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A decade later, Daniel Ficker's mother says Cleveland police 'tried sweeping it under the rug'

'Nobody ever called to say they're sorry'
Posted at 4:38 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 18:42:48-04

CLEVELAND — A decade after Daniel Ficker, 27, was shot and killed by former Cleveland Police Officer Matthew Craska outside his Wareham Drive home in Parma, his mother, Bernadette Rolen, is still asking why there was no justice for her son.

"They didn’t see that there was an issue. They didn’t see there was a problem. They were trying to sweep it under the nobody did anything wrong," said Rolen regarding how her son's case was handled by the Cleveland Division of Police. "Nobody ever called to say they’re sorry."

“He was 27-years-old. He had his whole life ahead of him. He didn’t deserve to die," she said.

Daniel Ficker loved being a father to his two young children and his work as an automechanic prior to death at the hands of a former Cleveland police officer a decade ago.

Ficker was living a stereotypical American life before he was shot and killed ten years ago. Rolen said he "couldn't believe what he had." He enjoyed his job as an auto mechanic, loved being a father to the young son and daughter he shared with his fiancee, and was already a homeowner.

"He was so just proud," she said. "I was proud of him. My parents were proud of him Everybody was proud of him."

July 4th, 2011

It all ended over the July 4 weekend in 2011 when Ficker was shot by Craska, who was not supposed to be in Parma, much less at Ficker's doorstep.

On Sunday, July 3, 2011, Ficker and his fiancee, Tiffany Urbach, spent the afternoon at a party at the home of former Cleveland Police Officer David Mindek. After the couple left, Kimberly Mindek, Mindek's now ex-wife, noticed some of her necklaces were missing. She accused Ficker of taking the jewelry. Instead of filing a police report, Mindek, who was off duty, called his friend, fellow Cleveland Police Officer Matthew Craska.

Craska was on duty that busy holiday weekend. But, after Mindek called, he left the area he was supposed to patrol, picked up Mindek, and drove the pair to Ficker's home on the corner of Wareham Drive in Parma to ask about the theft. Urbach said Craska grabbed Ficker. They fought. Craska fired a fatal shot through Ficker's chest. Ficker was unarmed.

No justice

Rolen believed there would be justice for her son. After all, the officers weren't even supposed to be there that night. But then, a Cuyahoga County grand jury declined to indict Craska on murder charges. A Cuyahoga Co. judge found Mindek not guilty after he was charged with dereliction of duty.

An internal document obtained by News 5 showed city officials struck a deal with the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association to delay disciplining the officers until a civil lawsuit filed by Ficker’s family was settled.

RELATED: INVESTIGATION: Cleveland Division of Police disciplinary process flawed

The officers eventually resigned. After dragging it out for years, the City of Cleveland settled a federal civil lawsuit Rolen filed for $2.25 million in January 2017.

RELATED: Cleveland agrees to pay $2.25 million settlement in Ficker shooting death

“Did they get disciplined? Absolutely not. Did they get fired? Absolutely not. What kind of consequences did they pay for their actions? None. Nothing,“ Rolen said.

Remember the missing jewelry that led the two officers to Daniel Ficker's door? It was never found, according to Rolen. She wonders if it was even stolen.

Fatal Ohio police shootings

It can seem to Rolen that nothing has changed in the last decade. The Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health recently analyzed the Washington Post's police shootings database. It found between 2015 and 2020, 169 Ohioans died at the hands of police. Ohio averaged 2.4 deaths per 1 million residents, which makes the Buckeye State 35th in the nation and falls below the national average of 2.99.

Howver, the data also showed the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Ohioans is 339% higher (6.96 per 1 million residents) than white Americans (1.59 per 1 million residents).

According to the report, out of the 100 most populous counties in the nation, Franklin County had the 18th-highest rate of fatalities per 1 million residents. Franklin County’s rate of 4.81 deaths per million was well above the national rate of 2.99. Montgomery County (4.70) and Summit County (3.39) also exceeded the national average, while Cuyahoga (2.29) and Hamilton (2.04) were below the national average.

Total number of fatal police shootings 2015-2020:

  • 38 in Franklin Co.
  • 17 in Cuyahoga Co.
  • 11 in Hamilton Co.

READ MORE: Police Shooting Fatalities: 2015 - 2020

Despite greater visibility, police shootings can also still remain shrouded in mystery. A CMHA officer shot and killed Arthur Keith, 19, last November. Cleveland Police have refused to release surveillance video that may show what happened to the teen.

RELATED: Left in the Dark: Most non-municipal NEOH police officers do not wear body cameras

'All eyes on police'

So what is different today?

"All eyes are on the police right now," Rolen said.

In April, News 5 showed you how most Northeast Ohio police officers now wear body cameras. The Ohio Attorney General's Office now oversees investigations into fatal police shootings. The Cleveland Division of Police has remained under federal supervision since it entered into consent decree May 26, 2015. Ficker's death was examined when a U.S. Department of Justice investigation concluded Cleveland police use excessive force too often.

READ MORE: USA v. City of Cleveland Settlement Agreement

"Like I said, there’s more awareness. They’re holding police officers accountable now, at least now I hope so. I can only hope so," Rolen said. “It does bring me hope that change is possible in the future. If someone else doesn’t have to lose their life, that would be a wonderful thing."

'A hole in my heart'

Rolen misses her son no less than the day the bizarre set of events ended his life.

“As much as I did when he was taken away, July 4th, 2011 — same," she said. "It doesn’t get easier if that’s what people expect you to say, I mean, it doesn’t get easier. The pain will always be there. There will always be a hole in my heart. Always. “

Neither Craska nor Mindek are currently working as police officers in the state of Ohio, nor are they licensed to do so without repeating training.

News 5 reached out to the City of Cleveland and the Cleveland Division of Police to ask officials if they would handle Ficker's case differently today.

In an email, a spokesperson wrote, "We have no comment at this time."

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