Cleveland Police Agree to Stop Hitting People on the Head With Guns

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No, it's The Onion that makes up fake news stories, not me. In this case, I barely even had to tweak the headline:


Cleveland Plain Dealer

Seriously. According to the report, officers of the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) hit people on the head with guns so routinely that the city has now had to enter into a binding contractual agreement saying that they aren't going to do that anymore:

The Justice Department found in a 21-month investigation that began in 2013 that Cleveland police routinely bash people on the head with their guns, sometimes accidentally firing them, according to a 58-page report released in December.

The report didn't include the underlying data, so it's hard to know how routine this has been. In the section discussing this—a section entitled, "CDP officers hit people in the head with their guns in situations where the use of deadly force is not justified"—DOJ included two anecdotes but no statistics. Overall, DOJ reviewed almost 600 use-of-force reports filed in a three-year period. It didn't say how many of these involved hitting people in the heads with guns, but it was more than two because the report noted that an "accidental discharge" caused by hitting people in the heads with guns "has happened on more than one occasion" but only one of the anecdotes involved this. It seems safe to infer, though, that there are a significant number of examples of officers hitting people in the heads with guns, because the report concluded overall that "CDP officers engage in excessive force far too often" and that their use of excessive force is "neither isolated nor sporadic."

This may not surprise you, given the Tamir Rice case (fake gun, dead sixth-grader), and the recent news about the Brelo case. Although Brelo was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter—on the grounds that the State hadn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt that his shots killed the victims—let us consider the facts of that incident for a moment:

  • Two unarmed people were shot dead in their car
  • By thirteen police officers
  • Who collectively fired 137 shots
  • Hitting each person more than 20 times
  • An unknown number of which were shots fired by Brelo
  • Who emptied two 17-round magazines
  • And then climbed onto the hood and fired 15 more times into the windshield
  • This following a chase that involved 62 vehicles and over 100 officers
  • Which started by mistake
  • Because the car backfired and someone thought it was a gunshot.

Doesn't really sound like a department that is—what's the word?—judicious in its use of force. And so the DOJ concluded. In addition to hitting people in the heads with guns a lot, the report found, CDP officers have a pattern and practice of:

  • Shooting at people who don't pose an imminent threat
  • Hitting people they have already subdued or handcuffed
  • Tasing or pepper-spraying such people
  • Using Tasers or pepper spray routinely and immediately
  • Using unreasonable force against the mentally ill or disabled
  • Firing their weapons "carelessly" or "accidentally"
  • Failing to report many uses of force
  • Using boilerplate language or euphemisms when they do report it, like saying that the subject "took an aggressive stance" or that they "escorted [the subject] to the ground"

Shockingly, supervisors also reportedly failed to investigate claims that force was used and to discipline almost anybody ever for using unreasonable force. Investigations that were conducted were substandard. "It is almost as if," the report stated, "the goal of the chain of command in many incidents is not to create a complete record of the incident that can be subjected to internal and external review, instead of the opposite." Yes, it is almost as if that is the goal.

The consent decree (available here) accordingly includes more than 20 pages explaining what CDP has agreed to do and not do regarding the use of force. Officers will be trained, for one thing, that hitting someone in the head with a gun or other hard object could actually kill them. Pointing a gun at someone will now be considered a "reportable use of force" (no, until now it hasn't been)—unless the officer is on a SWAT team, because … that's not a use of force?

Also, as noted CDP officers use Tasers a lot. They have agreed to cut back, though, and also agree that they "will not intentionally target [Tasers] to a subject's head, neck, or genitalia." So apparently they've been doing that too.