NBC News Covers Corrupt East Cleveland Cops and Tangled Web of Lies, Questionable Convictions

Justice Center, Photo courtesy of Aivazovsky via Wikimedia Commons
Justice Center, Photo courtesy of Aivazovsky via Wikimedia Commons
We've been following along as dozens of convictions have been slated to be overturned in the wake of the East Cleveland Police Department corruption scandal. Three police officers were indicted in 2015 on charges relating to illegal searches and seizures during the course of their investigations; Torris Moore, Antonio Malone and Eric Jones shook down drug dealers and stole from suspects' homes for years.

Only one of the more than 40 convictions tied to those cops still involves a prisoner in custody. (The rest of the defendants have been released or are serving time on unrelated charges.) But the process of undoing the harm is circuitous and slow.

NBC News arrived in town to shed some light on where East Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have gotten to at this point, and it's always relieving to see a national news outlet place a spotlight on Northeast Ohio's abysmal criminal justice record.

Three cops who worked for the city of East Cleveland are in prison. Cases against 22 alleged drug dealers have been dismissed. Authorities are searching for another 21 people who are eligible to have their convictions tossed. On top of those injustices, there is a slim chance that any of them will be fully reimbursed, because the disgraced officers and their former employer don't have the money.

"I always took it on the chin when I got arrested for something I know I did. But when a cop lies to get you in prison, that's a different story," said Kenneth Blackshaw, who was arrested in a 2013 traffic stop and spent two years behind bars before his drug conviction was overturned.

Moving on, NBC gets into the sheer scale of police graft in the U.S. ("In Philadelphia, more than 800 people have had their convictions dismissed. The Rampart scandal in Los Angeles in the late 1990s led to at least 150 tossed cases.") Group exonerations that follow police officer convictions don't get the press attention that, say, DNA-related exonerations do. As Jon Schuppe at NBC explains, the sort of thing that happened here in East Cleveland only stokes anti-police sentiment further and divides communities at a time when hope is most needed.

"What I saw in this case is a legitimate reason for these folks to have these feelings toward law enforcement," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Feran, who prosecuted the East Cleveland officers, told NBC News.

But the path toward undoing that damage has not been simple. The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Officer's Conviction Integrity Unit has reviewed any and all criminal cases that Torres, Malone and Jones had touched. Based on the corrupt detective work that led to dozens of convictions, the CIU was left with the sole option of vacating those convictions and declaring the defendants "legally innocent."

The CIU is still in the process of tracking down all formerly incarcerated defendants who were sent to jail on the East Cleveland officers' handiwork.

Do read the full story.