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Cleveland Police commander in charge of Gang Impact Unit suspended for 30 days

A person walks past the Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in Downtown Cleveland.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
The Cleveland Division of Police headquarters in downtown Cleveland.

Cleveland Division of Police Commander Alfred Johnson has been suspended for 30 days after city officials found him guilty of 20 rules violations.

Johnson was also demoted to sergeant, according to a letter issued Friday by the Department of Public Safety.

Prior to the demotion, Johnson was commander in charge of the Bureau of Special Services, which oversees the Gang Impact Unit and other drug and gun-related investigations, police records show. He was promoted from a sergeant supervising members of the unit to commander in November, 2021 after most of the incidents occurred.

Cleveland police use a "disciplinary matrix" to determine discipline. The lowest level, Group I, can result in anything from a written reprimand to a five-day suspension. A Group II violation is a 5-to-10 day suspension and Group III is 10 days all the way up to termination. Certain violations, including making false reports and dishonesty, carry a presumption of termination.

On Friday, Public Safety Director Karrie Howard announced the discipline following a two-day internal hearing on July 6 and 7. Johnson was found guilty of 20 of the 23 charges he faced. Three of the 20 were merged with other charges “to reduce duplicity.”

The charges focus on incidents that occurred in 2020 and 2021 and evidence left in an office Johnson had used until February of last year.

According to a copy of the disciplinary notice, obtained by Ideastream Public Media from a source familiar with disciplinary matters:

  • On April 6, 2021, Johnson gave permission to “on-scene members” to turn off their body cameras before investigators from the Force Investigation Team arrived. The Force Investigation Team is an internal unit that follows up on officer uses of force. The discipline documentation did not provide details on the incident that led to that force investigation. Group I (lowest level) violation, letter of reinstruction.
  • During 2021, while acting as the Lieutenant overseeing the Gang Impact Unit, Johnson failed to complete quarterly body cam audits. Johnson served in this role for 10 months — there should have been three audits completed during that time. The audits, where supervisors conduct random checks of body cam footage to ensure compliance with department policies, are required under the Consent Decree. Group I, letter of reinstruction.
  • On August 6, 2021, Johnson failed to report an allegation of misconduct after a member of the public told Johnson of being punched in the face by an officer. Lowered from Group III (potentially fireable offense) to Group II.
  • On September 12, 2021, Johnson did not report complaints by another member of the public about “a finger being in his rectum and his rights being violated.” Lowered from Group III to Group II.
  • Also on September 12, 2021, Johnson observed force used on the same member of the public (a “take down”) via Ring camera and did not report it. Lowered from Group III to Group II.
  • On October 2, 2021, Johnson told a man, “Stop it dummy” while he was having a medical emergency. Group I violation.
  • On October 8, 2021, Johnson “became aware” that another man was having difficulty breathing and did not obtain medical assistance. Lowered from Group II to Group I because “the complainant did not suffer any visible or incapacitating injuries,” issued letter of reinstruction.
  • On May 2, 2020, Johnson interviewed a juvenile after the county juvenile detention facility would not accept him because of an injury. The juvenile told Johnson he was “choked, kneed, punched and his head was pushed into the ground” by an unnamed officer. Johnson “failed to immediately report the incident to a supervisor” and completed a use of force investigation “that did not address the involved citizen’s allegations” until he was “requested to address the allegations.” Group III.
  • On May 2, 2020 Johnson observed an injury to a different member of the public after a use of force and did not call for medical assistance or transport the person for medical treatment. Group II
  • On August 9, 2022, it was discovered that Johnson had left evidence from 10 cases and 19 shell casings behind in an office he had vacated in February, 2022. Group II violations

Three charges related to not requiring officers he supervised to properly document investigatory stops and uses of force; lax supervision over strip searches and the internal reporting of misconduct by officers and other procedures were merged into other charges to “reduce duplicity." Two of those “merged” charges were Group III, by themselves potentially fireable offenses.

A recent Office of Professional Standards case also found a widespread, longstanding failure to follow body cam policy among several specialized units in the Cleveland Division of Police.

The charges against Johnson originated with four Internal Affairs investigations conducted in 2021 and 2022. Ideastream Public Media requested those investigations on July 7 and has not received a response from the city.

When charges that could result in more than a ten-day suspension are brought, Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard has the final say on what the discipline will be. In a June 12 letter to Johnson, Howard laid out 23 administrative charges based on the findings of those two four IA reports. Six of the 23 charges Johnson faced were Group III, the most serious.

The initial letter set a June 23 disciplinary hearing. After a couple of delays, the hearing was held July 6 and 7.

Typically, an officer is represented by the union during a disciplinary hearing. In Johnson’s case, that was the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #8. Johnson chose to also bring a private attorney, Christopher McNeal. Some officers also choose to have representatives of the Black Shield or Hispanic Police Officers Association present to argue on their behalf.

When contacted, McNeal said he was unable to speak about the case at this time.

Assistant Public Safety Director Jakimah Dye presided over Johnson’s hearing. The proceedings are closed to the public. It’s unclear what arguments were made to reduce several charges from a Group III to a Group II level, nor why Howard arrived at a 30-day suspension.

Johnson joined the department in 2007, according to his personnel file, after working as a corrections officer at the county jail for five years. According to his application, he spent time on the jail’s Security Response Team, also known as the Men in Black. The Men in Black played a prominent role in the 2018 U.S. Marshals Report on conditions at the jail.

Early in his career in Cleveland, Johnson worked in the 5th District while current Chief Wayne Drummond was commander. In performance reviews from 2010, 2011 and 2013, Johnson received high marks and was described by his supervisors as an “aggressive officer” whose arrest numbers were “above average.”

There were a few disciplinary proceedings in Johnson’s record before he was promoted to sergeant in 2017.

In 2012, he was suspended for three days for failing to arrest someone for assault and then later arresting that person after she filed a complaint against him and his partner with the Office of Professional Standards.

Later that year, he was involved in the infamous 137 shots incident and would be suspended in 2013 for six days for joining the pursuit without permission and disobeying an order to terminate.

The following year he was suspended for two days for failing to report a use-of-force incident.

By that time, Johnson was working in the gang unit and, after a promotion in 2017 to sergeant, he was named commander in November, 2021.

The latest incident in the list leading to his current suspension, aside from the discovery of the evidence in his old office, occurred on October 8, 2021.

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