Prosecutors in Ohio on Wednesday announced new charges of unlawful conduct against almost a dozen current or former officers in the troubled police department in East Cleveland, one of the state’s poorest cities.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said the latest charges against 11 current or former officers including felonious assault and violation of civil rights make a total of 16 current or former officers indicted on charges of unlawful conduct in the last 6 1/2 months.
“Make no mistake, there has been a cancer growing in the East Cleveland police department,” O’Malley said. “We are doing our best to remove every tentacle of that cancer so that this department can rebuild and grow, to put itself into a position to hire officers who enforce the law as well as follow the law.”
The charges include felonious assault, interfering with civil rights, dereliction of duty, evidence-tampering and obstruction of justice, officials said. All of the incidents of alleged misconduct occurred before the appointment of a new police chief last fall, officials said.
Prosecutors played video showing officers punching or kicking people or repeatedly using stun devices, and said details of the 11 new incidents and more video would be released in the coming weeks.
O’Malley said the videos showed people who “were giving up, they were showing their hands, they were acquiescing to law enforcement … and that wasn’t enough — and I don’t know what a citizen can do other than surrender and put their hands up and hope that the arrest goes by the book.”
Messages could not be left for representatives of the East Cleveland police department Wednesday afternoon. The new police chief, Brian Gerhard, a 27-year veteran of the force, told Cleveland.com last month that he hopes his tenure will “get the respectability that the department had when I first started.”
Seven of the officers were being indicted for the first time, while four had been previously indicted, and the 11 new incidents occurred between February 2020 and July 2022. Four current officers on the 26-member force are among those facing charges. One former East Cleveland officer employed by a neighboring jurisdiction was fired after the announcement.
The total of 31 incidents resulting in charges against a total of 16 officers over the last 6 1/2 months occurred between June 2018 and July 2022 and involved 17 victims, officials said.
Officials in the county prosecutor’s office said the charges stemmed from citizen complaints or colleagues expressing concerns, and they praised investigators for reviewing hours of videos to verify details and in some cases exonerating victims.
O’Malley said all of the city’s residents were victimized by having to live with fear while doing everyday chores, fear “of what may happen when they were simply pulled over or perhaps confronted while walking the streets.”
He said he hoped the department could be rebuilt “from the ground up” with new recruits being taught professional law enforcement techniques and fair treatment of people in the city.