Cleveland police use excessive force: U.S. Justice Department

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder makes a statement about the grand jury decision not to seek an indictment in the Staten Island death of Eric Garner during an arrest in July, in Washington December 3, 2014. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
By Julia Edwards
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By Julia Edwards WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Cleveland Police Department systematically engages in excessive use of force against civilians, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department has found. The investigation began in March 2013, and it carries added weight after an incident in November when a Cleveland police officer shot dead a 12-year-old boy who was carrying what turned out to be a replica gun that typically fires plastic pellets. Holder was scheduled to meet with police, community leaders and elected officials in Cleveland on Thursday to begin discussing reform measures. Previous reforms have included installing a federal monitor to oversee the department. The announcement comes at a tense moment between law enforcement and their communities, particularly low-income black communities. Two grand jury decisions not to indict officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York City have triggered racially charged protests throughout the United States. The Cleveland investigation was launched after what Holder called a series of troubling high-profile police use-of-force incidents that brought appeals from city leaders for a federal investigation. In one incident, Cleveland police engaged in a 22-mile (35-km) high-speed chase in November 2012 that ended with officers firing nearly 140 rounds into a car, killing its two unarmed occupants. One officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter. "Accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve," Holder said in prepared remarks. The Justice Department examined nearly 600 use-of-force incidents from 2010 to 2013, both lethal and non-lethal, Holder said. A report on the findings said Cleveland officers "engage in excessive force far too often, and that the use of excessive force by CPD officers is neither isolated, nor sporadic." The investigation found that supervisors tolerated and, in some cases, endorsed use of unnecessary or unreasonable force and officers reported too little supervision or guidance. People who investigate use-of-force claims admitted they conducted probes with the goal of portraying officers as favorably as possible and some said they used an improperly high, beyond-reasonable-doubt standard, the report said. "When accountability falters, trust also falters," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said, adding that the goal was a system that is fair to officers and holds them accountable. (Reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington, Kim Palmer in Cleveland, and Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool, Bill Trott and Mohammad Zargham)