Ohio: 75 Police Officers Face Punishment In Deadly Car Chase

By Bill Chappell

August 2, 2013

Dozens of police officers acted outside the rules and could be disciplined for their role in a massive car chase in Cleveland last fall, according to city leaders, after an official review of the 19-mile pursuit that resulted in two deaths. The review found that 13 officers fired 137 shots. The fleeing driver, Timothy Russell, and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were killed.

Update at 9 a.m. ET, Monday Aug. 5: 75, Not 74, Officers Involved

The number of officers who could be punished for their actions during the car chase is 75. At Friday's news conference, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath stated that 74 officers would be scrutinized; the city later clarified that the correct number is 75.

In his report on the investigation for NPR member station WCPN, Brian Bull quotes Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association President Jeff Follmer, who calls the events of that night "a once in a lifetime chase."

Our original post continues:

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Michael McGrath delivered the results of the city's review Friday, saying that a total of 104 officers played a role in the pursuit.

"Of the 74 officers facing discipline for violating police protocol, 19 will be referred to the Department of Public Safety for disciplinary hearings and could face temporary suspension," The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, citing McGrath.

"In June, one supervisor was fired, two demoted and nine others suspended following disciplinary hearings about their involvement," according to local News Channel 5.

Here's how it all started, from a report for All Things Considered last year by member station WCPN's Nick Castele:

"The chase began around 10:30 P.M. on Thursday, November 29th in downtown Cleveland, just outside police headquarters. An officer there thought he heard a gunshot as a car sped by, and he pursued. The chase lasted for nearly half an hour, ending near a middle school in East Cleveland, a neighboring suburb.

"At least 30 squad cars converged on the car at Heritage Middle School. Thirteen officers fired 137 gunshots at the vehicle, killing the driver and his passenger. Cleveland's police chief now says that no gun was found in the car that officers opened fire on."

Last fall, community groups and the NAACP called for a federal investigation into the high-speed chase. At the time, University of Chicago law and criminology professor Bernard Harcourt told Castele that the debate over how police use force sometimes misses the point.

"The goal always is to capture," Harcourt said. "This is a suspect, right? In other words, has not been found guilty, has not been sentenced, has not been sentenced to death."

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