Federal Monitor Report on Cleveland Police Actions During May 30th Protest Paints Clearer Picture of Use of Force, Corrects City's Narrative


  • Sam Allard / Scene
The federal monitor team overseeing the city of Cleveland's consent decree with the DOJ this week released a report on Cleveland police actions during the May 30th George Floyd protest downtown that found the department failed in ways minor and major.

Released yesterday, details were first reported locally by Cleveland.com. (The full report is embedded below.)

The city in December released an internal after-action report that claimed that while officers suffered from a lack of training, the police acted in good faith that day and placed the blame for the rise in tensions and violence on protestors. Self-absolving, the city's review was also limited in scope, focusing on policies and procedures in the aftermath instead of also focusing on why and how the protests devolved into violence, much of it coming from the side of the police, and how police could have responded differently.

The monitor's report not only addresses areas wholly omitted from the city's own review but offers a corrective to the narrative trumpeted by Mayor Frank Jackson and Chief Calvin Williams throughout 2020. (Though it did agree, with emphasis, in one facet: That the department displayed a remarkable lack of planning and tactical preparation for the protest, including absolutely botching its estimates of how many people would attend even as protests during the prior week across the country attracted thousands.)

Officer use of force wasn't covered in detail in the city's internal review and barely mentioned at all, relegated to a note that 19 complaints had been filed with the department of internal affairs and the Office of Professional Standards.

The monitor, however, revealed use of force far outpaced what the city initial disclosed: 29 officers filed use of force reports, though the monitor found that a large of chunk of those were filed months after the fact and one officer, captured on video using force, didn't file a report at all. Some of the complaints lodged to the Office of Professional Standards and internal affairs were substantiated while others were dismissed or remain under review. At least one lawsuit, filed by a peaceful protestor who was pepper sprayed by a Cleveland police officer, completely unprovoked, remains ongoing. (These are separate from uses of force at the hands of suburban SWAT departments called in to assist that day and ones involving Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department deputies, one of whom hit a photographer in the eye with a bean bag round. He lost his eye.)

While the monitor team acknowledged reports from officers that protestors hurled objects at them throughout the proceedings, it didn't include specifics and didn't attempt to evaluate whether the officers' responses were appropriate.

Generally, however, the monitor found fault with the city's entire process of documenting and reviewing use of force during the protest, from suspicions that the department operated reviews outside of normal protocol to the speed with which certain instances were reviewed and dismissed. The various failures identified, the monitor team wrote, bore similarities to the very failures that brought Cleveland under a consent decree in the first place.

Additionally, confirming what has long been plain based on news articles and firsthand accounts, the monitor also found that police failed to properly give a dispersal order before engaging protestors with tear gas and live munition. Not only were the orders not loud enough for most protestors, let alone police officers standing nearby, to hear, but police waited only four minutes from the first announcement to begin using flash grenades and other tactics on protestors who had yet to leave the area around the Justice Center.

It has proved impossible, though, to reconstruct the day's full events to identify problematic interactions or reconcile allegations because so many Cleveland police officers were not wearing body cameras that day, the monitor wrote. Bulky SWAT gear and suits made it impossible, they said, for officers to also wear cams.

For what it's worth, the city's after-action report called not for less weaponry and gear in the future, but more.

Chief Williams, in a December virtual press conference, contended the extensive property damage and looting that occurred in the post-protest riot along and around the areas of Euclid Ave., which saw little to no police presence, couldn't have been prevented entirely even if all 1,600 Cleveland cops on the payroll had been downtown.

But, he conceded, more officers and better planning could have had a better impact on controlling crowds and avoiding some damage to downtown businesses.

The full 129-page report is below. (Mobile users might have to switch to desktop view to read.)

See related PDF MONITORING_TEAM_REPORT_1614193055.pdf

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.