Former Cleveland Safety Director Went Too Easy On Officers, Monitor Finds

Jul 13, 2020

Cleveland’s former safety director failed to follow the consent decree when disciplining police officers, handing down light punishments without sufficient rationale, the monitor of the federal police reform agreement said in a Monday court filing.

Monitor Hassan Aden and his team reviewed 39 disciplinary decisions by then-director Michael McGrath or an assistant over the last two years. In only 24 percent of those cases did the director impose punishments within the department’s disciplinary matrix and with enough written justification, Aden found.

“Without discipline decisions clearly explained and justified in writing, CDP officers will never be assured that they are getting a fair shake – and Cleveland community members can never have confidence that the City is impartially and comprehensively addressing instances of poor performance and officer misconduct,” Aden wrote in the court filing.

McGrath rarely fired officers who deceived superiors or internal investigators, Aden found.

The monitor highlighted one case in which an officer lied in a police report, falsely accusing a man of injuring his foot during an arrest in 2017. An assistant safety director reached a plea agreement with the officer and suspended him for 30 days, even though Police Chief Calvin Williams had recommended firing him, according to Aden’s report. McGrath signed off on the suspension.

“As a direct result of the officers’ misconduct, the arrestee was inappropriately held in custody for a period of 8 months on a felony charge of assault on a police officer – which he did not commit,” Aden wrote.

McGrath became Cleveland's director of public safety in 2014, after serving nine years as chief of police. He resigned last month and was replaced by Karrie Howard on June 19.

Aden and city officials will update U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver on Cleveland’s consent decree compliance Tuesday afternoon.

Cleveland’s charter limits the police chief’s power to discipline officers. Only the safety director can fire officers or impose suspensions lasting longer than 10 days.

In 2019, members of the Civilian Police Review Board told city council Williams often overruled their disciplinary recommendations, softening punishments for officers accused of wrongdoing.

Police unions often appeal the discipline their members receive, frequently receiving rulings in their favor for arbitrators – a situation called “deeply problematic” by the former federal prosecutor who oversaw the Justice Department’s investigation of Cleveland police.

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