July 26, 2011 is a date that Lynn Cartellone will never—can never—forget. It was the day that her world forever changed.
“My son’s name is Brandon Michael Cartellone. This is an event that changes you forever,” she said.
On that summer night, nearly 10 years ago, her son Brandon died.
“It was a horrific crime,” she said.
Brandon, 21, was brutally beaten and strangled in his Tremont apartment. It was a violent crime that shocked the vibrant neighborhood. Cartellone was confident that justice would be swift.
“We thought how important those first few hours were. We thought the police were on it,” she said. “I wish I would’ve known then what I know now.”
But Cartellone didn’t sit down with News 5 to talk about what happened to Brandon that horrible night, she wanted to talk about what happened after it.
“I remember point blank saying to the detective, ‘You know I’ve heard so often about cases being botched. Please don’t let that happen to my son’s case,’ and very quickly I discovered that things just weren’t happening,” said Cartellone.
The weeks turned into months, that turned into years with no answers or updates from detectives.
“You feel alone in the process. You feel abandoned. What is justice? Let’s talk for hours about what justice is,” she said.
While Cartellone’s own world stopped turning once her son was no longer in it, the outside world kept turning. It’s been almost 10 years since she buried her son and she believes his case is buried, too, under newer case files that continue to pile up.
“I’ve given up calling and trying to speak to someone because they refuse to talk to me,” she said.
Since 2011, Cleveland saw more than 1,000 homicides. According to the latest crime statistics, there have been 76 criminal homicides already in 2021.
As violent crime continues to rise in Cleveland, the city’s homicide unit is understaffed. The unit is budgeted for 25 detectives, but Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer said he believes there are about 10 openings in the unit.
“There’s only 24 hours in a day and there’s only so much they can do. If they start a homicide one day and then within 24 hours of getting another one you’ve got to jump around and that’s not right to the victim’s families,” said Follmer. “The problem is there’s no people to get.”
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report stating that in order to keep up with the growing case load, Cleveland needed 38 detectives.
City Council President and mayoral candidate Kevin Kelley said the police department is understaffed in nearly every department.
“Every year, council budgets what we believe to be enough to fill these units and we were told last year that all the specialty units were going to be full, but they're not,” said Kelley. “They have to be properly staffed to do their jobs.”
He said it’s not only a problem for police officers and the victims of violent crimes, but for all citizens.
“The biggest problem with not solving crimes is that those perpetrators are more likely to do it again,” he said.
Blaine Griffin, the city’s Safety Chair, said police are doing the best they can, but in order to fully staff specialty units, like homicide, there needs to be more rigorous police recruitment efforts so that veteran officers can move to specialty units.
“The first thing we have to do is get more classes,” he said. “We’ve been struggling in every sense to really get back up to where we really want to be.”
Griffin said council is working on ways to be more “thrifty” with money to support police efforts.
“We can't just become a police state, but we do need to try to find as many dollars as possible to support our our police department,” he said.
It took more than a month of email requests and a public information request to get a response from Cleveland Police’s Public Information Officer to receive a response regarding Brandon’s case.
It read: “Currently, the investigators are still investigating, and have developed some additional info that they are pursuing.”
But his mom is not confident that his case will ever be solved.
“I’ve given up calling and trying to speak to someone because they refuse to talk to me. Do they not have the time? Possibly. When they say 'We don’t have the time,' is it because they don’t have the time or is it because they don’t want to be bothered? You don’t know. But there’s no communication,” said Cartellone.
She believes the staffing issues with police is the tip of the iceberg. She hopes there’s a change in the way crimes are investigated in general.
“Include family, if you’ve got family that is out there on the streets, speaking with various people that know something, why not include them? Why not sit down and have discussions and learn. Let’s get involved with information sharing, let’s work with private investigators, let’s work with retired FBI agents. Why aren’t we working together?" Cartellone asked.
Cartellone said the prospect of solving Brandon’s case is getting hopeless, but she won’t give up.
“I’m my son’s advocate. I’m his only voice that’s left,” she said.
And while time supposedly heals all wounds, it’s hard to heal without closure.
“I miss our conversations. I miss our time together. I miss his smile,” said Cartellone.
If you know anything about the murder of Brandon Cartellone, call the Cleveland Police Department.