It's hard to pick out a Cleveland police shooting that takes top (dis)honors as the ugliest, most questionable use-of-force in the department's recent problematic run. Of course, there are the usual tragic frontrunners
. But one shooting that, for some reason, has slipped below the radar is the 2011 death of Dan Ficker, an officer-involved death over the July 4th holiday weekend of that year that has turned out to be a conflagration of alleged ignored protocols, abuse of power and rogue decision-making.
And while all the facts in the 27-year-old Parma man's death haven't been dragged out into the light yet, they likely will soon. A recent court decision has swatted down attempts by the city of Cleveland to toss out a lawsuit filed by Ficker's family. Last week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided there was enough evidence to move forward with a lawsuit filed on behalf of Ficker's mother and fiancee.
“Assuming the city doesn’t delay the case with further appeals, the case is headed to settlement or trial," says Terry Gilbert, the attorney representing Ficker's family in the lawsuit. "But what happened to Dan Ficker was outrageous and an example why the CPD is under federal monitoring. His family has waited five years for justice, and hopefully it will come soon.”
The total narrative of how Ficker ended up dead is a long and tangled tale — if you want the whole story, dive into our February 2012 feature on the shooting
. The CliffNotes version, however, is that on the last day of his life, Ficker and his fiancee, Tiffany Urbach, went to a party at the house of Urbach's cousin in Cleveland. This cousin was married to a Cleveland cop, David Mindek.
The party featured the usual drinking and holiday merry-making. Ficker and Urbach left to hit some bars and head home to Parma. Back at the party Mindek's wife, however, found that $5,000 in jewelry was missing from her bedroom. She immediately suspected Ficker, and relayed her thoughts to her husband. Although he was off-duty at the time, Mindek contacted a friend in the department who was then patrolling the Second District. The two drove to Parma, confronting Ficker on his steps as he an Urbach were coming home. Craska shot and killed Ficker in a struggle. A grand jury cleared Craska in the shooting. Mindek was charged — and acquitted — of dereliction of duty.
There are police shootings that display a lack of control on the part of officers (137 shots), and then there are police shootings that are triggered by what turns out to be a terrible, tragic decision (Tamir Rice). Ficker's family and attorneys contest Craska's version of events (that Ficker was reaching for his gun) but really, that's beside the point.
The ugly part of the Ficker shooting is that two Cleveland officers — one off-duty, the other on-duty — went outside the city limits to confront a suspect in an alleged theft where one of those officers was the alleged victim. That cavalier attitude — chucking protocol and procedure right in the dumpster fire — is what led to Ficker's death, and it is entirely symptomatic of the brash intransigence and zero fear of accountability that's become the public face of this community's law enforcement.
Ficker, by the way, likely didn't take the jewelry. It was never recovered, and his DNA was not found on the jewelry box. So Mindek and Craska's rogue roll-up on Ficker was all for nought.