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Monitoring team report finds Cleveland police violated policies during and after May 30 riot

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 18:43:14-05

CLEVELAND — A report by the federal monitoring team overseeing Cleveland Police Department's compliance with terms of the consent decree found officers violated a number of policies during and after the May 30 riots downtown.

The report is the first independent review of police actions that day.

In December, the department's own after-action review found police struggled with planning and a lack of resources and focused on the need for additional training after the riot that rocked downtown Cleveland.

RELATED: Cleveland releases after-action report for May 30 protest that details police missteps

But the report by the monitoring team went a step further, detailing violation of both departmental policies and terms of the consent decree between the city and U.S. Department of Justice in its 126-page report.

Read the full report online here.

Among the issues pointed out by the monitors was the dispersal order given by a police commander to demonstrators outside the Justice Center.

The report said the commander failed to wait the required amount of time between readings of that order, and that the use of a handheld megaphone to give those orders did not appear to be appropriate for the size and nature of the crowd.

The findings echoed what one witness told News 5 days after the unrest.

"None of our observers at any time at the Justice Center heard any orders to disperse," said Sarah Gelsomino in June.

The monitoring team also found that many officers failed to activate or wear body cameras during their response.

The report pointed out only two-thirds of officers who reported the use of force had video evidence, something the report noted: "makes the determination of what did and did not occur challenging or impossible."

The team noted that police protective gear lacked a way to mount body cameras.

Another series of violations found in the report involved the reporting of, and review of, use of force by officers.

The team noted that only 16 of the 29 Cleveland police officers who filed use of force reports did so by the end of their shifts as required. The report said 13 other officers took months to file reports. In one case, the team noted, a report wasn't filed until September.

In another case, the team said one officer seen on video using force never filed a report at all.

The monitoring team wrote that the pattern of reporting and review of use of force "appears wholly inconsistent with policy and the requirements of the consent decree."

Lewis Katz, the co-chair of Cleveland's Community Police Commission said he thinks the report did a disservice to the community by not noting the specific uses of force on non-violent demonstrators.

"Certainly, within the demonstration group, there were those who provoked the police and were throwing things at the police. But most of the demonstrators remained peaceful and they, too, were the recipients of whatever non-lethal force was used by the division," said Katz.

One area the report did back police was the finding that officers were hit with a variety of "hard objects" prior to the first deployment of pepper spray.

The monitoring team noted that does not mean any particular deployment was appropriate, but that claims Cleveland police used wholly unprovoked force is not supported by the available evidence.

Ronnie Dunn, an associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, said even though the report pointed out a lack of timeliness in reporting use of force and use of consistent body cameras during the protest, he said the department appears to be "heading in the right direction in becoming a self-reflective learning organization."

"I thought that it was somewhat a positive development that the department's own after-action report had identified a number of areas where improvement is need and it actually acted upon that proactively."

He is hopeful it will bring about change.

"The community has to stay vigilant and really engage in this process so I think that is how we will be able to, ultimately, ensure that there is greater accountability, transparency and, overall, better policing and community police relations," said Dunn.

He said now action is needed to cause that change.

"In regards to this type of work, cautiously optimistic is the watch word for me," he said.

The report also suggested several areas the department could improve, including:

  • Improving transparency, communication and community engagement efforts before planned demonstrations
  • Harmonizing the department's use of force and crowd management policies
  • Reexamining the use of force reporting policy
  • Reconsider the use of force review process for demonstrations
  • Ensure use of force policies are being complied with by officers and reviewed by supervisors
  • Resolve the problem that body-mounted cameras cannot be mounted on certain types of officer gear
  • Plan around the need to issue dispersal orders by ensuring the department has proper sound equipment to clearly and audibly give orders.
  • Consider redrafting mutual aid agreement to clarify command structures and ensure consistent use of force.
  • Improve the deployment of the department's Incident Command System