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Friday, October 22, 2021

Cleveland Police Use of Force: Data, Documents Still Difficult to Get From Police

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 8:00 AM

Chief Williams with Mayor Jackson, police public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia and others - ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • ERIC SANDY / SCENE
  • Chief Williams with Mayor Jackson, police public information officer Jennifer Ciaccia and others

It took months for Cleveland Scene to get the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force data. After multiple requests were rejected or answered with unrelated documents, Scene had to go through the courts to get most of the use of force reports, and some questions are still unanswered.

Cleveland Scene first requested all officer use of force reports for 2019 and January through September 2020 in September 2020. First, Cleveland provided a table showing the total number of use of force reports in 2019 and 2020 through September. When Scene reiterated its request for the actual reports, they rejected the request as “overbroad.” When Scene submitted a request for a single month of reports, the city sent incident reports, which didn’t describe the use of force involved.

After suing the police department with the help of Case Western Reserve University’s First Amendment Law Clinic, Scene finally received data on individual use of force reports in February 2021.

But that data provided only partial descriptions of what happened in the incidents. Scene continued its lawsuit against the department, finally receiving the full narratives from the reports in May 2021.

Asked about the city’s refusal to provide data during a panel on use of force in February, Police Chief Calvin Williams first claimed Scene’s data request had not been denied. But he added, “Sometimes people ask for everything and the kitchen sink, which we may not have at the time. So those requests have to be sent back, have to be fine-tuned, and then come back to the city’s process of answering public records requests.”

Scene requested body camera videos of all the incidents reported by Officer Ryan Sowders in February, when an analysis of the available data showed he’d filed the most use of force reports. Scene didn’t get those videos until June 30. Even then, some of the videos appeared to be redacted to the extent that they were useless, blocking out any view of either Sowders’ or the subject’s actions.

The release of data and records has proven a thorny issue for groups involved in the consent decree.

On Sept. 3, a federal judge ordered Cleveland to release data and documents on police discipline the Community Police Commission had requested months and years previously, to no avail.

The CPC filed the case because, according to their filing, the city had said it would not provide disciplinary notices for officers going forward, even though the police department provided the same documents for the Justice Department and the monitoring team. The city claimed that giving them to the CPC as well would be unreasonably burdensome, and was outside the CPC’s mandate.

“The City does not deny that while in many cases it has ultimately provided some of the requested information to the CPC, it has often done so only after repeated requests, months of delay, and intervention by the Monitoring Team and the United States,” lawyers for the CPC wrote in their request for intervention. “Indeed, the City acknowledges that there are currently outstanding data requests from the CPC, but even in the face of a motion seeking to compel that information, the City does not commit to when—or even whether—it will do so.”

In a forum about the consent decree, Gary Singletary, the Cleveland city government chief of counsel, touted monthly meetings between city officials and the Cleveland Community Police Commission as evidence of progress.

But CPC member Latoya Logan would have none of it.

“We have been looking for documents since 2017,” Logan said. “Those meetings that we have every single month, we stopped going for a period of time because we were not getting anywhere. In fact we’re often disrespected and dismissed in those meetings by the CPD and the city.”

Kareem Henton of Black Lives Matter Cleveland also said the department’s reticence is troubling.

“Cleveland said that they would do a better job of fulfilling people’s records requests, including law enforcement [records],” he said. “Requesting this information has still been very problematic when trying to get certain records, so nothing has changed...It just strikes me as just them continuing to circle their wagons.”

Black Lives Matter-Cleveland wants the city to hire someone outside the police department to fulfill requests for police records, in the hopes that an independent arbitrator will create more transparency, Henton said.

Mariah Crenshaw, the founder of an advocacy group called Chasing Justice LLC, said Cleveland’s resistance to providing records casts doubt on the statistics it cites to show the department’s progress.

“How are they tracking this? Where are [city officials] getting the data from?” she said. “Because when you ask for that information, they don’t have it.”

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Cleveland Police Use of Force: Some Uses of Force Unreported, Unfilmed

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 8:00 AM

ADOBESTOCK
  • AdobeStock

On a day in May 2019, a boy came home to find his mother passed out on the floor with a cut on her foot. The boy called for an ambulance, but when his mother awoke, she refused to go to the hospital. That’s when EMS called the cops.

Two officers, Charles Judd and Jacob Pierse, tried to cajole her into the ambulance, alternately threatening her with jail and promising to let her see her children. Finally, they resorted to force. As she stepped off her porch, the officers grabbed her, but she clung to the railing. One officer lifted her feet off the ground as he pulled her, while the other pried her grip from the bannister.

Months later, the Civilian Police Review Board, taking up a complaint from the woman, decided the officers had done only what was necessary. But they also found that neither officer had filed a use of force report, as required by department policy for anything above “de minimis” force.

“Do you think that somebody holding onto their house, grabbing onto their porch railing and having to be pried off of it – is that minimal resistance?” Michael Graham, head of the CPRB, asked the investigator. “They physically ripped her off of that porch. Whether or not it was justified is another question, but I think it demands a use of force report to be filled out.”

“De minimis” force, according to the department’s definition, includes “physical interactions meant to guide and/or control a subject that do not constitute reportable force.”

The board voted that the officers had violated the department’s policy on reporting use of force, and recommended they be given a “letter of reinstruction” explaining that use of force on someone who is resisting officers needs to be reported.

But Judd and Pierse weren’t the only ones who didn’t report a use of force that led to a complaint.

Of the 11 use of force policy violations in 2019 and 2020 for which the Cleveland Police Department provided officer names and incident dates, Scene could find corresponding use of force reports from that officer for just two. In fact, in eight of the cases, failing to report a use of force was either one of the charges or the only charge for which officers were disciplined.

Scene was also unable to find a corresponding UOF report for three complaints made to the Office of Professional Standards where the complainant named either an officer or a subject. Nor was there a use of force report for either of the cases where the CPRB ruled there was an excessive use of force – though one of the officers involved, Santillo, filed a force report for a different incident on the same night that resulted in a man being sent to a hospital.

Statistics in the annual use of force report released by the city indicate the use of force has declined in recent years. But Kareem Henton, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Cleveland, said that could just reflect inadequate reporting.

“When they don’t list use of force the way it should be listed...what they’re doing is, they’re padding the stats,” he said. “[The police monitor is] going to just be looking at statistics, and the statistics are going to show [potentially] lethal use of force is down.”

Body cameras missed many encounters

In Judd and Pierse’s case, the CPRB was able to watch video from their wearable camera systems to find out what happened. But officers don’t always turn those systems on when they’re supposed to – which is any time they encounter a potential victim, witness, or suspect – or they may not work.

In 2020, 47 body camera policy violations were listed in divisional notices. Twenty of those officers received a one-day suspension, while 12 were given non-disciplinary letters of reinstruction.


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In use of force incident reports that were filed, officers frequently cited issues with their body cameras. In 24 of the reports, officers wrote that either their or their partner’s camera had been knocked off their vest. In another 17 incidents, their camera was turned off or in buffer mode. One officer wrote, when he mentioned that his partner’s camera turned off, “this is not uncommon when officers are dealing with non-compliant individuals.”

After a police officer killed Tamir Rice in 2014, the police department invested $2.4 million in Axon-brand wearable cameras.

Professor Stephanie Kent, a sociologist who studies police, said camera footage can be valuable for both police officers and citizens if an encounter turns acrimonious.

“Any time there’s a recording that’s additional evidence that’s additional information that can both help exonerate police in cases when they’re wrongfully accused of misconduct and also help hold them accountable when there are justified complaints by citizens.”

But, she added, departments struggle with “how to enforce the use of them, and what the policies will be about those exceptions when they don’t work or there’s a problem with them.”

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Cleveland Police Use of Force: Police Regularly Point Guns at People Who Aren’t Resisting

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 8:00 AM

CLEVELAND POLICE BODYCAM
  • Cleveland police bodycam

Officer David Schramm heard a call over the police radio on an evening in January 2019 about a man who had threatened “suicide by cop.”

Schramm responded to the call, and was there when the man pulled into a driveway after fleeing some other offices. Then Shcramm pointed his gun at the suicidal man.

Schramm’s report noted, “The above male was compliant and no use of force was against us.” He said he pointed his weapon at the man “due to the unknown threat of if the male had a weapon or not.”

The consent decree between the Cleveland Police Department and the U.S. Justice Department stipulates that “officers will allow individuals the opportunity to submit to arrest before force is used wherever possible.” The decree also specifically lists pointing a firearm at someone as a low-level use of force.

But in 2019 and 2020, Cleveland police reported using force in 55 cases – excluding those that appeared to be mislabeled – against people who were offering no resistance, according to a Scene search of the database. That was about one out of every seven cases where police reported using force.

resistance_levels.png

Schramm’s report was labeled in the database as “within policy,” as was every other case where an officer reported force against someone who was not resisting.

Cleveland police policy requires that any use of force be “proportional to the level of resistance,” but it doesn’t expressly ban use of force on someone who is not resisting.

A department spokeswoman, when asked whether it was appropriate for officers to use force on people who weren’t resisting, responded, “The Cleveland Division of Police chronicles and reviews all use of force incidents on all officers. Cleveland Police officers are required to report all uses of force with the exception of de minimis force. Officers found to be in violation of the Cleveland Division of Police Use of Force General Police Order (2.1.05) are subject to discipline up to and including termination.”

Some officers suggested in their reports that they drew weapons on compliant citizens in accordance with their training.

“Due to prior training of conducting felony stops for armed suspects, and the potential of the occupants to still be armed with the shotgun or other weapons, I had my service  weapon drawn and pointing at the driver of the vehicle as we took her into custody,” one officer wrote.

In nearly every case police reported using force on someone who was following commands, police said they pointed a firearm at the person. There were three cases where officers reported using other kinds of force, like pushing a person or putting them in a control hold.

In 40% of cases where officers used force on someone who wasn’t resisting, Cleveland officers said they could see a firearm in arm’s reach of the subject, or the subject had reportedly used one in a recent crime.

But in others, they had no reason to believe the suspect was armed.

Police responded to a call from Pearl Road Tavern on a day in February 2019 because a man with a gun had been threatening people. When they arrived, patrons told them the man had thrown the gun in a garbage can and then gone into the bathroom. Police still pointed their weapons at him when he came out of the bathroom with his hands up, according to reports from both officers.

In another instance in September 2020, police responding to a residential alarm entered a house with guns drawn, and one officer pointed his weapon at an unarmed man who turned out to be the homeowner.

There were two cases where police pointed a gun at someone, then realized they were asleep or unconscious.

Cleveland State University sociology professor Stephanie Kent, who studies police, said she didn’t know if it was the norm to point weapons at someone who was complying with officers, but added, “It shouldn’t be.”

“I think the police don’t always realize the impact that their actions have on the reactions of people,” she said. “If you pull a gun out, that’s going to escalate the situation from 0 to 100, and that’s when you get people fleeing for stupid stuff, because they’re scared and they don’t know what to do. It could be that they’re not even guilty and they just want to run.”

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Cleveland Police Use of Force: About the Data

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 8:00 AM

Jackson announced how he wants to spend Cleveland's $255 million - CLEVELAND CITY HALL, ERIK DROST/FLICKRCC
  • Cleveland City Hall, Erik Drost/FlickrCC
  • Jackson announced how he wants to spend Cleveland's $255 million

The Cleveland Police Department’s use of force policy, which was instituted at the beginning of 2018, requires every officer to file a detailed report every time they use more than “de minimis” force on a subject, ranging from pointing a gun at someone to tackling them or tasering.

Officers do not have to file a report when they use “de minimis” force, which is defined by the department as, “Physical interactions meant to guide and/or control a subject that do not constitute reportable force.” As examples, Cleveland’s policy lists stopping, pushing back, separating or guiding someone in a way that shouldn’t cause any pain.

In addition to a detailed narrative of the events and why the officer used force, officers are required to report the steps they took to de-escalate the situation, the exact type of force they used, whether there were any injuries to the subject or the officer, and a litany of demographic information.

The police department releases annual reports summarizing the use of force data, but not the reports themselves. Police officials have routinely pointed out that the number of use of force incidents in 2020 were below 2018 and 2019. These summaries don’t any information about individual officers or incidents.

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With the help of Case Western Reserve University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, Cleveland Scene was able to obtain detailed reports from all use of force incidents that were not under continuing investigation from 2019, 2020, and early 2021.

Scene initially requested the data in September 2020. The city first provided unrelated materials, and then rejected the request, saying it was “overbroad.” The city turned over most of the data in May 2021, but withheld incident narratives for cases under investigation. The Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city on those narratives, but Scene is appealing the decision.

The database included information on 351 unique use of force case numbers. Where multiple officers were involved in a single incident, the officers’ various reports were filed under a single number. Altogether, Scene reviewed data from 524 individual reports.

Scene cross-referenced this data with police disciplinary notices, Civilian Police Review Board minutes and agendas, and citizen complaints made to the Office of Professional Standards. For some incidents, Scene also obtained body camera footage. As many of the subjects in use of force incidents were never charged with or convicted of a crime, Scene is not releasing this footage out of respect for their privacy. In other cases where Scene did not obtain footage, this story relies on descriptions by CPRB members and investigators.

The most recent deep-dive into use of force reports was a decade ago, when The Plain Dealer ran a series analyzing use of force reports filed between 2006 and 2011. Among the paper’s findings were that uses of force were rarely found inappropriate; some officers failed to file use of force reports in high-profile cases; and officers who used force abnormally frequently were allowed to continue on the force.

Since then, Cleveland has grappled with the 2014 police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. A Justice Department investigation of Cleveland cops’ use of force led to a 2015 consent decree in 2014, which requires the department to change some of its policies and practices. Last year, America watched in horror as George Floyd suffocated under a Minneapolis officer’s knee; and Cleveland protests against police violence ended in violent confrontations. This year, residents petitioned to put an initiative on the ballot creating stronger civilian oversight of the department, which both the outgoing mayor and one mayoral candidate have derided.

Yet Scene’s analysis found many of the same problems reported by the Plain Dealer ten years ago.

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Local Alt-Rocker Steven Mercyhill Releases New Halloween-Themed Single

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 7:07 AM

Local rocker Steven Mercyhill. - COURTESY OF STEVEN MERCYHILL
  • Courtesy of Steven Mercyhill
  • Local rocker Steven Mercyhill.
Just in time for Halloween, local alt-rocker Steven Mercyhill has released his new single, “Purge Your Demons.” The fourth single from his upcoming album, Nonfiction, finds Mercyhill handling the production and playing all the instruments.

“I've really spent a lot of time and effort over the last half year trying to level up my producing game and, hopefully, that will be at least somewhat in evidence on this release. I'm quite pleased with the way this one came out,” says Mercyhill in a press release. “It's not really about actual demonic entities; it's about being haunted by the past, the painful memories or recurring regrets that tend to rear their heads during sleepless nights or solitary moments of reflection that you just can't seem to get rid of.”

A lyric video or, more accurately, a hybrid video (i.e., a lyric video with some additional visual elements mixed in) that Mercyhill created accompanies the song's release.

“As much as I enjoyed making them, and as proud as I am of my three previous music videos, I started to come to the opinion that there was so much going on visually with those that they may have been more of a distraction from the music than they were a vehicle for it,” he says. “So, I greatly simplified things this time out and was struck by how much better it seemed to support the song rather than compete with it for attention. I honestly like it about as much as anything I've ever done because of that, despite its simplicity.”

“Purge Your Demons” is available for digital download or streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and all major music platforms.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Anthony Zappola’s Rice Shop Will Open at Van Aken District Next Thursday, October 28

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2021 at 5:08 PM

Food from the Rice Shop. - THE RICE SHOP
  • The Rice Shop
  • Food from the Rice Shop.

Back in May, we shared the news that Anthony Zappola would be reviving his popular Asian-fusion concept the Rice Shop at the Van Aken District. That shop, located in the former Restore juice property (3403 Tuttle Rd.), will open next Thursday, October 28.

Zappola originally launched the business in Las Vegas. He later resurrected it at the Ohio City Galley after relocating to Cleveland but shuttered it nine months later when the demands of running it and Lox, Stock and Brisket in University Heights become too burdensome. He launched it again briefly in the former Lox, Stock and Brisket space after that business moved to Van Aken, but again closed it when he handed over the keys to the space to Chicken Ranch owner Demetrios Atheneos.

“I love the concept and it’s always done good, even at the Galley,” Zappola explains. “It just seems like I’m always looking to find a better location. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. I think this one is going to do really well. I have no problem making changes and I have no problem taking risks.”

The 837-square-foot space features an open kitchen, counter service and seating for about 20 guests. A dramatic design feature comprised of 9,000 wooden chopsticks that jut out from the wall and decrease in length until nearly flush with the surface makes quite the impact.

The deliberately compact menu comprised of only a handful of dishes is nearly unchanged since the Las Vegas days, says the chef. Diners can look forward to flavorful plates of mochiko chicken with kung pao broccoli, steak fried rice with bok choi and yum-yum sauce, BBQ pork belly with honey-mustard kale and the ever-popular Kentucky fried fish with cabbage slaw and hot sauce aioli.

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Exhibition with Surreal Fantasy Forest Opens at Ursuline's Wasmer Gallery Friday

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2021 at 2:39 PM

COURTESY URSULINE WASNER GALLERY
  • Courtesy Ursuline Wasner Gallery

Viewers are invited to engage in “ReFuge: The Last Days of Wonder,” an interactive, two-site exhibit exploring themes of nature as refuge at Ursuline College’s Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery. An opening reception Friday October 22nd will launch the exhibit, which runs through Friday, January 28, 2022. 

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes and was conceived and curated by Wasmer Gallery Director, Anna Arnold. It features five noteworthy local artists: Joyce Morrow Jones, Jacques Payne Jackson, Ron Shelton, and Claudio Orso.

“ReFuge: The Last Days of Wonder,” is site-specific and invites visitors to explore the gallery space, which has been transformed into a surreal fantasy forest created by Arnold and the coalition of installation and mixed-media artists from Cuyahoga County. The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes hosts the companion exhibit featuring two-dimensional work by the same artists.

“Visitors will enter an organic environment made of reused materials that has become a place of exploration, meditation, and healing,” Arnold said. “Wasmer’s installations include: an engaging ten-foot-tall Mother Nature figure created from recycled cardboard; a lighted, running indoor fountain; a life-sized figure with a pair of elegant, patchwork fabric wings that reach out in a gentle embrace; and a 20-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall paper flower wall.”

This exhibition, which is free and open to the public, engages its gallery-goers in a tranquil meditation space where they may reflect on nature. ‘ReFuge,’ offers the viewer an opportunity to tune into the imagined world created by this group of installation artists as they bring you into their vision of a constructed and interactive environment. The exhibition is made possible by funds from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the Ohio Arts Council.

Ursuline’s Wasmer Gallery is located at: 2550 Lander Road in Pepper Pike about 25 minutes from downtown Cleveland.

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