Investigations of Cleveland Police wrongdoing nets suspensions, written warnings, demotions

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Cleveland police officers were demoted over rape kit failures, but the two officers involved in Tanisha Anderson’s death got off with a slap on the wrist.

The Cleveland Division of Police handed down suspensions, written warnings, and demotions this week to officers involved in two major cases of wrongdoing: the November 2014 death of Tanisha Anderson, and the failure to investigate 60 sex crimes cases.

The city’s police chief Calvin Williams, Public Safety Director Michael McGrath, and Mayor Frank Jackson announced the disciplinary actions in a press conference Monday.

Some community members found the punishments for Scott Aldridge and Brian Myers, the two officers involved with Anderson’s death, far too lenient, and activists held a small rally on Wednesday in protest.

Anderson died in police custody when she was handcuffed and reportedly held to the ground by police for approximately 20 minutes, after law enforcement responded to a call involving the mental health of the 37 year-old. Her death was ruled a homicide, a “sudden death associated with physical restraint in a prone position,” but the officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a grand jury.

McGrath suspended Aldridge for 10 days and issued a written warning to Myers, both for failing to notify Cleveland emergency medical services in a timely manner. The safety director said he sustained the recommendation of internal, county and statewide investigators in taking these actions following a three year-long investigation. McGrath concluded his brief remarks on Anderson’s death by describing the way she died as “sad all the way around.”

Tanisha Anderson’s mother, Cassandra Johnson, told that the punishment was “unfair.”

“We know they don’t put police officers in jail, but 10 days?” Johnson said. “What am I supposed to do about that? My daughter is dead and they’re talking about 10 days.”

Police union leaders contend the officers involved, Scott Aldridge and Brian Myers, did nothing wrong.  A spokesman for the union says the organization will follow due process on behalf of its officers in an effort to prove there was no misconduct.

During the press conference, officials also addressed punitive action for violation of state law in the handling of 60 rape kits by the Cleveland Police Department. Although the controversy surrounding the death of Tanisha Anderson has resurfaced over and over, the brunt of the briefing was spent on the mishandling of rape kits.

Policing the police: Cleveland law enforcement left hundreds of rape kits untested

Chief Williams, McGrath, and Mayor Jackson talked at length, but gave little to no details about expected improvements to the system, which left the kits untested since 2014, not to mention the same number of potential inactive investigations.

McGrath announced penalties for the three officers responsible for overall non-compliance of the law, saying he again “sustained” recommendations based on internal and outside investigations, but primarily upon recommendation from the chief’s office.

Commander James McPike was demoted to Patrol Capt., and Sgt. Anthony McMahan was suspended for 15 days. No details were provided as to whether McMahan was suspended with or without pay. And Sgt. Tom Ross, who was ultimately held responsible for the untimely processing of the kits, was reduced and downgraded to patrolman.

Williams said, to the extent that reporting of sex crimes are continual, the number of rape kits left untested will never reach zero. “It’s the nature of the beast,” he said.

It appears the city believes all internal and external investigations have put both cases to rest. And the police chief says he believes all rape kits are now being tested as required.

Interestingly, however, Williams didn’t completely rule out further action involving either case. It remains to be seen whether pressure from either the police union in support of Aldridge and Meyers, or Tanisha Anderson’s family and community activists against them, will factor in.