Cleveland to continue police reform efforts despite US memo
CLEVELAND (AP) — A memo by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking the Department of Justice to review the agency’s investigations of local police departments will not alter a court-ordered agreement between the DOJ and Cleveland to reform its police department, city officials and the judge overseeing a court-monitored consent decree said.
Sessions’ memo, dated Friday, said local control and accountability “are necessary for effective local policing.”
“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. made it clear during a hearing in Cleveland two weeks before the inauguration of President Donald Trump that a new administration would not stop police reform efforts that began in Cleveland in 2015 and are expected to continue for years to come.
“This is a court matter,” Oliver said Jan. 6. “This is not a matter for the executive to change or to cause it to move in a different direction.”
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and his administration have said they remain committed to meeting the rigorous requirements of the consent decree that include instituting new use-of-force policies and improving relations between police and minority communities. The city and Justice Department agreed to the outlines of a reform plan in May 2015 after a Justice Department civil rights investigation found a pattern and practice of Cleveland police officers using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights.
“We will stay the course,” Jackson said Tuesday. “The consent decree is a blueprint for real police reform and is not incompatible to our ability to fight crime.”
The president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP, which has long been critical of how Cleveland police treat blacks and minorities, said Tuesday that Sessions’ memo “is no more than politics being played out on the backs of victims of police brutality.”
“It’s our belief that the court, which has jurisdiction over this matter, has no obligation to engage in the petty politics of Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions,” Michael Nelson said.
The Justice Department investigation, which concluded in December 2014, cites a number of questionable events, including the 137-shot barrage of police gunfire that killed two unarmed black people after a high-speed pursuit involving more than 100 officers. The lone Cleveland officer indicted in the fatal shootings, Michael Brelo, was acquitted at trial on voluntary manslaughter charges in May 2015.
Cleveland settled a federal lawsuit filed by the families of the two people killed, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, for $3 million.
The Justice Department said in its findings that it began investigating the Cleveland Police Department in March 2013 “in the wake of serious allegations” that the city “fails to identify, correct and hold officers accountable for using force in violation of the Constitution.” The Justice Department found instances when officers fired their weapons when the use of deadly force wasn’t justified, struck people in the head with guns, and used stun guns and pepper spray on people who posed little, if any, threat.