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Cleveland cops involved in 137-shot barrage claim they're victims of discrimination

Police in Cleveland watch over protesters.
Police in Cleveland watch over protesters.
Ricky Rhodes/Getty Images

Nine of the 13 Cleveland police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that left an unarmed black man and woman dead after a high-speed chase in 2012 filed a lawsuit last November claiming that they were treated too harshly and discriminated against by the police department in the aftermath of the shooting.

Michael Brelo, the white officer acquitted on Saturday of manslaughter charges for the shooting, isn't involved in the lawsuit. The nine other officers, eight of whom are white and one of whom is Hispanic, claim the Cleveland police department treats non-black cops more harshly than African-American officers when they use force against black suspects, Cleveland.com's Cory Shaffer reported.

"The City of Cleveland, through the other named defendants, and the other named defendants in their individual capacities, have a history of treating non-African American officers involved in the shootings of African Americans substantially harsher than African American officers," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit complains that the nine officers have been placed on restricted duty for far longer than the traditional 45 days following a police shooting, preventing them from earning overtime pay and forcing them to conduct "boring, menial tasks." This, the lawsuit says, has impaired the officers' pay and reputation and caused "emotional distress and mental anguish."

The city denied all the allegations of discrimination in a response reported by the Cleveland Scene's Doug Brown in January. There has been little movement in the case since then.

The lawsuit shows the disconnect between police and critics

The lawsuit drew almost immediate criticism when it was filed in November because it felt so tone-deaf to critics of police in Cleveland and across the country.

"Yes, Cleveland police officers involved in killing two unarmed people are saying that extra long 'gym duty' because of their roles in a shooting incident resulted in 'emotional distress' and 'mental anguish,'" the Cleveland Scene's Doug Brown wrote at the time. "Not that they killed people, but because of gym duty."

Over the past year, the Black Lives Matter movement rose to national prominence as several police killings of black men and boys highlighted racial disparities in police use of force, including the deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

But police officers, backed by their powerful unions, have by and large rejected this type of criticism. Not only do many cops and their supporters deny claims of discrimination, but they also worry that the increased scrutiny will make it more difficult to use force in scenarios that call for it, potentially putting officers and others in danger.

The disagreement has led some police officers to lash out. In New York City, after Mayor Bill de Blasio said he taught his biracial son to be careful around police, the city's officers appeared to protest through weeks of a "work slowdown" in which they purposely reduced their activity and carried out fewer arrests.

The lawsuit from the nine Cleveland officers is another example of cops attempting to turn the criticisms around. Instead of acknowledging the disparities in the criminal justice system and the many contributing factors, these officers are saying that it's actually they who are the victims of systemic discrimination.

Read the full lawsuit

Watch: Police are rarely prosecuted for using deadly force

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