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Cleveland Community Groups Call for Removal of Police Monitor

a photo of Hassan Aden
Justin Glanville
Hassan Aden was named Cleveland's police monitor in 2019, after serving as deputy monitor under Matthew Barge.

In the wake of the forced departure of Ayesha Bell Hardaway from Cleveland Police Monitoring team—the outside agency that examines Cleveland’s progress under the federal consent decree—two prominent Black organizations are calling for the monitor himself to be replaced.

The Norman S. Minor Bar Association, which represents Black attorneys in Northeast Ohio, and the Cleveland branch of the NAACP say Cleveland’s police monitor, Hassan Aden, has shown bias in favor of law enforcement and a lack of understanding about community concerns.

“For us the path forward is the removal of Hassan Aden from his position as monitor and then also an increased amount of transparency about the whole monitoring team,” said Brandon Brown, a vice president at Norman S. Minor Bar Association.

Brown said Aden should not be overseeing reforms to Cleveland’s police department because of his background in law enforcement.

Aden was named monitor in 2019 after serving as deputy monitor under Matthew Barge. Aden is a former chief of police in Greenville, N.C., and spent 26 years as a police officer in Alexandria, Va. He currently runs a Washington, D.C., police consulting company called the Aden Group.

Lack of Local Knowledge

“We don’t necessarily have an issue with the monitor being removed from local politics,” Brown said. “But when you combine that with that monitor then wanting to remove the person who does have those connections, who does represent the group most affected by the consent decree – which is the Black community – and also you include the fact that she’s the biggest subject matter expert, then at that point we need to figure out a way to install a better monitor.”

Brown’s organization, along with the local chapter of the NAACP, plans to issue a letter to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan calling for a joint motion to be filed with U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver asking for Aden to be replaced.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said Tuesday afternoon there would be no further comment on the matter at this time.

Aden and Greg White, the city’s consent decree coordinator, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The pressure on Hardaway to leave the monitoring team began after an April radio program about the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minnesota.

In response to her comments on police reform nationwide, Aden asked then-deputy monitor Hardaway to move to a community engagement role. Hardaway had been focused on ensuring Cleveland’s policies and training complied with the consent decree.

"...to do things the way we’ve always done, we as a community cannot continue to accept that as the standard."
Danielle Sydnor, Cleveland NAACP president

In a June 14 letter to Aden, Hardaway said she would not accept an end to her compliance work.

“Any acquiescence on my part to limit my engagement on the Monitoring Team to community issues that do not involve assessing compliance would give these baseless attacks on my professional objectivity unmerited credence,” Hardaway wrote to Aden. “You and I both understand that removing me from the substantive compliance work of this project is, in fact, removing me from the team.”

Following her departure, there was immediate backlash from a diverse group of local officials and activists, including Brennan, the Cleveland chapter of Black Lives Matter and Hardaway’s employer, Case Western Reserve University.

“The place that we see ourselves in right now is there has to be sustained advocacy, especially from the Black community but also individuals that just really care about progress in our city,” said Danielle Sydnor, president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP. “There really needs to be an evaluation, an investigation, whatever terminology people want to use, to evaluate how this decision was made and ensure that we’re not leaning toward the past of making this decree less impactful.”

Cleveland entered into the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 and agreed to a series of reforms, most prominently in the way officers use force and the department’s system of disciplining officers.

Planning Decree Departure

Last year, the city said it would seek to leave the consent decree in 2022 at the earliest. Recently the police patrolmen’s union began putting pressure on city officials, and whoever becomes mayor next year, to leave as soon as possible.

After spending years putting new policies and training in place, the Cleveland police department now has to show reforms have taken hold. That means the monitoring team is collecting data on police practices like traffic stops and use-of-force incidents, and monitoring internal systems, like the use of force review board, to ensure reforms are having the intended effect.

Sydnor said she wouldn’t speculate on why there’s pressure building up now, six years into the process, to leave the consent decree. But she said the nationwide focus on policing reform creates an opportunity for real change in Cleveland.

“And so for individuals who believe the only way to function is to continue to do things the way we’ve always done, we as a community cannot continue to accept that as the standard,” Sydnor said.

Copyright 2021 WCPN. To see more, visit WCPN.

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