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Families of 137 shots victims filed federal lawsuit

James W. Wade III | 12/4/2013, 9:17 a.m.
Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Michael McGrath at press conference Tues., Oct. 15, where many officers were suspended for the chase on Nov. 29, 2012.

This past week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were inside the car riddled with 137 shots in East Cleveland.

Listed in the federal lawsuit are Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Director of Public Safety Marty Flask and Police Chief Michael McGrath. One year later, various police officers and supervisors have been punished but none of the 13 officers who actually did the shooting.

The attorneys for the families of Russell and Williams filed a 59-page lawsuit, in which they say their case “challenges the gratuitous, excessive, and objectively unreasonable force members of the Cleveland Police Department” against the two victims.

The lawsuit claims that all of the defendants’ acts were “clearly established violations of the United States Constitution and Ohio law.”

In August, 75 Cleveland patrol officers were found in violation of departmental rules and regulations for their roles in the deadly November 29, 2012 police chase. During that time, McGrath said 277 officers were on duty that night. A review committee determined 104 were involved in the deadly pursuit. Jackson acknowledged the chase and shooting have damaged the public’s trust in Cleveland’s police force.

The mayor has said, from the very beginning, this would take some time to get through the process.

“We have to let people know what we’re doing at every step so that they can see that we’re handling this right and that they should have the expectation that this will not happen again,” said Jackson.

“If those two victims were dogs, there would have been more attention paid to them and they would have been given more consideration to due process,” Jackson said.

Jackson said Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were denied due process when they were killed in a hail of police bullets.

Jackson has not been silent about the shooting. From the mayor’s dialogue with the media, it became clear he has concern for the two victims. Jackson said any failures during the chase resulted from police supervisors as well as rank-and-file officers who didn’t follow department procedures. There was a failure. It was not systemic. It was a failure on the part of some supervisors and some patrol officers to do what they knew they should have done and what they were trained to do, Jackson stated.

A year ago, at a press conference held at the Russell family attorney’s office, David Russell Jr. said he gave his brother Timothy the car involved in the chase and it had a bad muffler. He said he was the last person to speak to Tim, about an hour before the shooting.

The attorney called for a federal investigation into the incident because the East Cleveland Police Department is woefully underfunded and isn’t prepared to handle such a case of this magnitude.

The case is in the hands of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. It was released that, in 2004, the Justice Department agreed to monitor the way Cleveland police officers used their weapons under an agreement reached with city officials. In that case, the city avoided a lawsuit from the Justice Department by revising the police department's policies governing the use of force by officers. For a year, federal authorities oversaw how the department complied with new policies.

Nine years later, is this something that has to be considered? As long as there are gray areas because of the non justice, there certainly will be no peace.