Trivial Differences

What’s the difference between an inmate whose “nose started bleeding” after he “banged his face against a wall” and one who was slammed against a bunk by police officers?  Nothing, in Cleveland.

From the Plain Dealer :

Supervisors rightly treated these inconsistencies as honest mistakes or minor contradictions, not deliberately false statements, Deputy Chief Hector Cuevas said this week in an interview.

“We’re not looking for perfection,” said Cuevas, whose assertions were supported by Chief Michael McGrath. “These are not English professors generating these documents.”

McGrath and Cuevas are not bothered by dueling versions of how a man’s nose began bleeding during a May 2010 struggle inside a jail cell. Two police officers involved said the man banged his face against a wall. Two guards said officers forced the man down on a bunk.

Like most police departments, use of force incidents must be documented and reviewed by superiors. who are charged with coming up with the best excuses making sure that force was properly used.  It’s expected that the police officer’s version will differ with that of the defendant, who is invariably inclined to lie because he’s a heinous criminal and cops are heroes who would never have any reason to lie about the beating they gave the mutt, who deserved it anyway. 

But when more than one officer is at the scene, each must prepare incident reports about the use of force.  That’s a problem.

Officers are required to complete special forms after using nondeadly force, whether the action is as tame as twisting an uncooperative suspect’s arm or as serious as firing a Taser. And supervisors are required to investigate the incidents to ensure the actions were appropriate.

“I don’t know if they’re substantial or significant differences,” Cuevas said. “It’s not unusual that you have four different officers and four different accounts of what happened.”

There’s a reason it’s not unusual.  It’s not a good reason, either, but it conveniently eludes Cuevas: Even officers who did nothing wrong can’t help themselves when it comes to gilding the lily, exaggerating and manipulating the details to make them appear pure as the driven snow.  They can’t help themselves.

In another instance, Police Officer Martin Lentz was found to have a discrepancy in his report.

For example, on an incident report last October, Patrolman Martin Lentz claimed he hurt his left elbow during a struggle with a man cited for jaywalking. But Lentz displayed his right elbow in a photo taken to document the injury. Supervisors did not note the discrepancy, records show.

Deputy Chief Timothy Hennessy said this week that Lentz specified the right elbow on other forms that were not included in investigatory files provided to The Plain Dealer. Hennessy believes Lentz made an innocent mistake and sees no reason why the officer would have lied.

That would be the same P.O. Lentz who was caught lying through his teeth about being hit in the face with a prisoner’s belt, when the belt barely grazed his stomach, thus justifying his giving the prisoner a good tuning up.  It was the impetus for this  completely convincing video rationalization by Chief McGrath.

So does it take an English Professor to know one’s right elbow from one’s left?  Or perhaps Lentz confused his elbow with a different part of his anatomy?  It doesn’t matter, as it was chalked up to “an innocent mistake.”

No one should be surprised to learn that when a police officer prepared a use of force report, he will spin it in a way that will justify his conduct.  What else would you expect, a confession of abuse and misconduct?  But when confronted with multiple officer reports showing inconsistencies, burying them under lousy analogies is nonsensical.  It doesn’t take an english professor to write a report with a fairly accurate description of what transpired. 

Yet the description of police officer providing less than perfect descriptions doesn’t begin to described the problem.  There is a huge difference between a face touching a wall and a face being slammed into a bunk at the hands of two police officers.  Even though the former, an absurdly benign description of an event that doesn’t happen (faces don’t just meet walls on their own very often) raises questions, the discrepancy should be a clear indication that something bad happened to a prisoner, and any police department that wants to pretend to care about its officers smacking people around would have taken that as a red flag.

The Cleveland Division of Police doesn’t seem terribly interested in the harm done.  It’s so much easier to call it “an innocent mistake,” and shrug it off.

That the department doesn’t care, or more to the point, will protect its officers to the extent it can get away with it, comes as no surprise.  That’s the culture.  They get it, we don’t.  We are naive enough to believe that because we think cops shouldn’t beat people for contempt of cop, they should think the same thing.  And they certainly say they care when the cameras are on.

But what of the 39 beatings by six officers since February, 2009, where no one was charged with a crime?

The chief took issue with a recent finding that many people whom officers scuffled with were never convicted of a crime. Sometimes, he said, force is necessary to gain control of mentally unstable people who have not broken the law but are in need of medical attention. Other times, victims of domestic violence don’t pursue charges, so cases are dismissed, McGrath said.

“We take pride in who we are and what we do,” McGrath wrote in his e-mail. “I assure you that the Division of Police will continue to serve this community with respect and dignity.”

The fine people of Cleveland have Chief McGrath’s assurance that they will be treated with respect and dignity.  And if they get beaten, no doubt they deserved it.  What more could you want, perfection?

H/T Bad Lawyer, because Cleveland is the center of the universe.

2 thoughts on “Trivial Differences

  1. Alice Harris

    Beating people who are not accused of a crime is arguably “better” than arresting people for some crime after beating, which seems to be how it works where I live & work. Here, the guys whose head is slammed against the police cruiser by cops gets arrested for criminal mischief or assault on a LEO.

  2. SHG

    Most PDs aren’t as easy going as Cleveland, and expect an arrest to go along with a beating.  For years, people have appeared for arraignment charged with attacking a cop’s fist with their face.  And judges set bail for these violent people.  You can never be too safe.

Comments are closed.