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Civilian Oversight Board At Odds With Cleveland Police Over Lethal Chase

Of the five members of present during Tuesday's meeting of the Civilian Police Review Board, four voted to appeal Calvin Williams' decision and one abstained. [Office of Professional Standards]
photo of cleveland police review board

Cleveland Chief of Police Calvin Williams has cleared supervisors of wrongdoing for failing to stop the December 2020 police chase that led to the death of 13-year-old Tamia Chappman. The civilian agency that investigates complaints against Cleveland police officers is appealing the decision.

In an April meeting, the Civilian Police Review Board recommended discipline for four officers. Two were patrol officers and two were supervisors overseeing the pursuit.

One of the patrol officers was Christian Stipkovich, who initiated the pursuit of a suspect from the West Side of Cleveland across town and into East Cleveland, where the suspect’s car struck Chappman, who was walking from school to the library. The other was Dustin Miller, who joined the pursuit without approval from a supervisor.

The two supervisors were Sgt. Michael Chapman and Lt. Gregory Farmer. Both were cited by the board for failing to properly oversee the pursuit and, in the case of Chapman, for failing to check that the electronic vehicle locator system each Cleveland police vehicle is supposed to have was functioning and for failing to monitor it during the pursuit.

Investigators later found that, at the time of the pursuit, only eight of the more than 300 Cleveland police vehicles were equipped with functioning locators, known as Automatic Vehicle Locators (AVLs).

“During our interview with Chapman, we spent between 40 minutes and an hour trying to establish what was known about exactly how many officers were involved in the pursuit,” Office of Professional Standards Administrator Roger Smith said Tuesday during an interview with Ideastream Public Media. “How can you supervise a pursuit and not know that? That’s why you need working AVLs.”

The board’s recommendations went to Williams, who declined to discipline Chapman or Farmer for failing to stop the chase. The chief did uphold one charge against Chapman for failing to check the vehicle locator at the start of his shift.

According to Smith, the police department sent the decision to his office Monday afternoon, too late for it to appear on the public agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Smith also said Stipkovich has since resigned from the department and Williams has not yet made a decision in Miller’s case.

The rationale for Williams’ decision on the supervisors is unclear. A police spokeswoman declined to comment until the board’s appeal has been considered by Safety Director Karrie Howard.

But during Tuesday’s meeting of the Civilian Police Review Board, Smith relayed the rationale behind Williams’ decision to the board.

“In the decision, [Williams] cited what he claimed were nearly ideal road and traffic conditions,” Smith said. “Glaringly omitted from the decision was any reference to the speed at which the officers were travelling.”

Investigators from Smith’s office used a report on the chase provided by the Eastside Department Group Enforcement, a group of East Side suburban police departments known as EDGE.

The report included analysis of a surveillance video from a Cleveland Clinic building on Euclid Avenue, which calculated the suspect vehicle was traveling at 90 miles an hour when it passed the camera. Stipkovich’s vehicle was pursuing at 89.9 miles per hour and Miller at close to 85 miles an hour.

That information was not included in the department’s review of the pursuit, which instead used speeds and locations reported by officers during the pursuit.

“These decisions do not represent diligent discipline by the department,” Smith said. “They were designed, dedicated and delivered for the defense interests of the city.”

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