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6 Cleveland officers spared suspensions after widespread body cam violations

Cleveland police headquarters sign outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media

Cleveland police officers from the specialized Neighborhood Impact Community Engagement Unit, which is known by the acronym NICE, were recently found to have violated the department’s body-worn camera policies, according to disciplinary letters issued by Public Safety Director Karrie Howard on Jan. 15.

Five out of the seven officers received nondisciplinary letters of reinstruction, one received a written reprimand and one, Sgt. Joseph Sedlak, received a three-day suspension. Sedlak was suspended for failing to upload and properly label bodycam videos between Jan. 1, 2021, and Sept. 9, 2022.

Sedlak received the suspension because he had two other recent violations of bodycam policies — from November of 2022 and June of 2023, according to the letter of discipline.

Of the six other officers, two were supervisors — Lt. David Skrletts and Capt. Thomas Mandzak — who the department determined failed to conduct daily or quarterly checks to make sure body camera policies were followed and four were officers who were not properly uploading videos — Det. Taylor Bohlen, Officer Francis McManamon, Det. Michael Schade and Officer Reginald Sullivan.

Bodycam policy and the investigation

Every Cleveland police officer who is issued a bodycam is required to turn it on during interactions with the public and then upload and properly label their footage at the end of every shift, according to department policy.

The discipline resulted from a 2022 Office of Professional Standards investigation that found a systemic failure to follow policies by members of the NICE unit.

On six separate occasions between Jan. 1, 2021, and Sept. 9, 2022, one officer, McManamon, waited at least 100 days to upload bodycam footage, that investigation found.

He wasn't the only officer disciplined for waiting months to upload footage. Sedlak waited 109 days after the incident that prompted this investigation — the improper arrest of Antoine Tolbert for openly carrying firearms — to upload that footage, according to Office of Professional Standards investigator Art Bowker.

Bowker found four other incidents where Sedlak waited more than 100 days to upload footage.

“These guys are all from the NICE Unit, we’re talking about guys with nice to 26 years of experience,” Bowker said. “And to need to be retrained on something as basic as WCS, when it’s to be uploaded, considering WCS has been around since 2016 — these are not new officers, this is a specialized unit with some expertise.”

Karrie Howard's decision

The Office of Professional Standards investigates all civilian complaints against Cleveland police officers and recommends discipline to the Civilian Police Review Board. CPRB then reviews the investigation and makes its own recommendation on the appropriate level of discipline to the chief of police and the city’s Public Safety Director, who makes the final decision.

The board recommended Group I — the lowest level — discipline for the officers and Group II discipline for the two supervisors, the letters show.

In his findings letter, Public Safety Director Karrie Howard lowered the Group II recommendations to Group I because of, in the case of Mandzak, the “uniqueness of the rank structure” in the NICE Unit and, in the case of Skrletts, because “testimony presented at the hearing indicated that no evidentiary information was lost.”

But during the February police review board hearing, then-chairman Michael Hess pointed to problems with leadership in the NICE Unit.

“It’s very weird that, of all of the time we’ve been doing this, and we’ve been using the WCS cameras for several years now, that this is the first time that we’ve found an entire unit’s worth of people that wholesale was just doing a very poor job of maintaining their video records,” Hess said.

According to police policy, the maximum suspension for Group I violations is three days and for Group II is 10 days. Any Group III violation, which carries a suspension over 10 days or termination, goes directly to the public safety director.

The public safety department said Howard handled these lower-level infractions because they were tied to the investigation into Tolbert's wrongful arrest — a Group III violation.

Mayor Bibb's deal with the unions

The decision to issue letters of reinstruction to five of the seven officers came shortly after a discipline change negotiated in October between Mayor Justin Bibb and the police unions stalled because of concerns that it may have violated the city's consent decree.

The change in discipline policy was one of the concessions Mayor Justin Bibb made to secure 12-hour shifts from Cleveland police unions.

Under that proposed amendment to the union contracts, any Group I violations found during an OPS investigation where the violations were committed by an officer other than the target of the civilian complaint can only receive letters of reinstruction as long as they do not have recent, similar infractions.

The NICE Unit officers' failure to properly upload footage was discovered, according to the OPS investigator who handled both cases, while looking into a complaint against Sgt. Lance Henderson, who was recently suspended for 13 days, for Tolberts wrongful arrest.

The change to the rules on officer discipline, which would have been added as amendments to the union contracts that run until March of 2025, was blocked by the U.S. Department of Justice and the court overseeing the consent decree.

“What we don’t want to happen is, by inadvertence or worse, a chipping away of a key part of the consent decree — accountability and discipline,” federal monitor Karl Racine said during an October hearing in federal court.

The city is still working on an agreement to make those changes official, according to a city spokesperson.

"The proposal has not been incorporated into policy as we have worked with the DOJ to make some modifications to remedy the concerns they previously pointed out," said spokesman Tyler Sinclair. "The revised changes are still being reviewed by other stakeholders at this time."

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