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Justice Department to probe Cleveland police's use of force

March 14, 2013|By Michael Muskal
  • Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez, here in file photo, on Thursday announced a federal civil rights investigation into the use of force by the Cleveland Police Department.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Thomas E. Perez, here in file photo, on Thursday announced… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)

In the wake of a deadly police chase, the U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation into Cleveland police practices and whether the agency has used too much force.

At a morning news conference, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, announced the wide-ranging examination, the latest in a series of probes into practices by municipal police agencies around the country. Perez is viewed as President Obama's likely pick as the next secretary of Labor.

“Police officers across the country are called upon to protect and safeguard members of their communities and are afforded the authority they need to do so, including the authority to use deadly force,” Perez said Thursday at the news conference in Ohio.   “It is absolutely imperative that officers use that authority responsibly and within the boundaries of the law. We are eager to work together with the city of Cleveland and its Police Department to help ensure that its officers are best serving the individuals they are sworn to protect.”

Last year, local officials asked the Justice Department to examine Cleveland police actions after a car chase ended with police firing 137 shots, killing two people, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

The Ohio attorney general's office found errors in how police handled the chase. The case is in the hands of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who is expected to present the case to a grand jury.

But the federal Justice Department investigation will go beyond that Nov. 29 case, Perez said.

The investigation will examine several years of excessive force claims, along with other police policies. It  will “include a comprehensive review of CPD’s policies, procedures, training, accountability systems, and community engagement. As part of this investigation, the Justice Department will reach out to community members and groups for help in identifying potential problems within the Police Department,” the department said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson  said he welcomed the inquiry. He had originally requested the probe in December.

“As we begin this process, our commitment to this community and this city is to conduct a thorough and fair investigation,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Our joint goal cannot be to invent tough issues, nor can we hide from them if they exist. The mayor, among others, requested this investigation, and we hope that with the continued cooperation of the city and the community we can ensure Cleveland’s residents receive top-notch police protection.”

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