CLEVELAND (TDB) -- U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster tossed out a lawsuit brought by the mother of a 20-year-old fatally shot by police after a car and foot chase last October. Carol Bell and the Cleveland NAACP branch sought legal standing to contend a deadly force reform agreement negotiated by city officials and the Justice Department in 2004 had been breached. Cincinnati is party to a similar deal with the Justice Department, which was signed after a police officer in April 2001 shot an unarmed black man who ran when faced with arrest on minor charges. The Cincinnati incident set off several days of racial unrest.
Cleveland's lawyers argued the lawsuit should be dismissed, and Polster issued his ruling today that agreed with the city.
Bell's son, Henry, died when he reportedly reached into his waistband after being cornered on foot after a car chase. The incident was a major news story last fall and reignited concerns within the black community that Cleveland officers were trigger happy. The Bell shooting was ruled justifiable.
Judge Polster said the Justice Department investigated Cleveland's use of deadly force policies starting in March 2002. The probe was focused on reported unconstitutional practices involving use of force. In March 2004, the investigation ended with an agreement requiring the city to enact reforms. Polster said the deal bound the city and the Justice Department, and that third parties such as Bell's mother and the NAACP had no standing to enforce its provisions.
"Thus, DOJ benefited by enforcing compliance with federal constitutional and statutory laws, while the city benefited by having the investigation closed and by ensuring that it would not be dragged into court based on its previous practices. an benefit flowing to the citizens of Cleveland was an incidental benefit at most. There is not mention of conferring a benefit on a third party."
Polster said his ruling does not leave Bell's mother and the NAACP totally without options.
"The court's decision does not mean, however, that plaintiffs are left without a remedy for their justifiable concerns. . . .Citizens can raise such concerns directly to the local government officials -- whether formally at City Council meetings or otherwise -- and, if they are still dissatisfied thereafter, they can seek alternate representation in the next election."
He said they can also ask the Justice Department to investigate suspected violations of federal law.