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Maple Heights officer who killed 22-year-old is back on duty

Dean Catchings speaks to Maple Heights City Council on Nov. 2, 2022, five months after his son, Datwuan Catchings, was killed by a Maple Heights police officer.
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Dean Catchings speaks to Maple Heights City Council on Nov. 2, 2022, five months after his son, Datwuan Catchings, was killed by a Maple Heights police officer.

The Maple Heights police officer who killed 22-year-old Datwuan Catchings in May is back on active duty for the city, despite the ongoing investigation into the shooting and his status as a new hire who is still in the probationary period .

The Cleveland Division of Police is investigating the shooting by Officer Terrance Duncan. Cleveland Police released partial body cam footage of the incident. It shows Duncan shooting Catchings during a foot chase, as Duncan was climbing over a fence with his back turned to the officer.

Catchings is carrying something in his hand as he runs, it’s not clear what the object is, but Duncan can be heard saying over the radio that it was a gun. Duncan is also heard repeatedly threatening to shoot Catchings if he doesn’t stop running.

Both Duncan and Catchings are Black.

At a Maple Heights City Council meeting, members of Catchings’ family and some residents criticized the city for hiring Duncan in the first place.

“There are a lot of disturbing things I’ve discovered about this officer,” said Dean Catchings, Datwuan Catchings’ father. “And one of the most disturbing things I’ve discovered is the city of Maple Heights were forewarned about this guy from his previous employers.”

Documents from Duncan’s application with Maple Heights and records from his previous employer, Brooklyn Police Department, lay out issues with Duncan’s performance on the job, including his truthfulness, demeanor toward civilians and safety.

Duncan joined the Brooklyn police department in June, 2019. On February 23, 2021, he met with supervisors to discuss his performance.

One of those supervisors wrote, “When left to his own decisions with no strict guidance he often repeats mistakes, provides inferior reports, and raises trust and safety issues.”

At the time, the department decided to extend the normal two-year probation by three months, to September, 2021.

He didn’t make it that far.

In June, a supervisor wrote about Duncan’s continued poor performance: “There appears to be two Duncan’s working against each other. One that performs well and understands the correct path forward. Then another Duncan where he rushes through tasks, has questionable judgement and repeated mistakes. Without constant oversight or guidance Duncan routinely under performs.”

By August, 2021, Duncan was forced to resign.

In a pre-employment questionnaire filled out by Duncan, one of the questions asked: “What do you feel are your weaknesses, areas where you may need more training in?” Duncan’s response: “I would like more shoot don’t shoot scenarios.”

It’s unclear which department created the questionnaire, though it was included in the employment screening materials from Maple Heights.

Dean Catchings and Datwuan’s mother, Sandrina Fields, asked city council during Wednesday’s meeting whether Duncan was now back at work.

“He never should have been hired,” Fields told council during the public comment portion of the meeting. “But if y’all holding onto him, ain’t no understanding of mine, but sooner or later I’m going to get some answers because I won’t stop until we do.”

Initially, no one answered their questions about Duncan until another person, a resident of Maple Heights, asked the same question. The city’s law director stood up and said Duncan had been on administrative duty, then on desk duty and had recently undergone a mental health exam.

“On September 26th, which was about 4 months after the incident, he was released to full duty to go back out among the public, among the fellow officers,” said Law Director, Frank Consolo.

Catchings and Fields and the rest of Datwuan’s family and supporters left the meeting shortly after, upset about the decision to put him back on active duty and about Consolo's failure to answer them.

Maple Heights checked with Duncan’s former employers before hiring him. In the reports filed on those interviews, no one recommended against hiring him.

In a report on a visit to Brooklyn Police Department, the officer conducting the background check wrote: “Chief Scott Mielke stated that he felt that Duncan was in the job for the right reasons and he was not going to get anyone sued for use of force or any wrongdoing, however, he just needs to slow down and work on doing the job correctly and not be in such a rush.”

Two Maple Heights interviewers recommended Duncan be hired.

Kayla Griffin, president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, addressed Maple Heights residents and councilmembers at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“As residents that live here, you guys should be on the necks of the people who govern this city because they should not continue hiring people just for the sake of filling bodies in a badge and a suit,” Griffin said.

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