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Courts and Crime

Feds are investigating a possible pattern of excessive force by Cleveland police
The civil probe was requested by Mayor Jackson and others after police killed two in November

Kevin Niedermier
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettlebach talks about the federal investigation into whether Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force. Next to him are Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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The U.S. Justice Department is opening a full investigation into a possible pattern of excessive use of force by Cleveland police. The federal civil probe was requested by city officials, the local NAACP and others after a controversial police shooting last November. The city hopes this independent review will help build trust between the community and the police.

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On Nov. 29, more than 100 officers and dozens of cruisers engaged in a chase of two apparently unarmed suspects. Following the chase, police fired as many as 140 bullets at the suspects, killing them both.

The incident stirred public outrage, and the city began an internal investigation that is ongoing. But Mayor Frank Jackson also requested the independent Justice Department probe to foster community faith in the process.

“It’s vitally important to us that there’s a level of trust between the police and the community. There are times when that trust is challenged and accusations are made. We want to bring clarity to the situation.”

A wider scope
The Justice Department probe goes beyond the Nov. 29th chase and shooting.

Thomas Perez, the assistant U.S. Attorney General for the department’s civil division, is heading the investigation. He says it will include an examination of records of alleged excessive force by the Cleveland police that go back several years.

“We’re focused on CPD as a whole; we’re not looking at individual officers. We’re looking at systems issues here. We’re looking for a pattern or practice of excessive force by CPD, and if there is (a pattern), we’ll work to correct it with a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.”

Perez says the investigation could take more than a year and will include ride-alongs with Cleveland police officers. His division will also request information from the public. He stresses that no criminal charges will result.

Warren, Ohio, and other efforts
The Ohio Attorney General’s office also conducted an investigation that concluded the November incident was a “systemic failure” of the Cleveland Police Department.  That report is now in the hands of the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, who will decide if criminal charges are warranted.

The U.S. Justice Department became involved in excessive force investigations following the 1991 Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King. The department has recently reached agreements with police departments in Seattle, Portland, Ore., New Orleans and Warren, Ohio.                                                                                                       

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