In a one hour, 40 minute press conference with local media, Mayor Jackson addressed issues relating to last week's scathing DOJ report, a report which cited a pattern of excessive force and brutality by the Cleveland Police Department.
Jackson stood by McGrath and police leadership, continually questioning the "accuracy" of the report — a grueling, meticulous 59-page document that took 21 months to complete. He said that though he acknowledged problems within the department and with "external factors" concerning officer treatment in the criminal justice system, he said the city would nonetheless be launching an internal investigation of the DOJ report to determine just exactly what they don't agree with.
"It's a process," Jackson said.
That internal investigation team, Jackson claimed, would be comprised of "primarily lawyers," and would move beyond initial conversations into the investigation's formal structuring as early as next week.
Media members were naturally curious about Jackson's support of former police chief / current safety director Mike McGrath in the wake of the report, especially in light of McGrath's decision to walk out of a city council meeting Monday night when councilman Jeff Johnson started lobbing personal attacks. Johnson and others have called for McGrath's dismissal.
Asked one reporter (I'm paraphrasing): Doesn't McGrath's actions, and your unconditional support, damage the idea that the city is working toward rebuilding public trust in the police force and the administration?
Jackson didn't think so. He reiterated, to no one's surprise, that he was in "complete support" of McGrath's decision on Monday — "Their skin is very thick," he said, referring to his veteran cabinet, "and if they felt that way [that they were being abused], I honor that feeling."
He also said, unbelievably, that he hadn't heard from a single member of the public who took exception to McGrath's behavior.
The Mayor later launched into an unprompted and full-fledged defense of McGrath for his actions in the aftermath of the Nov, 2012 police shooting, saying that the then police chief was the only one who "stood up in the line of fire" and demanded punishment for the officers involved. Jackson held up McGrath's performance then as one of the key factors in his promotion to safety director. Jackson said he also hadn't heard from anyone in the public who was bothered by McGrath's promotion.
Later, Jackson responded to questions about ongoing protests downtown. He said he supported and "really appreciate[d]" the demonstrators. And though he said he's received complaints about road blockages and disrupted commutes, Jackson was firm:
"That's the inconvenience of freedom," he said. "That's the inconvenience of people expressing their constitutional rights."
Though Jackson managed to express some heartfelt sentiments — he said the shooting of Tamir Rice was the "worst time" he's experienced as Mayor — in general, he didn't inspire much confidence in the administration's commitment to transparency or accountability.
The most troubling issue, of course, was that he refused to acknowledge the appalling nature of the DOJ's report. It's a report, by the way, which noted that the pattern of brutality and hair-trigger police responses were "starkly similar" to the findings of a DOJ report back in 2004.
(This piece was corrected: An earlier version said the DOJ's earlier report was published in 2005).
Jackson's approach is a classic one — "It's a process," this will take time, I've got a city to run, etc. — but it completely ignores the gravity of the situation, and that an immediate, significant response is necessary to begin restoring public trust. He can talk about his grandchildren's run-ins with Cleveland Police all he wants, but until he shows that he's on board with the electorate — WE ARE HORRIFIED — how can we expect this man to be on our side?
WKYC's Tom Beres held up a copy of the report and asked: "The first time you read this, were there spots where you were shocked? Where your jaw dropped?"
Jackson said that no, he was not shocked — he'd been "softened up" in a briefing prior to the report's release, chuckle chuckle! — "I wasn't even surprised," he said.