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Investigator: Police supervisor fired, 10 more disciplined

8:55 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Fallout from the deadly Cleveland police chase

Photo from the night of the police-involved shooting in which two people were killed.
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 PDF Document: Pursuit Investigation Administrative Decisions June 11 13  src=

Cleveland Police Chase Shootout Investigation

WKYC: Extended coverage

 

Photos: AG releases images from police chase/shooting

 

Animation: AG reconstructs shooting

 

State’s findings at a glance

 

Video: AG DeWine details his findings

 

Video: Surveillance shows start of deadly chase

 

Video: New video released in police chase

 

PDF: State’s summary of findings for prosecutor

 

PDF: Chase/shooting timeline of events

 

PDF: City outlines supervisors’ punishments

 

PDF: ME report on Timothy Russell

 

PDF: ME report on Malissa Williams

CLEVELAND -- One police supervisor is being fired and two others demoted for their actions during a deadly police chase and shooting last November.

The city is terminating the employment of Sgt. Michael Donegan.  He is accused of parking his car and failing to supervise the chase.

In addition, Captain Ulrich Zouhar will be demoted to lieutenant. Lt. Paul Wilson will be demoted to sergeant.

In addition, eight other supervisors face suspensions ranging from one day to 30 days. 

Read entire punishments for supervisors (PDF)

"We have to work a little harder on our end to ensure that we continue moving forward making this a safe community," said Police Chief Michael McGrath during a mid-morning news conference.

The chase on November 29, 2012 ended with the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The two died after police opened fire on their car firing 137 shots. Neither was armed.

Chief McGrath says the city will now turn its attention to reviewing the 104 patrol officers involved in the chase to determine if departmental procedures were followed.

He added that the review of the officers will begin next month.

The city will not review the officers involved in the shooting until Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty completes the criminal review.  Evidence collected during the investigation headed up by the officer of Attorney General Mike DeWine will be presented to a grand jury to determin if charges will be filed.

Mayor Frank Jackson said "This is not a pleasant moment ... but it's a necessary moment," referring to the city's disciplining of the supervisors.

The Investigator Tom Meyer notes that one staunch police critic -- attorney Terry Gilbert, who also is representing one of the victim's families -- points out how rare it is for police leadership to come down so hard on its own officers, especially those who are supervisors.

But, adds Gilbert, they had little choice, in part because there is an ongoing civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into possible police misconduct. That investigation was triggered by this case.

And while he applauds the level of the discipline meted out yesterday, Gilbert still believes justice hasn't been served.

None of the supervisors affected by the disciplinary action would speak in public.

Cleveland Police Sgt. Michael Donegan got the news of his firing while on vacation with his family in West Virginia. The city's position was that Donegan erred because he could have taken control of the chase or offered crucial information as it was happening, but did neither.

He admitted to investigators for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine that he stopped pursuing the two suspects.

According to a transcript of his interview during a hearing, he said, "At that point there was no sense in me trying to catch-up to what was going on. I pulled up by Lincoln Park (in Tremont) and stopped for a second . He is interrupted by questioner who asks: "So you disengaged from the pursuit yourself?"

"I did," he answered.  

Lt. Brian W. Betley, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Cleveland Lodge #8,  explained why in a separate news conference  - he said that Donegan thought his car was in too poor condition to make it through the chase.

Donegan was the only supervisor fired. Lt. Paul Wilson was demoted to sergeant and Capt. Ulrich Zouhar was demoted to lieutenant because, the city says, he sat in his office while his fellow officers were reportedly under gunfire.

He's accused of not leaving the police station until 25 minutes after the chase ended. But Zouhar thought the police chase was the appropriate response. "I thought the pursuit was proper, especially for the audacity of the suspect he had had, and was a danger to society - that he had to be stopped," Wilson said during his hearing.

Sgt. Patricia Coleman - who at several points was in the lead police car during the chase - received the stiffest suspension, of  30 days.

The city points out that Coleman's  fellow officers might have changed their pursuit tactics if they knew what Coleman did - that the suspects were driving recklessly.

Betley said yesterday the city's actions were overly harsh: "The penalties were severe and not for good cause." Normally, he says, an officer is fired only for an offense such as committing a crime while on duty.

Russell's family is represented by Gilbert, who called today's discipline unprecedented - and a step in the right direction for the victim's families.

"They won't see any justice until they see indictments, especially around the shooters. But there's no basis for officers shooting unarmed citizens."

In the meantime, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty's investigation is ongoing. The city won't take action on the 13 police officers who shot at the suspect's until McGinty's office takes action.

Betley said that his union is appealing the city's decision on the supervisors' firing, demotions and suspensions, and that the appeal process could take six to eight months. However, the penalties go into effect immediately.      

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