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Friday, October 22, 2021

Here’s What We Know About Booster Shots for Moderna’s and J&J’s COVID-19 Vaccines

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 1:16 PM

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Millions of people who got Moderna’s or Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines are expected to soon be lining up for another dose.

On October 14, an advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration unanimously voted to authorize a third dose of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine for select groups. The groups include people age 65 and older as well as 18- to 64-year-olds who have underlying conditions that put them at higher risk for severe disease, or who live or work in conditions that put them at high risk of exposure or complications from falling ill. Then on October 15, that same panel endorsed a second dose of the J&J one-shot vaccine for everyone who got that jab.

An advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to meet October 21 to discuss which groups should get the additional shots. The FDA is expected this week to grant emergency use authorization for the boosters. As early as next week, Moderna and J&J shot recipients could join the millions more who received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and became eligible for boosters in September (SN: 9/21/21).

These shots may be especially important for older people whose immune systems have weakened with age, and for those with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of serious complications of the disease. While the vaccines greatly reduce the chance of being hospitalized and dying, there are some chinks in the armor that still leave millions of such people vulnerable to the disease. Fully vaccinated people can get COVID-19 and die from it, though at much lower rates than unvaccinated people.

Colin Powell, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state, died October 18 of complications of COVID-19 even though he was fully vaccinated, his family said in a statement posted on Facebook. Powell, 84, had multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that erodes immune defenses against infections. Booster shots may help rev up the immune systems of such vulnerable people, perhaps providing enough protection to stave off the disease’s worst complications.

Even for healthy people, the vaccines’ effectiveness appears to be dipping. For instance, people in a clinical trial who got Moderna’s vaccine from August through December 2020 had a 36 percent to 40 percent higher chance of a breakthrough infection than those vaccinated in January through April this year, Jacqueline Miller, therapeutic area head for infectious diseases at Moderna, said October 14 at the FDA meeting.

Still, experts emphasize that getting shots to unvaccinated people, not boosters to the vaccinated, will make the biggest difference in controlling the pandemic. “People who are in the ICU aren’t there because they haven’t gotten a third dose; they haven’t gotten any dose,” said Paul Offit, director of vaccine education at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. What’s more, he added, it may not be reasonable to expect the vaccines to prevent infections and mild illnesses. “That is a high bar to which we hold no other vaccines.”

Here are answers to five common questions about booster shots.

Is Moderna’s jab really becoming less effective over time?
Like the Pfizer vaccine, Moderna’s mRNA vaccine is holding strong against hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Preventing such severe complications of COVID-19 is the vaccines’s most important role, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at the October 14 meeting. But when evaluating the value of a booster shot, officials should also take into account complications such as blood clots or long COVID that might result from mild to moderate disease, he said.

Moderna’s shot was still 95.8 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations and 97.9 percent effective at preventing deaths, researchers reported September 4 in a preprint in the Lancet. But efficacy against any COVID symptoms was only about 88 percent, while its effectiveness against asymptomatic infection was 72.7 percent, the researchers found. That’s a decline from about 96 percent effectiveness against symptomatic disease and around 90 percent effectiveness against asymptomatic infections among health care workers vaccinated from December 28, 2020 through May 19, 2021, researchers reported September 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Concerns about waning immunity prompted the FDA panel to give the thumbs-up for vulnerable groups to get a third dose of the vaccine.

In an earlier study, it had appeared as if Pfizer’s vaccine effectiveness was slipping against the coronavirus, particularly the delta variant, while Moderna’s vaccine was maintaining its protection levels, researchers reported September 17 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Some researchers speculate that the difference could stem from the Moderna vaccine having much higher doses — 100 micrograms of mRNA per dose compared with Pfizer’s 30 micrograms — that could produce higher levels of antibodies that would take longer to dip.

But the result might also have been an artifact of geography, says David Dowdy, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. During the study period, delta was surging in the South where more people got the Pfizer vaccine than the Moderna vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine has been most widely used in the Midwest, where delta wasn’t as bad at the time of the study, he says.

“People want to believe that the main driver of vaccine effectiveness is the immune response,” Dowdy says. “It certainly matters, but it’s also important how much you’re getting exposed to this virus.… The more exposure people see, the less effective these vaccines are going to appear to be.”

Over time, naturally waning immunity and the rise of more infectious coronavirus variants along with social factors, such as relaxed masking and social distancing regulations, will also bite into the Moderna vaccine’s effectiveness, he says. “The same forces that are causing lower immunity over time for Pfizer are also acting on Moderna.”

The antibodies sparked by Moderna’s vaccine certainly wane in the eight months after the first dose, researchers reported October 15 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Those declining antibody levels hint that people may be becoming more susceptible to infection. But, so far, it’s still difficult to directly link antibody levels in the blood to how well people are protected against COVID-19.

And antibodies aren’t the only tool our immune systems have to fight off disease. Immune cells called T cells, which can coordinate the immune response to an infection or kill off infected cells, appear to remain in the body at stable levels at least eight months after vaccination. So even if vaccinated people get infected, the immune system can quickly rally the troops and protect people from severe disease.

What about Johnson & Johnson’s shot — is it becoming less effective?
Clinical trial data suggest that the effectiveness of the J&J shot, made by the company’s pharmaceutical division Janssen, isn’t waning overall, company representatives said at the October 15 advisory panel meeting. Compared with the mRNA vaccines, antibody levels after a J&J shot increase over time rather than decrease, researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine study. What’s more, the amount of T cells remains steady over a period of eight months.

While immune defenses prompted by the vaccine are steadfast, the coronavirus has found ways to evade protection from vaccine antibodies. When it was authorized in February, the J&J vaccine was about 85 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations, and about 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease (SN: 2/27/21). But the rise of viral variants has changed that.

In countries where the delta variant is dominant, like the United States, the shot is still more than 70 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms. That number dips to around 50 percent in South America, where there are coronavirus variants that can evade parts of the immune system, including gamma, lambda and mu.

What’s more, some real-world data hint that the shot might not be as effective as clinical trials suggest, the FDA’s Marks noted at the meeting. Starting about a month after a dose of the vaccine, the single shot was 68 percent effective at preventing hospitalization, researchers reported in the Sept. 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The study included adults who were hospitalized for COVID-19 at some point from March 11, 2021 through August 15, 2021.

Crucially, regardless of whether or not immunity wanes over time, the protection that the one shot offers against severe disease or against milder infections is not equal to the mRNA vaccines, Cohn said. But a booster dose can help, which is why the FDA panel voted to make boosters available to everyone who got that shot. A second dose given two months after the first can boost protection to even higher levels, on par with Moderna’s and Pfizer’s mRNA jabs. In a U.S.-based clinical trial, the J&J booster dose had 94 percent efficacy at preventing COVID-19 symptoms. Global efficacy is lower, at 75 percent.

“As far as I’m concerned, it was always going to be necessary for J&J recipients to get a second shot,” said James Hildreth, an immunologist and president and CEO of Meharry Medical College in Nashville. A single dose of the vaccine might be used in some situations, he said, such as to top up the immune responses of people who previously had COVID-19 (SN: 8/19/21).

Will the side effects after a booster dose be worse?
In clinical trials, side effects of a Moderna booster were no worse than, and sometimes milder than, the effects seen after the second shot. Arm pain, some redness and swelling were worse for some participants, but those effects were short-lived. Most of the other side effects, including fever, chills, headaches and nausea were reported by fewer participants and were milder than after the second shot. Similarly, recipients of a second dose of J&J’s shot reported side effects on par with or milder than the reaction to the first shot.

There were no reports in the companies’ clinical trials of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, that is an uncommon, but potentially serious side effect of all three vaccines, particularly in young men (SN: 6/23/21). Such heart problems have been more prevalent with the mRNA vaccines. But the studies contain too few people to uncover rare side effects.

Some real-world data from Israel’s experience with the Pfizer booster suggests that the rate of myocarditis after a booster may be lower than after the second shot, said Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s director of Public Health Services. A study of more than 5 million Israelis found that about 40 out of every million vaccinated males develop myocarditis, especially after the second shot, researchers reported October 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine. But only 17 of the more than 2.5 million people ages 16 to 59 who got a booster developed myocarditis or pericarditis, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, Israeli officials said.

The lower rate of the complication after a booster shot may be because the third dose came months after the first two, giving the immune system time to adjust and not overreact to another shot of vaccine, Alroy-Preis said.

Worries over the heart complications prompted several members of the FDA advisory committee to withhold support for giving booster shots to people younger than 65. But others on the panel pointed out that the risk of young people developing heart inflammation from COVID-19 are much greater than the risk of the vaccine causing the side effect.

Should I stick with the same vaccine brand that I got before?
The FDA is expected to soon allow people to get any of the three authorized vaccines as a booster. That decision would give health officials the flexibility to administer different shots, if necessary, the Washington Post reported October 19.

Some people are already getting boosters from a different manufacturer than the source of their original vaccination, says Julie Swann, a health systems and pandemic modeler at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “With Pfizer, you can go off-label since it is fully approved” by the FDA, she says. But vaccine providers probably need to wait for an official nod to mix and match with the Moderna and J&J vaccines, which are still under emergency use authorization.

Preliminary clinical trial data suggest that mixing and matching different vaccines is just as good, or better, than receiving the same vaccine for all doses. That trial, led by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is analyzing the immune responses of more than 450 vaccinated people who originally received either two doses of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s shot or one dose of J&J’s (SN: 6/11/21). The researchers divided the participants into one of nine groups. Some groups received another dose of the same jab — like, for example, a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. Other participants got a shot from a different developer — such as two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine followed by J&J’s.

Getting an additional dose of any kind boosted antibody levels across the board, researchers reported October 13 at medRxiv.org. When people received the same shot as before, antibodies that stop the virus from infecting cells increased compared to before the booster dose. But for some groups, a mixed regimen gave a bigger antibody boost than sticking with the original brand. That was particularly true for people who had originally received J&J’s shot, which triggers the body to produce fewer antibodies than mRNA vaccines.

Those results mirror a recent mix-and-match trial of Pfizer’s vaccine with one from AstraZeneca, which is similar to the J&J shot. The AstraZeneca vaccine is used in many countries around the world, but is not authorized in the United States. In that study, people who got an AstraZeneca jab made higher levels of antibodies if their follow-up dose came from Pfizer. Pfizer recipients made more antibodies when sticking with a second mRNA dose than from switching to AstraZeneca, researchers reported August 6 in Lancet. That study didn’t measure T cells or other types of immunity, though.

The results are promising, but there’s still lots to learn, Kirsten Lyke, a vaccinologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore who is involved with the NIAID study, said at the October 15 meeting. She and her colleagues plan to look at T cells, too, not just antibodies. What’s more, it’s possible that some combinations of the vaccines might spark immunity that lasts longer than others. For now, though, it’s impossible to say whether one regimen might be better than another. Lyke and her team are following participants for at least a year to find out.

Are people going to need more booster shots in the future?
No one knows. But that question was on the mind of many FDA panelists.

Michael Kurilla, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences in Bethesda, Md., noted that the rationale for mRNA boosters is that antibody levels in the blood are waning and over time vaccinated people become susceptible to infection. At the meeting, Kurilla wanted to know if there is any evidence to suggest that a booster dose might provide longer-lived protection than the first two doses.

That’s the “1-million-dollar question that I don’t have the answer to,” Israel’s Alroy-Preis responded.

Alroy-Preis attended the October 14 meeting to provide an update on whether boosters for Pfizer’s mRNA jab were helping control the virus in Israel. Officials there began rolling out the shots to older people at the end of July and to all eligible age groups at the end of August. So far, booster shots are curbing severe cases of the disease, as well as infections, in all age groups shortly after the shot is administered, Alroy-Preis and colleagues reported in a preliminary study posted October 7 at medRxiv.org.

It’s possible that the months between the original shots and the booster might help immunity last longer. But it’s still unknown when is the best time for people to receive each shot.

Data presented at the meeting from Moderna’s clinical trial, for instance, suggest that a third shot gives people with lower antibody levels a larger boost than people who still have lots of antibodies in their blood. Most people with fewer coronavirus-attacking antibodies had been vaccinated early in 2020, a sign that it’s better to wait longer between doses.

The shots also protect people from disease even when researchers can’t detect antibodies in the body, Kurilla said. That means other parts of the immune system, like T cells, are helping out. But it’s still far from clear whether mRNA vaccines will offer long-term immunity. And if they don’t, it could be either because protection from these types of vaccines simply isn’t long-lived or because people aren’t getting doses at the right time.

For now, the question is what do we want the boosters to do, Kurilla noted. The jabs don’t appear to stop infection itself for very long, but are good against severe disease. “We can’t look at this as boost people every six months,” Kurilla said. Experts, however, seem to be more open to the idea of an annual shot, like for the flu.

Originally published by Science News, a nonprofit newsroom. Republished here with permission.

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Cleveland Police Use of Force: Punishment for Excessive Force Rare, City Data Shows

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 8:01 AM

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The Department of Justice Consent Decree calls on the department to “fully, fairly, and efficiently” investigate allegations of officer wrongdoing. And the city’s official publications seem to show that the department is taking use of force policy violations seriously, with 15 cases where officers were disciplined for use of force policy violations listed in the city’s 2019 annual use of force report.

But the city would only identify officers in five use of force policy violations in 2019, and in only one of those cases did the department rule the use of force itself was out of line. The rest of the policy violations where the city turned over identifiable details were for other infractions related to a use of force incident, like failing to turn on a body camera, or acting unprofessionally.

Each violation listed in the annual report includes an “incident number,” the general policy violated, and the consequences for the officer. But it doesn’t include the officer’s name, the date of the allegation or any detailed description of the officer’s actions. And the “incident numbers” are not system-wide incident numbers that can be cross-referenced with an incident report. Instead, in the report, the “incident numbers” just label the violations 2019-1 through 2019-15.

The first list

In response to a request for details on each of these violations, the Cleveland Police Department initially sent a spreadsheet with just six entries, one of which was labeled “within policy.” The sheet identified the officers involved and rulings on whether they violated use of force policy, but not any details of how they broke the rules or what happened to them.

Scene was able to glean that information from divisional notices on disciplinary action, which are periodically issued by the department. Scene found that, out of the five 2019 incidents the city listed as “sustained,” just one was for the actual use of force, involving Officer John Petkac.

The rest of the violations listed were for failure to de-escalate, violations of body camera requirements, failures to provide service, failure to properly investigate and professional conduct. Two resulted in written reprimands, and two led to a two-day suspension. Petkac’s was the only case listed where an officer was fired.

In that case, which garnered media attention, Petkac repeatedly tased a man who was mocking him. But that wasn’t Petkac’s only troubling use of force that year. While Scene couldn’t find a use of force report for the Oct. 5, 2019 incident listed by the city as the cause of his firing, he did file a report for a July incident where he tased a man who was yelling at him near a homeless shelter. In the use of force report database, that is one of three cases labeled as “not within policy” out of 524 reports.

The city didn’t turn over descriptions of the other two events. In place of a narrative, the database contains a note saying the report is for statistical purposes, and more information can be found in the department’s internal investigation system.

A judge ruled against Cleveland Scene in seeking those details, finding that those reports were part of ongoing investigations, and thus exempt from public records law. Scene has appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

While the department also sent data for violations listed in the 2020 use of force report, only one of the officers listed there showed up in a disciplinary divisional notice, a document where the department lists officers who have received disciplinary action. There also aren’t any use of force reports filed by the officers listed on the days the alleged incidents took place, making it nearly impossible to divine what the officers did or how they were held responsible.

It can take months after an officer commits an offense for their name to be listed in a disciplinary notice. For the 2019 incidents the department listed where Scene could find corresponding disciplinary notices, more than a year elapsed on average between the actual incident and the date of the disciplinary notice.

An anonymous list

Scene asked the police department about the discrepancy between the spreadsheet the police department provided and the number of violations listed in the annual report. In response, the department sent a different spreadsheet listing 17 use of force report numbers, some with multiple violations, and disciplinary action taken for each violation, but no names or badge numbers. The new list included the five case numbers from the department’s original list that were labeled as “sustained.” Altogether, the list included 20 violations.

The department also listed the punishment meted out in each case, and whether the policy violated was about body cameras, use of force, or “other.” Six of the cases listed suspensions of one or two days, and one person, presumably Petkac, was listed as fired. In 12, officers received retraining, verbal counseling, or letters of reinstruction. One received a written reprimand.

Asked why non-force violations were included, the department said, “Table 41 in the Use of Force Report includes policy violations in use of force incidents. Specifically, all policy violations are included and [are] not limited to just use of force. In 2019, there were 17 use of force [incidents] that involved at least one policy violation that may or may not have been force related.”

Scene could find use of force reports with matching numbers for 13 of those violations. Where the same use of force case number appeared on both spreadsheets, the person disciplined often wasn’t one of the officers who had filed a report. Scene therefore couldn’t glean any additional information about the violations from disciplinary notices.

Civilian Police Review Board reviewed additional uses of force

The Civilian Police Review Board considered allegations of excessive force against 26 officers in 2019 and 2020, four of which the board voted to uphold, according to a Scene review of minutes and agendas. Though two of the incidents in question occurred in 2019, neither appeared in either spreadsheet provided by the police department.

The chief of police only accepted the board’s recommendation for one of these cases.

In a December 2020 virtual meeting, the Civilian Police Review Board considered a complaint brought against Salvatore Santillo. According to a CPRB investigator’s description of the incident, in November 2019, Santillo and his partner were responding to a call about shots fired when they spoke to a man who was sitting on his porch.

Santillo told the man to go inside his house, but he refused.

Santillo then “grabbed him by his neck, searched him, addressed him in an unprofessional manner, placed him in the rear of his zone car, and improperly issued a citation for disorderly conduct,” the investigator told the board. “He was not considered a suspect at that point or any other point during the encounter. Officer interviews, [wearable camera systems] and complainant interviews failed to establish any elements of individualized suspicion or probable cause for PO Santillo to have approached [the] complainant on his property.”

CPRB members also watched the body camera video, and voted to sustain the complaint of excessive force.

“He didn’t need to be frisked, he didn’t need to be searched, he didn’t need to be grabbed,” said board chair Michael Graham. “He was grabbed violently by the hoodie and shaken, is what I saw.”

The Cleveland public safety director upheld the board’s recommendation, issuing Santillo a 20-day suspension.

City throws out excessive force finding

But the safety director overturned the one other 2019 case where the board censured an officer’s use of force.

In June 2020, CPRB considered a complaint against Sgt. James Dziuba. The incident began with a group of people playing guitars at the Ascension Day Festival, according to investigator Eric Richardson. A different officer told the guitarists they had to leave the area, so they packed up their instruments and began to leave. Then Sgt. Dziuba, leading a group of officers, stopped the musicians and arrested them for disorderly conduct.

The complainant said Dziuba took his cell phone, and it wasn’t returned to him with his other property. He also said Dziuba twisted his arm.

Dziuba denied that he had any physical contact with the complainants, and that he had taken the cell phone. But when the investigator showed Dziuba camera footage of himself taking the cell phone, he demurred.

When investigating the complaint, the investigator also found not only that Dziuba hadn’t turned on his body cam, but also that he had told other officers they didn’t need to either, contrary to department policy. Richardson located surveillance video and body cam footage from one of the other officers present showing Dziuba physically contacting the complainant, but he said he wasn’t able to see any force that wouldn’t be defined as “de minimis.”

Department policy defines de minimis force as actions taken to guide or control a subject that “do not cause pain and are not reasonably likely to cause pain.” That could include stopping or guiding a subject with only the officer’s hands, or handcuffing them with “only minimal resistance.” Officers aren’t required to report instances where they use only de minimis force.

Richardson told the CPRB he recommended a finding of “insufficient evidence” for the use of force complaint, but he said it was “a coin toss, because I had to weigh his credibility of his denial of any physical encounter, except for having handcuffed him, that was clearly contradicted by the surveillance video, but the surveillance video was not clear enough to show and make a conclusive determination whether that force that was used was beyond de minimis.”

The CPRB decided that, even if Dziuba only used de minimis force, that qualified as excessive, since he shouldn’t have been arresting the musicians in the first place.

But Cleveland Safety Director Karrie Howard ignored their recommendation, ruling that “the record does not support a finding of guilt.” Howard also threw out the board’s finding that Dziuba had cited and arrested the complainants inappropriately. For failing to turn on his body camera, Howard gave Dziuba a two-day suspension.

The city has not responded to a Sept. 8 public records request for the investigative file for the incident.

Activists concerned about accountability

City officials have insisted the department is holding officers accountable for any misdeeds, and that they’ve done so in collaboration with the CPRB.

“It’s [about] having checks and balances within the department of safety,” Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard said during an April panel about the consent decree. “Officers are held accountable when it’s appropriate to do so.”

But some activists say punishment for officers is unsatisfactory.

Kareem Hunt, an organizer with Black Lives Matter-Cleveland, pointed to the high-speed police chase that ended with the death of 13-year-old Tamia Chappman. The CPRB voted to discipline several officers in the case, but most of their recommendations were overturned by Howard.

Hunt said the data collected by the Scene confirms his sense that officers are not being held accountable when they use force inappropriately.

“I would expect to see more firings,” he said. “I would expect to see more suspensions. And if we got that, then we would actually see a change in police culture. Nobody wants to give away paychecks. Nobody.”

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Cleveland Police Use of Force: Only 4% of Officers Reported Using Force More Than Three Times in a Year. This Officer Reported Seven.

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

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On the Fourth of July in 2014, police responding to a call about gunshots chased someone into the middle of a child’s backyard birthday party. After a scuffle, the man was brought to the ground and handcuffed. Officer Ryan Sowders crouched on his back, while another officer held the man’s feet. Then, Sowders punched the man in the head.

Sowders eventually faced a misdemeanor assault charge for the punch, which the court deemed excessive and not covered by “qualified immunity.” He was convicted in 2017, and lost an appeal in 2018. He ultimately paid a fine of $869. The department also suspended him for 30 days.

But the conviction didn’t end Sowders’ time in the Cleveland Police Department, or deter him from using force. In fact, in 2019 and 2020, Sowders filed more use of force reports than any other officer in the department, according to police department data obtained by Scene through a lawsuit.

Sowders’ continued use of force, and the city’s resistance to releasing information about it, raises questions about whether policies and reporting requirements created under its consent decree with the Justice Department actually create transparency, or lead officers to change their behavior.

Almost three-quarters of the officers on the city’s payroll filed no use of force reports at all over that period. Another 17% filed one report. Fewer than 4% of officers filed three or more use of force reports. Sowders filed seven.

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Stephanie Kent, a sociology professor at Cleveland State University who studies the justice system, said an unusually high number of use of force reports by a single officer should raise alarm with their superiors.

“These are the kinds of things that should be tracked. If somebody is a hothead, or is more likely to be violent, then they can find out why,” she said.

But Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said a high number of use of force reports alone shouldn’t be held against an officer.

“We don’t pick and choose when and where we have to use force,” he said. Follmer also suggested that some actions classified as use of force, like bringing down a suspect who tries to flee when already in handcuffs, shouldn’t be considered use of force, and generate too much paperwork.

Every one of Sowders’ use of force reports was declared within department policy.

Police department policy doesn’t require an officer to be terminated for committing a crime unless the conviction prevents them from carrying a gun, such as in domestic violence cases. “Minor misdemeanor” convictions are placed under the lowest level of disciplinary infractions, but since Sowders’ fine was over $150, Ohio law wouldn’t classify it as “minor.”

Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said it’s not unusual for officers to stay on the force after being convicted of a crime while on duty.

“We’ve had officers convicted of misdemeanors numerous times,” he added.
No resistance

Five of the reports said Sowders pointed his weapon at someone. Under Cleveland department policy, that’s considered a level 1 use of force, which is the least serious.

In one instance in November 2019, Sowders was one of several officers who reported pointing their weapons at a man using his children as hostages. In other instances, though, the subject didn’t seem to pose an immediate threat.

Sowders said in one use of force report he pointed a gun at someone who kept walking away when officers told him to stop. Sowders wrote in his report that he thought the man had a gun, but later found it was a cell phone. The man reportedly told officers later that he had been hoping they would shoot him. Under the level of resistance involved, Sowders categorized the incident as “active resistance.”

The body camera footage provided by the department shows Sowders getting out of a vehicle and shouting “Put your hands up” at a man in a gray hoodie who is standing still, staring open-mouthed at the police, already holding his hands up and out at shoulder height with bent elbows.

“Put ‘em up! All the way up in the air!” Sowders can be heard yelling at the man, who remains motionless. “You don’t listen very well,” he adds as they pull the man’s hands down and handcuff him.

“I wouldn’t hurt y’all,” the man says. “I didn’t hurt nobody. I didn’t do nothin’ out of spite, right? Right? I ain’t do nothin’ out of spite.” He adds that he’s been drinking. He begins to drop to his knees, but Sowders tells him to stand back up. As police walk him toward a cruiser, the man can be heard weeping.

Sowders says the man is going to give him a hernia by “dropping like a dead weight.”

“I don’t want to give you a hernia,” the man sobs.

In another incident, after pulling over a man who matched the description of a homicide suspect, Sowders pointed his gun at him while he “gave no resistance and exited the vehicle” following another officer’s directions, according to the use of force report. Another officer filed a use of force report saying he also pointed a gun at the subject.

The body cam video confirms the officers’ description of events. In the video, after reading the man his Miranda rights, Sowders asks his name.

The man’s ID verifies that he’s not the person the police are looking for.

“The guy we’re looking for, that’s involved in a homicide, has just as many face tattoos as you,” Sowders tells him.

“Yeah, I saw him on Facebook,” the man says. “That’s not me, sir.”

Punches and tasers

Reports where Sowders said he used higher levels of force include one where he punched someone who was resisting arrest; and one where he tased someone who was wrestling with other officers.

A video of the first incident shows Sowders arriving when the subject is already restrained, but appears to try to squirm away from a security guard. The man can be seen banging his own head against the hood of the squad car, and then against the concrete.

Multiple officers end up holding him on the ground. One says, “Stop it man, all you are is drunk.” A woman asks him, “Why do you want to hurt yourself?”

When Sowders empties the man’s pockets and finds what appears to be drug paraphernalia, the man becomes more and more agitated, encouraging the cops to choke him and pull out their guns. At one point he shouts, “I want to die! I will! Tonight!”

Through much of the video, the camera lens appears to be covered as Sowders wrangles with the subject. It’s not clear when Sowders struck him, or when the subject bit Sowders, as he wrote in his report.

In a March 2020 incident, Sowders arrives at the scene of a call about a break-in when multiple officers are trying to restrain a young man on the pavement.

“Are we tasing?” Sowders asks.

“No,” one of the officers says.

But when the struggle continues for a few more seconds, Sowders says, “Stop resisting,” and points his taser at the man’s exposed belly.

“You’re going to get tased! Do you understand?” another officer shouts at the young man.

Sowders orders him to turn over. When he doesn’t, Sowders tases him.

After handcuffing him, the officers carry the man to the squad car while he screams “Buba! Buba!”

Then the officers ask if he speaks Spanish.

“I am Nepali,” he says. “My father this he home.”

“Buba” is Nepali for “father.”

The young man’s age isn’t listed in the report, but Sowders estimated he was 125 pounds and under 5 feet tall. A use of force report filed by another officer for the same incident said they had guessed early on that the subject didn’t speak English because he wasn’t responding to any of their commands.

The consent decree between the Justice Department and the Cleveland Police Department requires that officers be “trained to consider the possibility that a subject may be noncompliant due to a medical or mental condition, physical or hearing impairment, language barrier, drug interaction or emotional crisis.”

“There’s four officers there,” Kent said after watching the video. “Why couldn’t there be some way for them to take him down or restrain him without having to resort to the taser?...He’s not a physical threat, and he can’t speak the language. I just don’t understand why the taser needed to be deployed.”

On the other hand, she said, police have few resources to deal with people who can’t communicate.

“[Police are] not trained social workers. They’re not trained psychologists. They’re not trained linguists,” she said. “They basically go on what procedure is used in any other incident, regardless of whether the other person is under the influence or not speaking English or has a mental illness.”
Delays and redactions

Some of the videos provided by the department don’t show the moment Sowders says he used force.

One man, at whom Sowders pointed his gun on April 17, 2019, was reportedly hiding in a basement with a lampshade on his head. The video goes black, containing only audio, at the moment Sowders starts to enter the lighted basement.


In another report, the subject was coming down the stairs toward Sowders after failing to find an exit where he could escape. Most of the picture is blurred out when Sowders approaches the door of the house, and it’s impossible to tell what the subject was doing as Sowders yelled at him to put his hands up.

Other discipline

Individual uses of force are supposed to be reviewed to make sure they fall within department policy. Follmer added that there is a review process for officers whose statistics fall outside the norm, but it includes other factors, like excessive sick days, not just use of force reports.

But Sowders has been in trouble for other incidents. In fact, he was disciplined in his first year on the force. In Sept., 2013, he crashed into a woman’s car on Lorain Ave. while responding to a call. The woman sued the department. The judge decided Sowders had immunity because he was responding to a call at the time, but the department suspended him for one day for driving too fast. The next year he was suspended again, this time for five days, for being involved in a hit-skip accident.

More recently, Sowders was suspended for one day in 2019 for an unspecified violation involving his body camera, according to the department’s periodic discipline announcement from that April.

Then, in July 2020, the Civilian Police Review Board decided that Sowders had behaved unprofessionally after an incident at Old Angle Boxing Gym where a sparring match devolved into a brawl. Sowders told the father of a 14-year-old, who had been sparring a 28-year-old, that he’d made a “mistake” by allowing his son to spar with an adult, and should be charged with assault for intervening.

He was given a formal reprimand for the incident in January 2021, though the department listed under “mitigating factors” that his “advice given was out of concern for the wellbeing of the juvenile without intent to be discourteous or rude.”

While Sowders’ filed more use of force reports than any of his colleagues in 2019 and 2020, his numbers were far lower than the most prolific filers of force reports in 2010, according to a Plain Dealer analysis from a decade ago. In 2010, the paper reported, 11 officers filed eight or more use of force reports. Two of those officers were charged in 2011 for beating a mentally ill man after a police chase, leaving him with a broken eye socket and detached retina.

In February, Williams pointed out that the department’s total number of use of force reports have been on the decline. Under the consent decree, he said, training has been instituted to ensure that officers know how to use force in a way that is constitutional.

“And, as occasionally happens when officers don’t maintain that standard they’re held accountable,” he said.

“The use of force is part of the role of policing. It’s part of what we ask officers to do. We just ask them to do it thoughtfully and judiciously,” added Brian Maxey, a deputy monitor on the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team. “Do they have the least reliance on the use of force as a tool when engaging with community members? That’s the litmus test, not just the numbers.”

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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: 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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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: 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.

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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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