Cleveland Police Union Blasts Safety Director, Feds On 'Political' Firings
The Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association is calling for the firing of Public Safety Director Karrie Howard, accusing him of bending to the will and political agenda of the U.S. Department of Justice by unfairly firing officers to forward his own career.
Four officers were fired last week and Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association President Jeff Follmer said another was fired Thursday morning. Follmer blamed the Department of Justice, which has been involved with the Cleveland Division of Police since a consent decree in 2015 over use-of-force cases, including the killing of Tamir Rice.
“Karrie Howard needs to be removed from office,” Follmer said. “I called out [then-Police Chief Michael] McGrath and he got promoted to safety director back in the day, so I know that’s not going to happen. The message is clear. We’re willing to work with the next mayor.”
A city spokesperson was asked about the union's claims and did not comment, saying a statement would be released Thursday evening.
Michael McGrath headed the Cleveland Division of Police during the problems that led to the consent decree. Follmer also referred to McGrath’s promotion as coming despite departmental problems that he said should have been laid at McGrath’s feet. An audit of the Cleveland police department released last year criticized McGrath for being too lax on discipline – problems Howard pledged to fix.
“This is direct pressure from the monitors to Karrie Howard all for political agendas and the Department of Justice is just something that needs to go,” Follmer said. “They’re [DOJ] heading it big time. I can tell, put pressure on the chief's office. The case prep, who does all the charges, they put pressure on internal affairs.”
Follmer also asked whether Howard has recently applied for any federal positions.
Follmer and CPPA union attorneys said Officer Chanae Dontinez was fired last week for sending a private Instagram message warning an acquaintance not to misbehave. Shehad spoken to her supervisor about the issue.
“Her discipline letter said she was on probation,” Follmer said. “She wasn’t on probation. She’s a mother of two. She’s never had discipline before.”
Union lawyer Henry Hilow said the city is spending nearly $1 million on outside consults for disciplinary hearings he believes have a predetermined outcome.
“When they have a break in these hearings, we're not invited,” Hilow said. “I feel like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. We're not invited because they go into those meetings at these hearings with the safety director and the attorneys for the city. And these are fair hearings?”
Other recent firings involved a second drunken driving conviction and a use of force violation.
“If you went to the community right now and said 'Hey, do you know why this officer was fired? Do you know what the hearing was about?’ Nobody knows what it’s about,” Hilow said. “Anybody know that the one case involved a dog? Anybody know that the other case involved slurs, racial slurs, who were uttered to the officer? Nobody knows that. Everybody always has a preconceived notion.”
The police union is planning fundraisers for the fired officers.
Follmer said 13 officers have been fired in the past year. The firings, suspensions and continued DOJ involvement in the department are affecting the police ranks and recruitment, said Follmer, noting that thousands of people would take the police entrance test when jobs came open in the 1990s, but the last round only garnered 425 applicants.
“We’re 130 [employees] short,” Follmer said. “They’re already rearranging police cars in the district to make it look like they’ve got a full staff.”