CLEVELAND — The city of Cleveland has released new details surrounding the termination of one of its police officers who was fired for missing training, failing to report to appointments with the division's physician and reportedly admitting to smoking crack cocaine, among other lapses in conduct and policy violations. Public Safety Director Karrie Howard fired Howard Hart, 31, earlier this week following the culmination of an internal affairs investigation and pre-disciplinary hearing that took place Oct. 29, 2020.
According to the Cleveland Department of Public Safety and the termination letter, Hart had eight items, known as specifications, listed by the city that ultimately resulted in his termination. Three of those specifications were for failing to attend mandatory training on separate occasions between June 6, 2019 and Aug 7, 2019. The city states that Hart missed a total of four training events. Hart was also considered Absent Without Leave (AWOL) when he failed to notify a supervisor on Aug. 7, 2019 that he was taking a sick day. The city also cited that on multiple occasions, Hart didn’t report to the medical unit as ordered and didn’t provide a written reason as to why he missed those appointments. He missed a total of seven appointments with the Safety Medical Unit.
Hart’s termination letter states that on Sept. 4, 2018, he failed to document use of force by another officer, John Petkac. Internal affairs detectives later began investigating allegations of Petkac's use of excessive force, including the Sept. 2018 incident in which he twice stepped on a subject's throat before slamming the handcuffed suspect in the trunk of the zone car. Last month, Director Howard fired Petkac and suspended six other officers without pay for failing to intervene or report the excessive force.
According to Howard's disciplinary documents, internal affairs investigators determined Hart, who was hired in 2015, failed to properly report Petkac's excessive force. Hart also failed to show up for an internal affairs interview in July 2020 in which he was ordered to provide a statement. This obfuscation prevented internal affairs from "conducting a thorough and appropriate investigation,” according to the termination letter.
Additionally, Hart's disciplinary records reveal that he reportedly admitted to using crack cocaine.
In July 2020, a sergeant with the Gang Impact Unit noticed burn marks on Hart’s fingers and asked him if he smoked crack, documents state. Hart replied, “I have been smoking crack for four years.” According to the letter, Hart did crack cocaine from July 2016 to July 2020, although the documents do not state how often Hart reportedly used the illicit drug.
In the termination letter, Director Howard said Hart, "exhibited a complete disregard for policy and procedure" as well as engaging in a "pattern of misconduct and conduct unbecoming of a police officer."
Hart was found guilty on all eight administrative charges/specifications by the Department of Public Safety and was fired Tuesday.
“As such, you have diminished the esteem of the division and displayed a gross neglect of duty. The conducted noted above has no place in any department or division within the city of Cleveland,” Director Howard said in Hart's termination letter.
Hart's termination caps off a five year career that spun out of control downward despite a promising start. In July 2018, Hart was introduced as one of the Division of Police's first community engagement officers, a special detail aimed at increasing community policing and fostering more positive relationships with members of the community. Hart was one of three community engagement officers in the Third District.
"The reason I enjoy this detail and this job all together is because I'm able to interact with people and let them know that police aren't bad people," Hart said at the 2018 press conference. "We are just like anybody else. We have families that we love. I didn't really have that when I was younger so I'm glad that I can -- for the next generation -- show a lot of kids that we are here and show them who we are."
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