Eleven months after a November 2012 car chase that involved 104 police officers and ended with two deaths, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath has announced that 63 of the officers will be suspended.
Of the 104 officers, 75 broke rules and 63 were suspended for excessive speeding and failing to request permission to take part in the chase, McGrath said Tuesday.
The 13 officers who fired the 137 shots are not among the suspended, though they may still face disciplinary and possibly even criminal charges, authorities said.
On Nov. 29, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams fled an initial traffic stop, resulting in a 25-minute high-speed car chase that ultimately ended their lives during a police shootout, police said. Thirteen officers fired 137 bullets at the vehicle, killing Russell and Williams, police said.
With so many suspensions, the Cleveland Police Department must find a way to carry out the disciplinary actions without compromising the city's safety. District commanders issued suspension letters to patrol officers on Tuesday, police said. While many suspensions are effective immediately, others will wait to ensure there's no shortage of officers patrolling the streets.
"But more importantly, relative to this pursuit, it was the lack of engagement of the supervisors that allowed this pursuit to continue on," McGrath said at a news conference held by the Cleveland Division of Police.
McGrath said 12 police supervisors have undergone disciplinary hearings resulting in nine suspensions, two demotions and one termination.
As for the police officers involved in the chase, their actions were not found serious enough to deem termination, McGrath said. The most severe punishment is up to ten days of suspension, with most ranging between one and six days, totaling up to 178 days of suspension amongst the 63 officers.
But the police union called the discipline excessive, and vowed to fight the suspensions during arbitration hearings. Jeffrey Follmer of the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association said the union has a high success rate of challenging disciplinary actions. The union plans to "show the city is inconsistent with their discipline," Follmer said, by using "comparables of what they have done in the past."
"We win these," Follmer said.
During the probe, many police officers told investigators they got involved because they thought another officer was being endangered, authorities said.
Even under this culture of "all hands on deck," McGrath said police officers "have to follow policies and procedures in order to perform tactfully and professionally. Period."
Their behavior on that night violated departmental rules, resulting in chaos, he added.