CLEVELAND — Dorothy Chappell is still fighting for change in state and federal law more than 16-years after the fatal Cleveland police-involved shooting of her 15-year-old grandson Brandon McCloud at her family's east side home.
McCloud was shot and killed on Sept. 1, 2005, in his bedroom by Cleveland detectives Philip Habeeb and John Kraynik, who were serving a search warrant and were trying to question McCloud about the armed robbery of a pizza delivery man, when the fatal shots were fired.
After a four-year legal battle, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the detectives acted reasonably and believed McCloud posed a threat when the officers reported McCloud lunged at them with a steak knife.
The court ruled the officers should not go to trial and face a civil lawsuit filed against them for a civil rights violation, citing "qualified immunity," a law that protects municipalities from civil prosecution.
Proponents of the law believe that without this liability protection, public officials and law enforcement officers would be susceptible to frivolous lawsuits and their actions consistently questioned in the court system.
But Chappell, a growing number of civil rights groups, and judges across the country disagree and believe qualified immunity too often prevents officers who use excessive force not to be held accountable and face a jury trial.
Chappell believes the law needs to be changed on the state and federal levels.
“Really they’re saying you can’t do anything about it, he’s dead, so what," Chappell said. "The law needs to be changed."
“The bullets started flying and I ducked by my car and I told them don’t shoot back in here, I didn’t know they were killing Brandon. When they saw him, he was in a closet, that closet didn’t even have a door.”
Family defense attorney Terry Gilbert agrees qualified immunity needs to be eliminated and said police will still have their day in court to properly defend themselves.
The irrational qualified immunity has really damaged the ability to get justice against police," Gilbert said. “And I think that getting rid of it would not deprive the police from the right to defend themselves.”
“We have to get Congress to act and we have to get the states to act. So many of them are good police officers, but they know if they get into a problem, they could talk their way out of it.”
Cleveland Police Union President Jeff Follmer disagrees and believes qualified immunity must be kept to ensure city employees and police can maintain public safety without the continual threat of frivolous lawsuits that are paid with public tax dollars.
Follmer issued the following statement in response to our story:
"It’s a shame in today’s society that a police officer gets the blame when dealing with violent juveniles; and are open for future law suits; when in fact it is parenting failures. When an officer encounters a violent juvenile it is usually not the first time the juvenile was violent; But unfortunately we,the officers, get the blame. Police Officers are not the problem in society, the problem starts at home."
Meanwhile the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would significantly limit qualified immunity, passed in the House last year, but has stalled in the Senate.
At least 23 states passed “significant” legislation addressing topics aimed at imposing accountability, standards, and oversight on police, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The May 2021 report stated, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Mexico made it easier for victims of civil rights violations to recover damages in state court. The new laws created or expanded state causes of action and limited immunity defenses. Colorado and New Mexico specifically limited qualified immunity.