Just a few weeks after the city announced punishments handed down to 12 Cleveland police supervisors for their role in the November 2012 police chase that ended with two dead in a hurricane of 137 bullets, that quote sounds like the pithy, PR-friendly stand of a police chief intent on remedying a troubling anomaly plaguing his force.
But that sound bite is not from Chief McGrath, but rather Public Safety Director Marty Flask, and it's not from the June announcement, but rather from May 2010 when asked by Scene for comment on the case of 28-year-old Cleveland mother Angel Bradley-Crockett, who was found dead and naked along the side of I-90. If you'll remember, police were called to investigate a possible body and, instead of stopping, twice drove by at 50 mph to visually verify that it was merely a dead deer.
Three years and multiple horrendous storylines in the national headlines later, the same empty reply is being trotted out by police leadership in the same self-serving self-defense that has defined McGrath's tenure.
"We have to work a little harder on our end to ensure that we continue moving forward making this a safe community," McGrath said in June after it was announced one sergeant, Michael Donegan, would be terminated for his role in the police chase, while two other supervisors would receive demotions and eight others minor suspensions.
Donegan being the sacrificial lamb here; someone had to lose his job.
That would not be McGrath, naturally. Everyone is accountable except him.
But it's time that changed, because the mea culpa with no ramifications has become an annual event.
His resume, if Mayor Jackson were paying attention, more than backs it up.
• The trouble with use of deadly force cases in Cleveland isn't a new phenomena, nor is McGrath's ineptitude at dealing with it. Back on September 30, 2005, Patrolman John Franko chased down a suspect, Laray Renshaw, after a drug stop. They fought while straddled over a fence, Renshaw punching Franko in the face.
The then-30-year-old, six-year vet pursued Renshaw into an apartment building, eventually meeting the suspect in a stairwell where Renshaw went after Franko's gun. The two struggled. Bullets were fired. Renshaw was shot in the chest and died. In a 2008 deposition under oath, McGrath contradicted statements he had previously made to Franko during a conversation that was audiotaped—specifically whether the Campbell administration sat on UDF cases to appease the black community by keeping white officers on the bench and if the process of clearing those cases was "a mess." Whether it was a lie or an egregious lapse of memory, it reflected badly on the chief.
• In October 2009, Anthony Sowell is finally arrested and the world discovers that he murdered 11 women in his Imperial Avenue House. Cleveland police come under fire for missteps on leads that could have led to Sowell's unthinkable crime scene earlier.
• In April 2010, Angel Bradley-Crockett's naked body on the side of I-90 is identified as a dead deer by Cleveland cops passing by at highway speeds.
• In November 2012, dozens of Cleveland off icers engage in a dangerous, high-speed chase across the city that ends with two suspects dead and 137 bullets fired. The suspects were not armed. A report by Attorney General Mike DeWine cited "systemic failures" in the department for the tragic results.
• In May 2013, Amanda Berry bravely screamed for help from the home of Ariel Castro, where she, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held captive for a decade. Cleveland police once again face questions about missed leads.
The pattern is unmistakable and embarrassing. What other major city has faced as many questions over as many jarring crimes in that short of a span? And what other chief escapes out the back door with his job in tact year after fucked-up year?
Every time, Chief McGrath has deflected criticism. And every time, Mayor Jackson, who retained the chief appointed by Mayor Campbell, has backed him up.
The rank and file is having none of it. McGrath long ago lost their support – there was, at one time, a bathroom graffiti caricature of McGrath as a horse (his nickname around the precincts) in a stall near the third floor of the Justice Center, for example – which culminated with the police union calling in February for the axe to fall on their leader.
"The chief of police has been disappointing from the beginning," CPPPA President Jeff Follmer said at the time.
Among cops on the street, McGrath is described as disconnected and distant, ineffectual and detached from what actually happens in the city.
When he penned a guest op-ed in the Plain Dealer to defend the police force against public opposition to the investigations into the three women's disappearances, cops described the action as "too little, too late."
"Unfortunately, even when the end results are so amazing, there are those who seek only to belittle police officers and further harm the victims," McGrath wrote. "As a 40-year law enforcement officer, I am saddened by the actions of those few in our community who have used this miracle as a vehicle for their own self-serving agendas. The disclosure of sensitive information and details of these horrendous crimes only further victimize three young women. The criticism of law enforcement efforts is disheartening. The dissemination of misinformation erodes the critical relationship between law enforcement and community."
"After watching recent events unfold," he continued, "I can only surmise that good news does not sell as well as controversy."
When those are the only headlines you make year after year, however, someone has to be made accountable. And that someone, this time, is you, Chief McGrath.
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