Cleveland disciplines 12 officers for deadly chase

1 supervisor was fired, 2 were demoted and 9 were suspended for their roles in a chase in which 137 shots were fired

By Thomas J. Sheeran
Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The city fired a police sergeant, demoted two other supervisors and suspended nine more Tuesday for their roles in the chase in which officers fired 137 shots and killed a fleeing driver and his passenger.

The fired officer, Sgt. Michael Donegan, briefly participated in the chase last November but pulled off, parked his patrol vehicle and failed to supervise his officers, police officials said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions during a news-conference Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Image)
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson answers questions during a news-conference Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Image)

"I made a determination that his conduct was so egregious that it merited termination," said Safety Director Martin Flask, who oversees police and fire.

Donegan could not immediately be reached for comment. Messages were left at a home phone listing under his name and with the union that represents police supervisors. The union has said the shootings were justified because the driver tried to ram an officer.

The dismissal can be appealed.

Of the 276 officers on duty on the evening of Nov. 29, 104 were involved in some way in the chase.

Disciplinary hearings will begin by mid-July for most of those rank-and-file patrol officers, Chief Michael McGrath said. Hearings for 13 officers who fired their weapons will be held after a county grand jury completes a criminal investigation.

Police don't know why the driver, Timothy Russell, 43, refused to stop. Russell had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. His passenger, Malissa Williams, 30, had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction.

Some critics called the shootings a racially motivated execution of two black people with no evidence they were armed. Police denied any racial profiling.

Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24 after a half-hour pursuit.

In a review by state agents, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in February the chase resulted from leadership failures. "Command failed, communications failed, the system failed," DeWine said.

The state report noted that Russell was legally drunk when he became involved in the chase, and he and Williams also tested positive for cocaine. DeWine said they likely had been smoking crack.

McGrath said the episode had damaged the department's relationship with residents and must be repaired. "That means we have to work a little harder on our end," he said at a news conference.

The charges against a lieutenant demoted to sergeant and a captain to lieutenant and suspensions ranging from one day to 30 days for nine sergeants included failing to supervise officers under their command or being unaware that officers were involved in the cross-city pursuit.

One of the suspended sergeants could face harsher discipline when his case goes before Flask.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press

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