tried to ram an officer.

Of the 277 officers working that night, at least 104 were involved in the pursuit in some capacity, McGrath said Friday. Not all were there for the duration of the chase. Officers dropped off, others left at the instructions of their supervisor and some just blocked intersections.

McGrath called the shootings a “tragedy” for the victims and their families, the community, and the officers and their families. He said it was the job of the mayor, public safety director and himself to get the facts.

“And if we made mistakes or if we have policies that need to be fixed, we’ll do that,” he said.

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