Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
An undisclosed investigation into Tanisha Anderson's death raises questions about the Cleveland PD's account.
Jaeah LeeFeb. 22, 2016 7:00 AM
Since Tanisha Anderson's death in November 2014, few details have been made public about how the 37-year-old black woman died while in the custody of two Cleveland police officers. Anderson, whose family reported she was mentally ill, died after falling unconscious while lying handcuffed on a sidewalk outside her home. The 15-month-long investigation is now in the hands of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine: In a statement last Tuesday, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty requested DeWine take over the case following a Cuyahoga County sheriff's investigation, which McGinty said revealed "facts that created a conflict of interest" for his office. McGinty—who led the controversial investigation into the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and is running for reelection next month—did not specify what that conflict of interest was.
The recently completed sheriff's investigation, which has not been disclosed publicly, raises questions about the Cleveland Police Department's official account presented in November 2014. According to a law enforcement official familiar with the sheriff's investigation who spoke to Mother Jones, the investigation reveals significant details that the Cleveland PD's account did not include. One is that the officers put Anderson in the back of their squad car before she became agitated and a physical struggle ensued. Another is that Anderson remained handcuffed after an EMS team arrived and began administering aid, even though she was unconscious.
The investigation also shows that Anderson was on the ground in handcuffs for approximately 20 minutes before the EMS team arrived, the law enforcement official told Mother Jones. The Cleveland PD's initial account did not specify how long Anderson was on the ground prior to EMS arriving; the officers later told sheriff's investigators in a written statement that Anderson was on the ground for approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
The initial police account included no details about how or why Anderson fell limp on the sidewalk.
According to the Cleveland PD's account, officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers arrived at Anderson's home around 10:51 p.m. on November 12, 2014, in response to a call about a mentally ill family member causing a disturbance. After speaking with the officers, the Cleveland PD account stated, Anderson agreed to be escorted to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, but as the three approached the squad car, she "began actively resisting the officers." After they handcuffed her, Anderson began to kick at the officers, and "a short time later the woman stopped struggling and appeared to go limp." The officers said they "found a faint pulse" on Anderson "and immediately called EMS and a supervisor to respond to the scene at 11:34 [p.m.]." Within the hour, Anderson was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The initial police account included no details about how or why Anderson fell limp on the sidewalk.
According to the sheriff's investigation, Aldridge and Myers placed Anderson in the back seat of their squad car with her feet still hanging out, and she began yelling and struggled to get out of the car. As the officers tried to put her back in the car "a physical altercation ensued," the law enforcement official told Mother Jones, and they soon had Anderson in handcuffs and on the ground.
In their written statement to sheriff's investigators, the officers said Anderson was laying on the ground and handcuffed by 11:20 p.m., when they radioed for a police supervisor to come to the scene. The officers subsequently requested an EMS response, the official said. The officers estimated that Anderson was in that position for a total of 5 to 10 minutes. According to call logs and witness interviews reviewed by sheriff's investigators, the EMS team arrived at 11:41 p.m.—indicating that Anderson had been on the ground for at least 20 minutes. When the EMS team checked Anderson's condition, one member found a faint pulse while a second was unable to find one, the official said. The handcuffs remained on Anderson as they began rendering aid; they asked the officers to remove them because they were interfering with their work.The officers complied with that request, the official said.
A spokesperson for the Cleveland PD declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation. Attorneys representing the two officers did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Anderson's family members said that one of the officers grabbed her, "slammed her to the sidewalk, and pushed her face into the pavement."
Anderson's family members, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Cleveland on January 7, said she suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Family members who lived with Anderson dialed 911 to request medical assistance after Anderson became disoriented and walked out of her house into the cold, wearing only a nightgown, according to the court filing. The family had already called for police assistance earlier in the night after Anderson walked outside; another pair of officershad come to the scene but left after Anderson went back into her house, the family said.
According to the lawsuit, Anderson's family members said that after Anderson started to panic in the squad car, Aldridge grabbed her, "slammed her to the sidewalk, and pushed her face into the pavement." Aldridge then pressed his knee on Anderson's back and handcuffed her while Myers assisted in restraining her, the family said, and within moments Anderson lost consciousness. The lawsuit also alleged that when family members asked the officers to check on her condition, the officers "falsely claimed she was sleeping" and delayed calling for medical assistance. "During the lengthy time that Tanisha lay on the ground," the family said, Aldridge and Myers "failed to provide any medical attention to Tanisha."
Anderson's family told sheriff's investigators that a few weeks prior to the incident, she had been released from a psychiatric hospital. In January 2015, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office announced that Anderson's death was ruled a homicide and classified as a sudden death in association with "physical restraint in a prone position," "ischemic heart disease," and "bipolar disorder with agitation."
"You wouldn't have known that Tanisha was bipolar unless she told you," Anderson's mother, Cassandra Johnson, told Fox 8 Cleveland in December 2015. "That day was just a bad day."
According to personnel records obtained by Cleveland.com, Aldridge was hired in April 2008, and in 2013 he was suspended for three days without pay over a Taser incident that involved a female suspect. (He was also one of the officers involved in the car chase that led to the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012.) Myers was a rookie cop who joined CPD in 2014, after graduating from the police academy that August. Cleveland.comreported that Aldridge and Myers received 16 hours of crisis intervention training while at the academy, but it is not clear whether they received any further such training once on the job at Cleveland PD. The two remain on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
Here’s what we know about the death of Gynnya McMillen.
Jaeah LeeFeb. 18, 2016 7:00 AM
Last month, 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen became part of a disturbing trend—one of a growing number of girls across the country who've been detained after getting charged with a misdemeanor. Then mysteriously, one day after she was booked into a Kentucky detention center, McMillen was found dead in her cell.
On the morning of January 11, an employee at the Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center found McMillen, who was not breathing. "She is cold and stiff, there is no respiration, no vital signs," the employee told a 911 dispatcher. About an hour later, McMillen was pronounced dead. Little is known about why McMillen wound up dead while in juvenile detention, a locked facility where young people charged with crimes are held while they wait for future court dates or other action in their cases.
The incident, and the limited information that has been released to the public about it, hassparkedoutrage from McMillen's family and their supporters. State officials have launched two parallel investigations into the girl's death, including a full autopsy. Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley has asked that those investigations "be expedited," a cabinet spokesperson told Mother Jones, adding that they "are nearing completion." The cabinet declined to comment further about specific details in the case, citing juvenile confidentiality statutes.
Here is what we know—and don't know—about the case so far:
McMillen was taken to Lincoln Village after the police responded to a domestic violence call. Shelbyville police officers arrived at McMillen's mother's house on January 10. McMillen had been living at the Maryhurst foster home in Louisville, Kentucky, and was visiting her mom for the weekend, where they got into a fight, according to BuzzFeed News. The Shelbyville police called a court-designated worker—a state official who makes legal decisions in cases involving juveniles—who then contacted a judge and requested that McMillen be detained. McMillen was charged with a misdemeanor assault and transferred to Lincoln Village, a state-run juvenile detention center in Elizabethtown. The police said McMillen's mother suffered minor injuries. Young people under the age of 18 who are charged with low-level crimes can be held in detention centers until a court decides what further action is needed. Their detention typically lasts about three weeks but can extend for much longer, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In 2014, Kentucky enacted a law that was meant to help teens like McMillen avoid the court system altogether. Maryhurst declined to comment specifically on McMillen's case, citing patient privacy laws.
McMillen had never been in detention before. A family member told48 Hours' Crimesider that McMillen's one night at Lincoln Village was the only time she had ever been in detention. Prior to landing in the foster home, BuzzFeed Newsreported, McMillen lived with her father, who was awarded custody of her. But in November 2014, he died in his sleep. When McMillen spoke at his funeral, she promised to do well in school and make her father proud, a family member told BuzzFeed News.
At the detention center, multiple staff members physically restrained McMillen. Officials said McMillen repeatedly refused to remove her sweatshirt when staffers tried to search and photograph her during the booking process. "The staff performed an Aikido restraint hold to safely remove the youth's hoodie," a spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice said. "The purpose of having multiple staff involved in a controlled restraint is to ensure the safety of the youth and staff." A female staff member then conducted the pat-down and removed McMillen's hoodie. "As far as I'm concerned, that is a completely inappropriate use of a restraint," Michele Deitch, an attorney and juvenile justice expert in Texas, told48 Hours' Crimesider. It is unclear if the restraint had anything to do with her eventual death, or if any other physical force was used against McMillen during her detention.
McMillen was placed in a cell by herself. The next morning, McMillen did not respond when staffers twice offered her food or later when they alerted her that her mother had called. Although McMillen did not reply to staff members for several hours, no one appears to have checked on McMillen during this time. A Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice spokesperson said staff members generally do not enter a detainee's cell unless there are "obvious signs of distress." It's unclear why McMillen was confined in isolation to begin with. It is unclear whether McMillen was merely in a cell alone or had been placed in solitary confinement. Kentucky is 1 of 10 states that either have no limit or allow for indefinite solitary confinement for juveniles as a form of punishment.
Authorities don't know yet how she died. After a sheriff's deputy arrived to transport McMillen to court, Lincoln Village employees entered McMillen's cell and found that she was cold to the touch. Kentucky officials said McMillen appeared "to have passed away while sleeping." Following the initial autopsy, the Hardin County coroner said there were no outward signs of trauma, such as visual bruising, and that it was unlikely she had a heart condition. The state's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet has launched two investigations into the girl's death, including a full autopsy. McMillen's family has demanded that authorities release the surveillance footage that shows her final hours, as well as a recording of the emergency call that led to her arrest.
At least two Kentucky officials have lost their jobs in the wake of the incident, and one has resigned. One detention center staff member, Reginald Windham, was placed on leave for failing to check on McMillen's cell every 15 minutes, as is required for detainees placed in isolation. On February 9, the governor's office and justice cabinet announced that they'd fired Windham, following news reports about his long-standing record of "unacceptable behavior." Personnel files provided to BuzzFeed Newsrevealed that the Department of Juvenile Justice had disciplined or reprimanded Windham in five other incidents, including two that involved excessive use of force. In others, he was disciplined because he showed a lack of competency or professionalism. Bob D. Hayter, the head of the Department of Juvenile Justice, was dismissed from his job amid the investigation of the incident. The justice cabinet has not specified its reasons for Hayter's dismissal. According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the department's director of communications, Stacy Floden, also left her job in the wake of the state probe.
Gynnya McMillen's arrest is part of a growing trend. The share of young girls in the juvenile justice system has been growing over the past 20 years, even as the number of arrests of young Americans has been on the decline. (My colleague Hannah Levintova recently broke down these numbers.) The percentage of girls who are arrested, detained, and end up in court increased between 1992 and 2013. Arrests of girls rose from 20 percent to 29 percent during this time, while detention of girls rose from 15 percent to 21 percent, according to the National Women's Law Center. The trend has disproportionately affected girls of color: Black and American Indian girls were, respectively, 20 percent and 50 percent more likely to be detained than white girls. In 2013, black girls were the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice population.
Update, Thursday, February 11, 2016: Cleveland officials said they are withdrawing the claim saying the Rice family owed $500 for their son's last ambulance ride. At a news conference on Thursday, officials explained that the claim had been been closed in February 2015 after the city absorbed the cost, but that it was regenerated after the family's attorney asked the city to forward a billing statement for services provided on the day of the shooting. Mayor Frank Jackson apologized to the Rice family, saying they never intended to issue a bill.
Cleveland officials are holding a news conference to address a claim filed Wednesday notifying the Tamir Rice estate that it owes the city money for the boy's ambulance ride and medical services he received after he was shot by a police officer.
Less than two months after a grand jury decided not to indict the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, the city has filed a claim saying the boy owed $500 "for emergency medical services rendered as the decedent's last dying expense." In response to the claim, a Rice family attorney told the Cleveland Scene that the move "displays a new pinnacle of callousness and insensitivity."
The mayor's office could not be reached immediately for comment.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a press conference about the lawsuit against Ferguson on February 10, 2016
The US Justice Department has sued the city of Ferguson, Missouri, following months of "painstaking negotiations" with local officials and more than a year of investigating their alleged discriminatory and unconstitutional practices.
The Justice Department launched its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August 2014, sparking months of protest across the country and public outcry over the use of deadly and excessive force by the police.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department was filing a lawsuit against Fergusonone day after the city council rejected a proposed settlement that sought to "remedy literally years of systematic deficiencies." The Justice Department spent more than six months negotiating a settlement with local officials after it identified widespread civil rights violations and racial discrimination in the Ferguson PoliceDepartment's stops, searches, and arrests. It also alleges that local court proceedings violated the due process of residents. The city council's rejection of the agreement, Lynch said, "leaves us no further choice."
Here is the full text of the lawsuit:
Here's the full text of Lynch's remarks:
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. I am joined by Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.
Nearly a year ago, the Department of Justice released our findings in an investigation of the Police Department of Ferguson, Missouri. Our investigation uncovered a community in distress, in which residents felt under assault by their own police force. The Ferguson Police Department’s violations were expansive and deliberate. They violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without cause and using unreasonable force. They made enforcement decisions based on the way individuals expressed themselves and unnecessarily escalated non-threatening situations. These violations were not only egregious – they were routine. They were encouraged by the city in the interest of raising revenue. They were driven, at least in part, by racial bias and occurred disproportionately against African-American residents. And they were profoundly and fundamentally unconstitutional. These findings were based upon information received from Ferguson’s own citizens, from Ferguson’s own records and from Ferguson’s own officials. And they demonstrated a clear pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution and federal law.
After announcing our findings one year ago, we began negotiations with the city of Ferguson on a court-enforceable consent decree that would bring about necessary police and court reform. From the outset, we made clear that our goal was to reach an agreement to avoid litigation. But we also made clear that if there was no agreement, we would be forced to go to court to protect the rights of Ferguson residents. Painstaking negotiations lasted more than 26 weeks as we sought to remedy literally years of systematic deficiencies. A few weeks ago, the Department of Justice and Ferguson’s own negotiators came to an agreement that was both fair and cost-effective – and that would provide all the residents of Ferguson the constitutional and effective policing and court practices guaranteed to all Americans. As agreed, it was presented to the Ferguson City Council for approval or rejection. And last night, the city council rejected the consent decree approved by their own negotiators. Their decision leaves us no further choice.
Today, the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws. We intend to aggressively prosecute this case and I have no doubt that we will prevail.
The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights and that thousands of other police departments follow every day. They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards. But as our report made clear, the residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights – the rights guaranteed to all Americans – for decades. They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.
The officer who fatally shot Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones is demanding $10 million in damages.
Jaeah LeeFeb. 8, 2016 2:23 PM
Janet Cooksey, center, the mother of Quintonio Legrier, is comforted by family and friends during a December 27 press conference about the shooting death of her son by the Chicago police.
The controversial case of a Chicago cop who shot and killed two people last December took another dramatic turn on Friday, when the officer sued one of the victim's families for more than $10 million in damages.
Officer Robert Rialmo, who fatally shot 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones, has filed a counter claim in response to a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the teen's family against the city of Chicago. According to the court document filed in Cook County, Rialmo claims "permanent" emotional distress and personal injuries resulting from the incident.
It is the first time since the shooting that Rialmo has publicly offered his own version of events.
Rialmo came to the front door of a two-story apartment building in the early morning hours after Christmas, responding to a dispatch about a domestic disturbance involving a "son with a baseball bat." According to Rialmo, Jones answered the door first, then retreated into her apartment, which shared a hallway with the unit where the teenager LeGrier was staying with his family. The police officer said he was standing in the building's doorway when LeGrier came "barging out of the front door to the second floor apartment while holding a baseball bat in his right hand."
Rialmo claims LeGrier then swung the bat multiple times, the first time close enough "to feel the movement of air as the bat passed in front of his face." LeGrier advanced as the officer backed down the outside stairs and shouted commands to drop the bat, Rialmo stated, adding that he feared LeGrier would hit him in the head. Rialmo then fired eight rounds "in approximately two-and-a-half seconds."
The bullets fatally struck LeGrier, as well as Jones, who by this point had re-emerged from her unit and was standing behind the teenager, according to the court filing. Rialmo stated he only saw Jones after he walked back up the stairs to LeGrier's body. A witness previously told Mother Jones that he saw LeGrier laying on top of Jones's body in the hallway.
Rialmo claims that LeGrier's actions were criminal and caused the officer to "have a reasonable apprehension of suffering an imminent battery from LeGrier, which would either cause Officer Rialmo's death or cause him severe and permanent bodily harm." These actions forced Rialmo "to end LeGrier's life, and to accidently take the innocent life of Bettie Jones," which "caused, and will continue to cause, Officer Rialmo to suffer extreme emotional trauma."
In the family's wrongful death suit, LeGrier's father stated that his son never posed a threat to Rialmo before the officer opened fire. Rialmo also failed to administer medical care as the teen lay bleeding on the ground, according to the family's complaint.
Rialmo's counter-claim is a rare move for an officer involved in a fatal shooting, according to the New York Times. In an email to the Times, a spokesperson for Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that "the city does not support the claim," and is "not involved in any way."