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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Former Police Chief McGrath Apologizes for Incident Involving 16-Year-Old With Down Syndrome; Judge Refuses to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Officers in Case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 12:44 PM

The story of then-16-year-old Juan Ortiz was covered in depth in a recent Scene cover story. You can read up on all the horrific details there, but the short version is this: Cops received a call back in 2010 for a robbery incident. While canvassing the area for the suspects — one described as white and average height, the other black and of average height — two officers spotted Juan Ortiz, all of 4'11" and Hispanic. Juan has Down Syndrome, and when he saw the officers, he began to run. 

When they caught up with him, just as he was reaching his parents — neither of whom speak good English — they allegedly tore him away from his parents' arms and slammed him against the hood of a car, handcuffing him and tossing a string of racist epithets at his parents, including calling his mother a "Mexican wetback." One officer allegedly also told Juan's mom and dad that, "You're lucky we didn't shoot him."

The incident was highlighted in the Department of Justice's scathing review of the Cleveland police department. It was also the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city of Cleveland the two officers. That lawsuit sat stagnant for years, and the case itself, which had been covered by the Plain Dealer in 2011, gathered cobwebs until Scene and Channel 5 delved into it earlier this year. It highlighted any number of problems that the DOJ had found, including a civilian review board with no teeth, recommendations for discipline against officers that were never delivered, and the department's bad history in dealing with minors and those with mental illness.

Channel 5 scored a sit down with Mike McGrath, current Safety Director and then Chief of Police. He apologized and admitted the cops made a mistake. The full interview can be seen here at NewsNet5.

In related news: A judge ruled last Thursday against the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is a good sign for the family going forward and the first sign of life in the case in some time.

"There is little in the record to support the belief that Juan posed a threat, and the defendants provide no articulable reason to believe that Juan was an immediate danger to anyone," Judge Lesley Wells wrote. "Juan had stopped running, and he was, in the officer's own words, 'surrendering.'"

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