Justice News

Remarks by Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta at the Press Conference to Announce the Cleveland Division of Police Investigative Findings
Cleveland, OH
United States
Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you all for joining us.  Thank you Attorney General Holder for your tremendous leadership and support of the work of the Civil Rights Division over the last six years.  Thank you, Steve, for being such a strong partner in this investigation.  Throughout this investigation and beyond, the attorneys from our offices have worked side-by-side in our collective effort to enforce our national civil rights laws.  Thank you also, Mayor Jackson, for joining us today and for the leadership to the city that you have provided throughout this process.  No one knows this city better than you, and no one wants to effect positive change for the citizens of Cleveland more than you do.  I would also like to thank Chief Williams and Public Safety Director McGrath for their cooperation throughout this process and the leadership that they provide to the Cleveland Division of Police.  And, finally, thanks to the hardworking team from the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office that investigated this case: Mark Kappelhoff, Jonathan Smith, Tim Mygatt; Emily Gunston, Rashida Ogletree;  Jack Morse, Earl Saunders, Oscar Poma, Michelle Heyer, Heather Volosin and Carole Rendon.

We have worked hard to complete a thorough and independent review of the Cleveland Division of Police and its use of force.  When we opened this investigation in March 2013, at the invitation of Mayor Jackson, we set out to uncover the facts and to follow them wherever they led.  I am here today to report that we have done just that.  As the Attorney General and Steve have summarized, the team has conducted an exhaustive review of the Cleveland Division of Police to determine whether a pattern or practice of excessive force exists.

The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Cleveland Police engage in a pattern or practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  That pattern manifested in a range of ways, including:

  • The unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons;

  • The unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists;

  • Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill and in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and

  • The employment of poor and dangerous tactics that placed officers in situations where avoidable force became inevitable.

As part of our investigation, we also assessed the reasons why officers resort to excessive force.  Our investigation revealed that the causes of these patterns or practices were systemic and resulted from organizational deficiencies.  Principle among these is the Cleveland Division of Police’s failure to implement effective and rigorous accountability systems.  Force incidents too often are not properly reported, documented, investigated, or addressed with corrective measures.  Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers.  Officers are not provided with adequate training, policy guidance, and supervision to do their jobs safely and effectively.  Community policing strategies are not sufficiently embedded in the division. 

In the course of our investigation we also discovered that some of the division’s search, seizure, and arrest practices appear to violate the Fourth Amendment.  We have asked that the division work with us to address these concerns even though they were beyond the scope of our initial investigation.

We announce these findings today against the backdrop of the events in Ferguson and New York and in the wake of a shooting here in Cleveland of a 12 year old boy just days ago.  These events have spawned a national conversation about police practices, community-police trust, and public safety.  While the issues confronting each community are unique and the solutions must be tailored to the problems and strengths at hand, Cleveland is not alone in the need to address confidence between the community and its police department.  Other communities around the nation also struggle with these issues.  Nevertheless, I stand here with optimism and hope.  Our experience around the nation shows that, together, we can work towards solutions and forge a constructive path forward.  That is why I’m so pleased that the Mayor is standing here today as a full partner in this effort to create real, sustainable change of the Cleveland Division of Police.

The Civil Rights Division, though its work with police departments across the country, has shown that the prospect of police accountability and criminal justice reform is not merely an aspiration, but an achievable goal.  Accountability requires having systems, policies, and practices in place to ensure that police departments identify problems, correct conduct, and reform procedures so that officers can serve their communities in an effective, constitutional and legitimate manner.  Doing so makes communities safer, and ensures that residents partner with the police to address problems, thereby making the job of delivering police services safer and easier.

Over the last six years, the Civil Rights Division has fanned out across the Nation and undertaken investigations of law enforcement in every corner of this country.  This work has resulted in landmark agreements that are changing the way that police services are being delivered, and reforming use of force practices, as well as racial and ethnic bias in policing all across our nation.  And we have found that reform is always more attainable and more sustainable when we work in collaboration with the police department and the community.

These initiatives, while far from enough, provide models for going forward.  Change that ensures that all people are equal before the law, and that law enforcement is seen as a part of, rather than distant from, the communities they serve, is possible.  Public safety requires more than a reduction in crime; it is also contingent on trust between law enforcement and the community, and a shared sense that our criminal justice system operates fairly and legitimately. 

Where our investigations reveal a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct, we have worked with those departments and cities to bring about sustainable reform through the use of court-enforceable agreements.  And we have seen these agreements – and the efforts made by these police departments – work. 

Today, we join Mayor Jackson, the city of Cleveland, Chief Williams, and the Cleveland Division of Police to work together to implement positive, permanent change.

We recognize that the Cleveland Division of Police has taken some steps to address the preliminary concerns we have raised with the division throughout our investigation.  The division has revised its policies, purchased new equipment, and adopted a new community policing initiative, among other measures.  However, while promising, the division must still make many more changes and undergo a complete cultural shift if constitutional policing is to become a core division value.  We look forward to working with city officials, the division of Police, and community stakeholders towards that end, and to developing a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform.  The community’s voice in this process is critical and we look forward to engaging with the many people who rely and depend on Cleveland police officers for their safety. 

Before I conclude, I would like to speak directly to the men and women of the Cleveland Division of Police.  We thank you for your service.  You have an enormously important and difficult job.  This investigation revealed that you are being asked to perform that job without adequate policy guidance, training, supervision or other support and, importantly, in some cases without adequate equipment.  We know that you want to be, and want to be seen, as part of the communities that you serve.  This process can give you the tools to be more effective, to partner with civilians to create public safety, to make your job safer and to ensure that the criminal justice system is equitable and seen by all as legitimate.  We look forward to partnering with you, along with the city and the many communities that make up Cleveland, to achieve these goals.

Over the course of the upcoming days, weeks, and months, we will reach out to all segments of the community.  We want to hear your concerns and include remedies that will work for Cleveland.  The Department of Justice will remain engaged as long as necessary until reform is achieved, and not a day more.  But when we are done, it is up to the people of Cleveland and the officers of the Cleveland Division of Police to ensure that the reform is sustained.

Thank You.

Updated August 19, 2016