An exclusive NewsChannel 5 Investigation uncovered serious flaws in the Cleveland Division of Police’s internal disciplinary system.
NewsChannel 5 Investigators found Cleveland police officers who have been arrested, tested positive for drug use, and convicted of crimes continue to serve on the city’s force.
We requested and then reviewed every administrative disciplinary decision made by Chief of Police Calvin Williams and Public Safety Director Michael McGrath during 2014.
Our investigation was sparked by the 2014 U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which found CPD fails to “adequately investigate and hold officers accountable for misconduct.”
CPD officers accused, convicted of crimes remain on force
144 CPD officers were brought up on internal charges in 2014.
Only one officer was fired.
Former Cleveland patrol officer Greg Jones was terminated after he was found guilty of rape and kidnapping.
Two recruits were also terminated on charges of plagiarism.
Our investigation found five officers arrested or convicted of crimes were disciplined for 30 days or less.
For example, Detective Lisa Cornell was suspended for 10 days after she pleaded guilty to DUI.
Patrol Officer Edwin Powell was suspended for 20 days after he pleaded no contest to aggravated menacing charges.
Powell was originally charged with assault after he “used unreasonable force” on a suspect while he was at work at a second job.
Sgt. Dean Graziolli was suspended for 30 days and demoted to a patrol officer until June 2015 after he pleaded guilty to falsification, a first-degree misdemeanor.
Graziolli was originally charged with three felonies, including theft in office, aggravated theft and tampering with records.
CPD officers receive suspensions after positive for alcohol, drug tests
NewsChannel 5 Investigators also found four CPD officers who tested posted for drugs and alcohol in 2014 received suspensions between seven and 30 days.
Patrol officer Kahlil Caldwell received a 30-day suspension after testing positive for marijuana and cocaine.
Patrol officer Robert Sweany was suspended for 15 days after testing positive for alcohol.
A fifth officer, Detective Thomas Lett, resigned after he tested positive for alcohol.
Few CPD Officers face serious consequences; decisions inconsistent
Our investigation also revealed few officers face serious consequences after being brought up on internal charges.
Graziolli, Caldwell and only one other officer received 30-day suspensions in 2014.
Patrol Officer John Hotz was suspended for 30 days after he was accused of gambling while on duty, accepting gratuities for personal benefit and submitting a forged “return to work” document.
Out off the 144 officers charged in 2014:
- 11 officers received 10-day suspensions
- 16 officers received two- to three-day suspensions
- 28 officers received four- to eight-day suspensions
- 13 received a one-day suspension
- 34 CPD officers received written warnings or reprimands.
Charges were dismissed against 23 officers.
NewsChannel 5 Investigators also found inconsistency within the disciplinary decisions.
Two officers received 10-days suspensions for “inappropriate conduct towards a victim.”
Patrol Officer Ralph Valentino, who was accused of inappropriate conduct towards a teenage rape victim, received only a written reprimand.
Nationally-known police accountability expert weighs in
NewsChannel 5 Investigators showed the results our investigation to Samuel Walker, a nationally-known police accountability expert and Cleveland Heights native.
“If you have bad officers who are not getting disciplined, it undermines the morale of the good officers. They don’t want to work with these people,” he said.
“It has a terrible effect on the culture. It says you can do these things and keep your job,” he said.
It has a terrible effect on the culture. It says you can do these things and keep your job.
Walker has studied police accountability for 40 years and written 14 books on civil liberties, policing, and criminal justice policy.
He testified before the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and submitted written testimony to the Ohio Task Force on Police-Community Relations earlier this year.
“If you have officers on the force who have been convicted of crimes, that’s pretty bad. That’s a really bad sign. I mean, they should be gone,” he said.
“Somebody with alcohol and drug history – that person should not be working as a police officer,” he said.
“It really degenerates the professional standards in the department . . . degrades the reputation of the department in the community, there’s all sorts of bad effects,” he said.
“It means the people of Cleveland are not getting good service,” he said.
“All of those things say the people in charge are not doing what they should be doing,” he said.
Fired officers allowed to return to work
When CPD does fire an officer, we found it often doesn’t stick.
Between 2010 and 2014, records obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigators show seven officers filed grievances with an arbitrator after they were fired.
In six of the seven cases, the arbitrators gave the officers their jobs back, including Shani Hannah.
Hannah was convicted of assault after she stabbed her boyfriend in the arms and legs during a drunken fight.
An arbitrator also ruled Sgt. Michael Donegan should have his job back. Donegan is the only officer who has been fired for his actions during the November 2012 CPD police chase and shooting that left two people dead.
Three years after the incident, the city is still determining whether the 13 officers who fired 137 shots during the shooting will face discipline, including Michael Brelo.
A judge found Brelo not guilty of voluntary manslaughter charges in May.
Walker said arbitration, which is used by police departments around the country to appeal administrative rulings, can undermine discipline.
“It’s almost inherent in the arbitration process that the arbitrator wants to ‘split the baby’ – give each side a little something. If it’s a termination, the officer’s going to get their job back,” he said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigators also uncovered a case where officers who should have been fired were allowed to keep their jobs.
On a busy July 4 weekend in 2011, Officer Matthew Craska left his assigned patrol area to pick up his friend, off-duty police officer David Mindek.
On a mission to find missing jewelry, the pair headed to Daniel Ficker’s home on Wareham Drive in Parma.
Once there, Mindek accused Ficker of stealing some of his wife’s necklaces during a party at Mindek’s home earlier in the day.
In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 5, Ficker’s fiancé, Tiffany Urbach, said Craska grabbed Ficker.
They fought. Craska then fired a fatal shot through Ficker’s chest.
An internal review concluded the CPD officers violated numerous department policies and recommended termination.
The officers were never fired.
An internal document obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigators shows city officials struck a deal with the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association to delay discipline until a civil lawsuit filed by Ficker’s family is settled.
Craska and Mindek have since resigned from the department.
The family’s lawsuit against the officers and the city is ongoing.
“They never should have been at my house that night,” said Urbach about the officers.
Urbach and Ficker shared two young children. She said she struggles to explain why he is absent to teachers and friends.
“It’s torture,” she said.
“It’s just a whole different life that we’re living now,” she said.
CPD reforms now underway
CPD's issues with officer accountability and consistent discipline could soon be coming to an end.
In June, a federal judge approved a consent decree between the City of Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice calling for massive reforms, including the appointment of an independent monitor.
The independent monitor will oversee changes, including an annual review of all disciplinary decisions made by the Chief of Police and Public Safety Director.
The consent decree also calls for the creation of a Police Inspector General, who will also oversee disciplinary decisions involving CPD officers.
The police department is also required to create a new disciplinary matrix to ensure discipline is “consistently applied, fair and based on the nature of the allegation.”
“This is really a tremendous opportunity,” said Walker.
“It’s really a historic moment and the question is, ‘Will Cleveland seize that moment or not?’ ” he said.