Cleveland, U.S. Justice Department reach settlement over police misconduct

WATCH ABOVE:  Tuesday’s announcement comes a few months after a jaw dropping Department of Justice report detailing excessive force. Craig Boswell reports

Cleveland agreed to overhaul its police department under the supervision of a federal monitor in a settlement announced Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Justice over a pattern of excessive force and other abuses by officers.

The announcement comes three days after a white patrolman was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter charges in the shooting deaths of two unarmed black suspects in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire following a high-speed chase. The case helped prompt an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department.

In a report released in December, the department required the city to work with community leaders and other officials to devise a plan to reform the police department. A judge must approve the plan, and an independent monitor will oversee it.

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The settlement calls for new use-of-force guidelines, a focus on community engagement, accountability reforms, training on bias-free policing and a mental health advisory committee.

The worst examples of excessive force in the Justice Department report involved patrol officers who endangered lives by shooting at suspects and cars, hit people over the head with guns and used stun guns on handcuffed suspects.

The agency said supervisors encouraged some of the bad behaviour and often did little to investigate it. The department found that only six officers had been suspended for improper use of force over a three-year period.

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Two other high-profile police-involved deaths still hang over the city: that of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was carrying a pellet gun at a playground when he was fatally shot by a white rookie patrolman Nov. 22, 2014, and that of 37-year-old Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill woman who died of positional asphyxiation after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her Nov. 12, 2014.

The investigation was the second time in recent years the Justice Department has taken the Cleveland police to task over the use of force. But unlike in 2004, when the agency left it up to local police to clean up their act, federal authorities intervened this time. Several other police departments in the country now operate under federal consent decrees that involve independent oversight.

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The Justice Department has launched broad investigations into the practices of more than 20 police forces in the last five years, including agencies in Ferguson, Missouri, and, most recently, in Baltimore. Then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in December that the Justice Department has intervened in 15 police departments in the country, including eight that are working under court-ordered consent agreements, including Seattle and New Orleans.

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