More than a third of all Cleveland police patrol officers on duty the night of Nov. 29 could be reprimanded, suspended or even fired for ignoring supervisors’ orders, or abandoning their respective districts to join the deadly pursuit of two suspects, at speeds reaching 125 mph, according to city officials.
Six police supervisors also are accused of failing to keep the chase under control, Police Chief Michael McGrath said during a news conference that was held to reveal the results of an internal review of the now notorious pursuit.
McGrath said the numerous violations of department policies confirmed by the months-long review does not alter his opinion that officers are adequately trained, a statement that drew criticism from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
DeWine, who conducted the criminal investigation on the case in January, called the chase and shooting a “systemic failure” of the Cleveland police.
He stood by his word and said McGrath is wrong to ignore a lack of training among his officers.
“When you have two percent of officers committing violations, you have an officer problem,” DeWine said. “When you have 36 percent of officers committing violations, you have a departmental problem.”
The city’s review, conducted by a special panel of police and city administrators, was limited to examining whether officers obeyed policies and orders during the chase that spanned 19 miles and ended in an East Cleveland parking lot with a barrage of bullets, where suspects Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were killed. Both were unarmed at the time of the shooting.
Of the 276 officers on duty that night, 100 face charges that they violated some part of the department’s pursuit policy. Sixty-nine officers and five supervisors could face penalties for unjustifiably driving at high speeds, endangering civilians and themselves.
The chase began downtown after officers perceived that someone had fired a gun from Russell’s vehicle. During the pursuit, officers believed the gunfire had continued and, at one point, they reported that the car had rammed a police cruiser.
The chase dead-ended in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland, and 13 Cleveland officers fired 137 bullets at the suspects.
However, when the bodies were removed from the car, police found no gun or shell casings inside.
The evidence collected by the state during the criminal probe is now in the hands of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who is expected to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges against the 13 officers who fired their weapons. McGinty said Wednesday that officers and supervisors could also face charges stemming from the pursuit, such as dereliction of duty.