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White, Hispanic Cops Disciplined After Fatal Car Chase Sue Over Racial Bias

Nine Cleveland police officers involved in a 2012 shooting that left two people dead are suing the city and some of its leaders for how they were disciplined afterward, alleging they — eight whites and one Hispanic — were treated differently than their African-American colleagues following similar incidents.

The disciplinary action involved the officers being placed on restrictive active duty and assigned to a gym where they were doing work that included “boring and menial tasks” for several months after the Nov. 29, 2012 shooting, according to the lawsuit filed by their lawyer, Jonathan Rosenbaum, in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on Friday. The work status meant the officers couldn’t apply for transfers or promotions or get extra pay through overtime.

Rosenbaum alleged in the complaint that his clients’ assignment to “gym duty” was “substantially longer than that which had been meted out to similarly-situated African American officers.” The city and other defendants named in the lawsuit — former and current police chiefs as well as the deputy police chief and former safety director — “have a history of treating non-African American officers involved in the shootings of African Americans substantially harsher than African American officers,” according to the complaint.

The City of Cleveland's press assistant, Daniel Ball, said the city would defend itself in the lawsuit, but refused to comment further. A request for comment from the Cleveland Police Department was not immediately returned.

The shooting of the unarmed man and woman — Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — followed a high-speed chase through Cleveland. More than 100 officers were involved in the 22-minute chase, and 13 officers fired 137 shots at the pair, who were shot more than 20 times, according to Cuyahoga County Court documents. A weapon was never found on them, and the city last month settled a lawsuit brought by their families for $3 million, according to The Associated Press.

One officer involved in the shooting, Michael Brelo, was indicted on two counts of manslaughter in June, according to a statement from the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office. The grand jury also indicted five Cleveland police department supervisors on two counts each of dereliction of duty because they “abdicated their leadership responsibilities” during the chase, according to the statement.

A grand jury in May decided not to indict any of the nine officers involved in the lawsuit. The way they were treated by the defendants caused them lost wages, earnings and damages that they were seeking to recover through the lawsuit, Rosenbaum said in the complaint.

IN-DEPTH

— Miranda Leitsinger