December 20, 2014

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Cleveland police suspend 63 officers over deadly chase

Cleveland residents holding up signs in protest of the Cleveland Police Department in Cleveland on Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland residents holding up signs in protest of the Cleveland Police Department in Cleveland on Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

A review of a deadly police chase in Cleveland nearly a year ago has led to suspensions for 63 patrol officers who violated orders and department rules, the city’s police chief said Tuesday.

A fleeing driver and passenger were killed when officers fired 137 shots at them in the 23-minute chase that involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods before ending in gunfire.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said the suspensions were the result of disciplinary hearings, and violations ranged from insubordination to driving too fast during the chase.

The hearings did not involve any of the officers involved in the shooting because a county grand jury is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing among the 13 officers who fired their weapons. No weapon or shell casings were found in the fleeing car.

An initial review of the chase found 75 patrol officers violated orders, but the disciplinary hearings reduced that number to 64 officers. All but one received a suspension, with the longest being 10 days, McGrath said.

None of the violations was so serious it warranted termination. Some of the officers received a written warning.

Police previously announced punishments for 12 supervisors stemming from the chase. One sergeant was fired. A captain and lieutenant were demoted, and nine sergeants were suspended.

The nighttime chase began last November when an officer thought he heard a gunshot from a car speeding by the police station in downtown Cleveland. A parking lot attendant thought it might have been a car backfire, a theory endorsed by the driver’s family.

The officer jumped into his patrol car and radioed for help. The chase went through neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90, and eventually ended in East Cleveland.

Driver Timothy Russell, 43, was shot 23 times and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, was shot 24 times.

Police say they don’t know why Russell didn’t stop. He had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Williams had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction.

McGrath said Tuesday that some of the officers continued the chase after being told to stop because they thought an officer was in trouble. He said the officers who were disciplined were honest and professional during the review process. He also said police supervisors failed to take charge of the chase and allowed it to escalate.

The union has said the shootings were justified because the driver tried to ram an officer.