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'What they did was awful:' Teen arrested

Posted: 10:21 PM, Dec 08, 2015
Updated: 2015-12-08 22:21:09-05

newsnet5.com and NewsChannel 5 have spent a year investigating the Cleveland Division of Police. “Road to Reform” — an hour-long documentary and this accompanying web series — is the culmination of that investigation.

The shooting of Tamir Rice by police has grabbed headlines in Cleveland and nationally over the past year.

But it's not the first time a child has been involved in a confrontation with police.

In August 2010, two Cleveland police officers arrived at west side apartment complex looking for a robbery suspect.

Juan Ortiz, a 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was playing outside his home when he saw the officers and tried to run away.

The officers, Brian Kazimer and Dan Crisan, pursued him.

"I kept hollering, you got the wrong one. That's not right. He's not the one. But it still happened," said Nina Kennedy.

She witnessed the whole thing after she called 911 to say someone had found a wallet on the ground and dropped it off to her. Kennedy was the manager of the complex.

"It scared me so bad," she added.

She said Kazimer and Crisan pinned Juan to a hot, running car in the heat of the summer for at least a half hour. Then, she said, the cops yelled at Juan's parents:

"If you can't speak English here, take your ass back to where you come from. [That’s] pretty much what they said. But they also used the f-word."

Jaun’s father Ramon Ortiz watched his son get arrested. With his disability, Juan had no idea what was going on.

"I had suffered a lot watching that. It was very hard having him look at me trying to say something, or trying to say help me, and I couldn't even do nothing," said Juan's dad Ramon Ortiz.

"What they did was awful."

Juan ended up in the hospital. His injuries were minor, but the emotional trauma was much deeper. The day after, Ramon Ortiz filed a complaint against the officers with Cleveland's Civilian Police Review Board.

But we found that the system to address citizen complaints against the police lacks transparency and efficiency—and those complaints languish in a maze of bureaucracy and finger-pointing.

Just two months after the incident, the review board did recommend discipline for Kazimer and Crisan in a charge letter, dated Nov. 9, 2010. Here, the board called for a simple written reprimand and re-instruction. It stated that the cops handcuffed Juan and yelled to his parents, "You're lucky we didn't shoot him, shut the [expletive] up."

But somehow, the letter didn’t make it to the Chief’s office for eight months.

Mike McGrath was Cleveland's police chief at the time. "Why it took that long for it to come out of the Office of Professional Standards, I don't know," he said.

He wouldn't know. The Civilian Police Review Board – and the Office of Professional Standards - have very little to show for what they claim to do.

The Board’s current chairman Thomas Jones insists that his board does serve the community, and that the administrator tries to prepare those letters within a week.

But according to these public documents, found the city's website, the board has hardly ruled on any cases in the last two years.

Their website still indicates that out of x complaints submitted in 2014 and 2015, the board has only ruled on x. Their latest annual report is still from 2011, and their last meeting agenda was from March. 

Jones is head of the review board and was in the same position when the board ruled on Juan's case in 2010. He said the head of the Office of Professional Standards, or OPS, prepares and sends out all charge letters to Cleveland police.

In 2010, Cassandra Bledsoe held that position.

We went to Bledsoe's home to ask her about her involvement in Juan's case because we were denied an interview. She didn't answer. We also called her.

But she never called back. A source tells me she now works for chief of police - Calvin Williams.

And when newsnet5.com confronted Bledsoe's replacement - Damon Scott - about the efficiency of OPS and the review board, he admitted that it doesn’t look good. 

"When anyone looks at this, it looks like you haven't done much of anything. Page after page of no decision. That is something my office is addressing."

Juan's case prompted us to take a closer look at OPS and the review board. According to these documents, found on the city's website, the board has hardly ruled on any cases in the last two years.

And nine months after we raised those concerns, the same problem persists.

Five years later, and Ramon tells me that the very sight of a police officer triggers a terrifying flashback in his son. So does the sound of emergency sirens.

"Even when I was saying to him, he's a Down syndrome, he's a child, he didn't pay attention, he seemed to enjoy what he was doing," Ortiz added.

"At the time, the officers didn't know he had Down syndrome. Afterwards they found out he had Down syndrome," said McGrath. "Did this case slip through the cracks? No, I don't think so."

But for the first time, in this interview, McGrath apologized to Juan and his family: "It was a mistake by the Division of Police."

Kazimer and Crisan are still on the Cleveland police force.          

The Ortiz family sued them four years ago — at the same time that former chief McGrath tells me that he was notified of the review board's ruling to discipline the officers.         

Because the two coincided, any discipline has yet to happen because when the lawsuit was filed — the city tells me it was policy to hold off on any discipline until all pending civil and criminal matters are settled.

Meanwhile, the Ortiz family still waits for closure. And this letter still goes unanswered.

"Please, if they could discipline these officers and stop them from working in the streets, I will be happy on that part," said Ramon Ortiz.