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Attorney General: Shooting Reveals 'Systemic Failure' in Cleveland Police

Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath and Mayor Frank Jackson respond to the BCI report on last year's deadly shooting.
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath and Mayor Frank Jackson respond to the BCI report on last year's deadly shooting.

At a lengthy press conference, Attorney General Mike DeWine spelled out numerous instances of inconsistencies and contradictions that resulted what he said were in systemic failures within the police department.

He said on the night of Nov. 29 last year, a police officer pulled over a car in downtown Cleveland. Inside the car were Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.They pulled away as the officer stepped out of his cruiser.

Russell and Williams sped past the Justice Center. Police officers and several other people heard what sounded to them like a gunshot coming from a car.

DeWine indicated there could be another explanation for the noise.

DEWINE: “As part of the subsequent investigation, a forensic mechanic, at our request, examined the subject vehicle, and indicated the belief that this vehicle was, in fact, prone to loud backfiring. And further had exhibited evidence of past backfiring.”

Sixty-two police cars took part in the chase. DeWine said city policy requires officers to get permission first.

DEWINE: “In fact, 59 of the vehicles in the pursuit never asked permission to join the chase.”

DeWine said police supervisors weren’t in control of the chase. And he said officers failed to switch to the same radio channel, which they were supposed to do.

The chase ended outside Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland. There the car drove toward an officer and also hit the door of a police cruiser. Thirteen officers fired 137 gunshots at the car, killing Russell and Williams.

DeWine said officers believed Russell and Williams were firing at them, when in fact a gun was never found either in the car or along the chase route. In other words, the officers were responding to friendly fire.

DEWINE: “The large number of vehicles involved contributed to a crossfire situation at the pursuit’s termination the risked the lives of many, many officers. And candidly, quite frankly, it’s a miracle that many officers were not killed.”

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he’ll present the report to a grand jury and decide whether to press charges against the officers.

MCGINTY: “Neither Mr. Russell or Ms. Williams should have been or deserved to be killed that November night. A disciplined and organized police department would not have disregarded its own departmental rules and training.”

The county medical examiner found that both Russell and Williams had cocaine and other drugs in their systems.

Police union attorney Pat D’Angelo told reporters afterward that the fault lies with Russell.

D’ANGELO: “The driver of the car tried to run over numerous police officers. He intentionally rammed other patrol cars. Officers were in fear of their life, and they did what they were trained to do. They fired their weapons. They were legally justified.”

In a press conference at City Hall, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said department policies and training are sound -- the question is whether officers followed them.

MCGRATH: “We have our policies and procedures and general police orders to address pursuits and to address non-deadly and deadly force incidents. Our policies are better than the national standards.”

Mayor Frank Jackson said he doesn’t dispute the attorney general’s report, and it will be part of an internal review into whether officers acted within the boundaries of police protocol.

JACKSON: “We will do our job. And we will do our job professionally, transparently and above board. And if officers are inside the box, then they will be protected. If they are outside the box, then there are consequences.”

Jackson said it will take time to complete the review decide on a course of action.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.