Williams, center, speaking at a press conference about violence (Scene archives)
As Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams went through a divorce last year from his wife of 24 years, there were whispers that he was romantically involved with a junior Cleveland police officer with whom he had at least one child.
According to police and City Hall sources, it was more than a rumor.
Documents also show that when his wife filed for the divorce in May 2020, Chief Williams’ mailing address listed with the court was a southwestern suburban home owned by that junior officer, Sgt. Sherrie Flores.
Flores worked for Chief Williams on the east side when he was a district commander and was promoted to sergeant in early 2020. She now works in Community Policing.
Neither Chief Williams nor Flores responded to a request for comment.
In the divorce complaint, Loretta Williams called the relationship “incompatible” but said facts “will be more fully adduced” at trial, records show. The complaint makes no mention of infidelity and the couple has no children together. Neither Lorettta Williams nor her attorney responded to requests for comment.
The relationship with a subordinate raises concerns over how Williams, 57, can hold officers accountable. The city’s response to the relationship raises continued concerns of transparency.
The city of Cleveland didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment from Scene, including questions of whether the relationship was disclosed before Mayor Frank Jackson administered the sergeant’s oath to Flores in January 2020.
Reached on his cell phone, Public Safety Director Karrie Howard, who according to sources was aware of the relationship, told Scene to call his desk line. Nobody answered.
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said he doesn’t “know all the facts” about the relationship, but called it a perception issue.
“I believe one of those two should leave their position,” Kelley told Scene. “You shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone you supervise.”
Eight other city council members, at least one of whom was aware of the relationship, either declined to comment on the record or didn’t respond to requests for comment, though one said, “City Council leadership needs to force a change. This isn’t right.”
Capt. Brian Betley, president of FOP Lodge 8, said he didn’t know about the circumstances between Williams and Flores. The FOP contract, which covers supervisors, includes a provision that a supervisor cannot supervise a family member or someone else with whom they’re in a relationship, Betley said.
Cleveland police union president Jeff Follmer, when reached, told Scene: “When we do something that reaches the public, the city files charges for diminishing the esteem of the department. Accountability is a two-way street.”
Ed Obayashi, a veteran Northern California deputy and attorney who specializes in teaching police ethics, said the public’s default perception would be “an unfavorable impression” on the relationship.
With so much scrutiny of law enforcement in America today and even if Flores had an impeccable career, the promotion could create a controversy if so few knew about the relationship, Obayashi said.
“It creates the appearance of a conflict,” he said. “To me, that is the key. Who knew what and when? It’s not the right situation a department wants to be seen in.”
“Everybody in the department knows about this,” one Cleveland police officer said about the relationship. “It’s not earth shattering. He should hold himself accountable.”
Prior to the divorce, a family disturbance occurred at the Williams’ eastside home in January 2019. Chief Williams denied rumors of a domestic violence incident and called stories an attack on his character.
Mark Puente is a former investigative and crime reporter at The Plain Dealer, Tampa Bay Times, The Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times. His reporting in 2009 led then-Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald T. McFaul to resign and plead guilty to theft-in-office. Puente was part of teams that were finalists for Pulitzer Prizes in 2016 and 2020.