A group of nine Cleveland police officers involved in a 2012 incident in which 137 shots were fired and two unarmed African American suspects were killed, is suing the city for racial discrimination.
In a federal suit filed November 28, the officers, eight white and one Hispanic, claim that the city has “a history of treating non-African American officers involved in the shootings of African Americans substantially harsher than African American officers.”
The suit stems from a Nov. 29, 2012, case in which officers were led on a 25-minute chase by Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Reports place the number of officers involved in the chase as high as 104. The high-speed pursuit ended with 13 of the officers firing 137 shots at the duo’s vehicle, ultimately hitting both Williams and Russell more than 20 times. Though police claimed to be returning fire in self-defense, no weapon was ever found.
As is standard practice, officers who fired their weapons were placed on a three-day administrative leave, followed by a 45-day period of “gym duty.” The officers claim this period of restrictive duty, during which they say they were unable to work overtime or apply for promotions or transfers, was unfairly extended in their case, because it was “politically expedient.”
The suit goes on to state that the city has engaged in “longstanding practices and procedures which place onerous burdens on non-African-American officers, including the plaintiffs, because of their race and the race of persons who are the subjects of the legitimate use of deadly force.”
In other words, when these officers were placed on extended paid leave for the shooting, it qualified as an “onerous burden.”
The lawsuit has been filed at a time when the topic of police brutality, particularly against African Americans, is one of national concern. A week ago, a grand jury declined to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, the killer of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The case also comes amid heightened scrutiny of the Cleveland police department following the shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy shot while holding a toy gun on a playground.
Earlier this month, the city of Cleveland was ordered to pay $3 million to the families of Williams and Russell.