Cleveland reaches deal with Justice on policing

WASHINGTON — The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the police department, a senior federal law enforcement official said Monday.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the settlement ahead of the official announcement, expected this week, and spoke on condition of anonymity.

News of the settlement comes two days after a white police officer was acquitted of manslaughter for firing the final 15 rounds of a 137-shot police barrage through the windshield of a car carrying two black, unarmed suspects in 2012.

The suspects’ backfiring vehicle had been mistaken for a gunshot, leading to a high-speed chase involving 62 police cruisers. Once the suspects were cornered, 13 officers fired at the car.

The chase prompted an 18-month Justice Department investigation. In a report released in December, the department required the city to work with community leaders and other officials to devise a plan to reform the police department, which a judge must approve and an independent monitor will oversee.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson did not return messages seeking comment. Messages to a Cleveland city spokesman and the police department seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.

The specifics of the settlement, first reported by The New York Times, were not available Monday.

The Justice Department’s report spared no one in the police chain of command. The worst examples of excessive force involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.

Supervisors and police higher-ups received some of the report’s most searing criticism. The Justice Department said officers were poorly trained and some didn’t know how to implement use-of-force policies. The report also said officers are ill-equipped.

Mobile computers that are supposed to be in patrol cars often don’t work and, even when they do, officers don’t have access to essential department databases, according to the report.

The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behavior and often did little to investigate it. Some told the Justice Department that they often wrote their reports to make an officer look as good as possible, the federal agency said. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities intervened this time by way of a consent decree. Several other police departments in the country now operate under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

Saturday’s bench verdict on the manslaughter charge against patrolman Michael Brelo led to a day of mostly peaceful protests but also more than 70 arrests.

But two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: a boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.

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