by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2022) At the November 8th meeting of the Second District Police Community Relations Committee, Second District Commander Thomas Stacho announced that the committee would be changing its name to the Second District Policing Committee. Several people present at the meeting objected to the name change. Commander Stacho said there wasn’t much choice in the matter. He said the name change was a directive from the Monitoring Committee that is part of the Consent Decree between the City of Cleveland and the United States Department of Justice.
It was unclear if the name change would result in any difference in how the committee functions.
The police community relations committees began in Cleveland’s police districts in the early 1980s. The initial model designed by Community Relations staffer Chuck Habjan involved residents selecting a representative in each zone car patrol area in each police district. Habjan designed the model based on best practices in other cities.
The Second District Police Community Relations Committee, under the leadership of Second District resident Sandy Gerena, fully embraced the idea. Members of the Second District Police Community Relations Committee were elected in each of the zone car patrol areas. Residents would go to their representative to relay any concerns about crime or tips for police. The elected member would then relay the information at the Second District Police Community Relations Committee meeting, and it would be passed on to the patrol cars in their zone.
Michael McDonald, the Second District Community Relations Representative, says the original model was no longer being followed when he started working at the Community Relations Board in the year 2000.
A resident commented that participation by the public at the meetings was down. There were about twenty people at the November 8th meeting. The resident recalled past meetings with over eighty people present.
Commander Stacho gave a report to the community which included some comments about a shooting that occurred at a barbershop in Old Brooklyn where five people were shot, a warning about increased thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars, and an invitation to community members to attend a free Thanksgiving dinner at Town Hall. Commander Stacho also noted that volunteers were needed for the Second District’s annual children’s Christmas party.
Commander Stacho said Kia had provided a limited number of steering wheel locks to the City of Cleveland. The wheel locks are designed to prevent theft of Kias. He said Kia owners in the City of Cleveland can call the Community Relations Board at 623-5080 to obtain a wheel lock while supplies last.
One resident expressed concern about the safety of children living in the building that housed the barbershop in Old Brooklyn that was riddled with bullets. Commander Stacho said that prior to the shooting, there had been no calls for service at the building. He said that if there is concern for the safety of children or concern about children who have witnessed violence anybody can call Children and Family Services to seek help for the children. He also noted that police are mandatory reporters when they observe children who may be endangered or have experienced trauma.
Asked about a complaint of an officer at a block club meeting that a lot of the arrests made by officers don’t result in prosecution, Commander Stacho said he would have to know more about the specific types of arrests. He said that police don’t follow through on low level misdemeanor crimes. He said it is up to victims of those crimes to follow up with the City of Cleveland’s Prosecutor’s office. He said felony crimes go to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. For felony crimes there are two ways they can lead to prosecution. One is through a grand jury’s decision. Another is through what is called a True Bill—an agreement between prosecutor and defense attorney that there is enough evidence to merit a charge.
Erin Stone of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office followed up to add more insight on how charges in felony cases are handled by the County Prosecutor. She related how sometimes the prosecutor’s office needs more evidence on a suspect.
Stone noted a case where a person suspected of robbing a deli on Storer Avenue and a Dollar General on Bellaire was under surveillance by Cleveland detectives. Police tried to pull the suspect over at an intersection for a traffic violation which led to a chase. The suspect crashed into a snow pile and was found with a stolen gun, ammunition, and marijuana prepared for sale. With this new evidence the Prosecutor’s office was able to charge the suspect with several felonies – having a weapon under disability (while having a felony record) and receiving stolen property. Stone said the suspect was sentenced for eight years.
Stone explained the two ways that felony charges can be made. One is for a grand jury to decide there is probable cause to bring charges. The second way is an informational charge. She said that results when the defense lawyer and the prosecutor, after seeing the information sent by the police detectives, agree that there is enough information for the suspect to be charged. Stone says informational charges often result in a plea deal.
Stone described a meeting with a grand jury where the prosecutor interviews a police detective, and the detective describes the actions of the defendant that resulted in the arrest.
Stone said that while grand juries can decide if a cases merit looking at, she said the grand jury is just charged with finding “reasonable suspicion” that a crime was committed. The prosecutor, on the other hand, must prove to a judge or jury that the person is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” She said sometimes cases are dismissed because they don’t merit going to trial.
Stone says at times cases need to be sent back to detectives so they can gather more information. Sometimes an unknown witness is uncovered that exonerates the defendant. She also said a new self-defense law in Ohio has resulted in defendants’ cases being dismissed.
Stone said she did not know what percentage of felony cases brought to grand juries resulted in charges and prosecution. Stone said she would try to see if that data was available and get it to the Plain Press.