After months of seeking, via public records request, use-of-force reports from the Cleveland Police Department, Scene is suing the department in Ohio's Eighth District Court of Appeals with the help of Case Western University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic after the city refused to provide the requested documents.
A freelancer working for Scene, Cid Standifer, requested all use of force reports for 2019 and 2020 to date in September. According to the department’s handbook, officers are required to file a report every time they use any kind of force, including pointing a gun at someone. The report has to explain what kind of force was used and why, how the subject was resisting the officer, and whether the person had to be sent to the hospital. The police department includes statistics on these factors in the Use of Force Report
it publishes annually.
Two weeks after Standifer’s initial request, the department provided a table with two numbers: one showing the number of incidents in 2019, and one showing the number of incidents between Jan. 1 and Sept. 14 in 2020.
Since then, Standifer has resubmitted the request repeatedly, asking for use-of-force reports for each month between January 2019 and October, 2020, asking for a single weekend of reports, asking again for a single month of reports, and asking for them by file name.
The city first responded that the request was exempt from public records law first because it was “overbroad,” then because the files were part of an ongoing investigation, then sent incident reports instead of use of force reports, and then expressed confusion about whether Standifer was actually requesting the files she listed. Standifer has yet to obtain a single use-of-force report.
Andrew Geronimo, the law lecturer who oversees the students working at the First Amendment Clinic, said the city’s stonewalling tactics clearly violate the spirit of Ohio’s public records laws.
“Questions about how law enforcement officers are using force couldn’t be more central to the important conversations across our country about policing in our communities,” Geronimo said. “I’m glad that Cid and Scene are standing firm and asserting to their rights to inspect and copy these public records, and I’m glad that they trusted me and my clinic students to help them.”
Scene’s first court-mandated mediation session is scheduled for Jan. 27.