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Investigators Fault Cleveland Officers In Pursuit That Killed Young Girl

The Civilian Police Review Board meets once a month to hear civilian complaints against Cleveland officers. [CPRB / youtube]

The civilian group that hears complaints against Cleveland police is recommending disciplinary action in the 2019 car chase that ended with the death of 13-year-old Tamia Chappman.

The Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) found that the officer who initiated the chase, Christian Stipkovich, and the sergeant overseeing it, Michael Chapman, allowed a dangerous pursuit to continue.

The Office of Professional Standards (OPS), which investigates citizen complaints, had recommended disciplinary action against nine officers. The complaints included continuing or allowing to continue an unsafe pursuit, joining the pursuit without authorization from a supervisor and failing to check that the vehicle locating systems in patrol cars were functioning properly.

Ultimately, CPRB members approved the lowest level of discipline, likely to come without suspensions, for Stipkovich, Chapman, Lt. Gregory Farmer, who was found to have failed to stop the pursuit, and Officer Dustin Miller, for joining the pursuit without approval.

An internal review by Cleveland police found the chase followed department policies. The police department only issued disciplinary letters to two officers who joined the pursuit, Miller and Felicia Doss, who was with him.

The head of OPS, Roger Smith, disputed the police department’s findings to members of the review board before CPRB made its decision.

“In this case, if the evidence is clear about anything, it’s clear the speed exceeded safe limits,” Smith told the CPRB.

During the pursuit, Stipkovich’s police car, which was unmarked, and Miller’s patrol car reached speeds of at least 75 mph in residential areas of Cleveland and East Cleveland, based on officers calling in over the radio at the time.

A later investigation found the vehicles travelled as fast as 90 mph on streets with speed limits no higher than 35 mph.

David Hammons of OPS investigated the police actions leading to the suspect being pursued, 15-year-old D’Shaun McNear, hitting another car, driving onto the sidewalk, killing Chappman and seriously injuring an 11-year-old child with her.

“The officers who initiated the pursuit and the supervisors who oversaw the pursuit were unfamiliar with the surrounding area and, in radio communications, elicited only information about the speed of the lead pursuing vehicle and general traffic conditions,” Hammons said during Tuesday’s CPRB meeting. “Ignoring a host of considerations such as time of day, presence of schools, businesses, libraries or pedestrian traffic along the pursuit route.”

The mother of the 11-year-old who survived the crash filed a complaint alleging mistreatment by an officer at the scene of the crash.

“It’s not particularly unusual for us to have an initial complaint come in where what we learn in the subsequent follow up interview of the person gives rise to what ultimately becomes the true nature of the complaint,” Roger Smith, head of OPS, said after a member of the board questioned why their investigation didn’t address the original complaint but instead looked at the entire pursuit.

The board’s recommendations now go to Chief Calvin Williams for consideration. A department spokesman said the investigation into the incident is closed.

“In this instance, the Office of Professional Standards conducted an investigation prior to the completion of the Cleveland Division of Police internal investigation,” said Cleveland police spokeswoman Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia said. “As discipline in this case has been issued, further discipline cannot be rendered.”

The board can appeal Williams’ decision to Public Safety Director Karrie Howard.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.