Ohio chief apologizes for teen's death, argues against end of police pursuits
The pursuit that ended in the death of Tamia Chappmann is still under review as community members call for an end to police pursuits altogether
Advance Ohio Media
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland police Chief Calvin Williams apologized Thursday to the family of a 13-year-old girl killed during a police chase, but fervently argued against calls for the department to end pursuits altogether.
Williams said during a Community Police Commission meeting that he regretted not offering condolences sooner to the family of Tamia Chappman who died Dec. 20 after she was struck by a car involved in a police chase into East Cleveland. The girl’s cousin and two attorneys representing her family attended the meeting at New Fellowship Baptist Church in Cleveland.
“This should not have happened, and we deeply apologize for being involved in it as Cleveland police officers,” he told approximately 75 people gathered for the meeting.
But Williams delivered a fiery response to a suggestion that officers should not pursue suspects. He argued that it would embolden criminals if officers do not chase and try to arrest them.
“Do we want to give [criminals] free reign to do anything they want?” he asked the crowd.
Williams told those in attendance that the police department is still reviewing the chase. He pledged a thorough investigation, and bristled at the notion that his department was trying to “cover up anything.” He also said he believes in holding his own officers accountable when they violate city policies or break laws.
“If our guys are doing something wrong, I’m the first one to say fire their behinds, or put them in jail,” he said.
Tamia’s family remains heartbroken by her death, her cousin Eileen Cunningham said during the meeting. The girl’s mother, Sherrie Chappman, hopes the police department takes a critical look at the chase and learns from it, Cunningham said.
“She never, ever wants another person to experience what she and her family went through because of this chase,” Cunningham said.
Attorneys for The Cochran Firm, who are representing the Chappman family, also said during the meeting that they are hopeful the department can improve its chase policies to prevent further deaths.
Tamia, who family members referred to as “Mimi,” was walking to East Cleveland Public Library when a car at the center of the police chase struck her. The car was stolen at gunpoint outside a Target on Cleveland’s West Side.
Two 15-year-old boys are charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the carjacking, chase and deadly crash. They have denied the charges and remain in custody at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.
Williams and others in attendance stressed the need to address the issues that led to the chase. Several suggested more after-school programs to keep teens off the streets; others said adults must do a better job of mentoring children.
“We need to look at the bigger picture, so to speak,” Williams said. “We need to look at some of the issues that caused these problems in the first place.”
Cleveland police’s history of pursuits have drawn nationwide scrutiny in recent years. That criticism culminated in a Nov. 29, 2012 chase that involved 62 police cruisers chasing a car into East Cleveland. Thirteen Cleveland police officers then unloaded 137 shots, killing an unarmed Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. The incident served as the catalyst for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s request that the then-Obama Justice Department examine the department’s blemished history of unconstitutional policing practices.
The study uncovered decades of police wrongdoing and the city of Cleveland entered into a still-active, binding federal agreement to reform the department from the ground up. The 137 shots case also led the department to update its chase policy and implement a specific protocol that determines when Cleveland police are allowed to pursue criminal suspects.
The union that represents Cleveland police officers has long criticized that the revised chase protocol, saying it hamstrings officers trying to respond to crime. The city’s policy has also not curtailed pursuits into Cleveland by neighboring suburbs, whose officers, on occasion, undertake high-speed chases that cross into the city limits and result in injury.
The Community Police Commission is expected to review the police department’s pursuit policy in the coming weeks. The commission is mandated by a settlement the city of Cleveland reached with the U.S. Justice Department to reform its police department. It provides policy analysis and feedback to city officials, and act as a voice for the community, including for police officers.