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.
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.”