In response to social media posts criticizing Beachwood City Council regarding the release of video footage of an officer-involved shooting that happened more than one year ago, Mayor Martin S. Horwitz said the Ohio Attorney General’s Office will take the matter to a Cuyahoga County grand jury soon.
“In matters of police work, the buck stops with me,” Horwitz said at a city council committee of the whole meeting Aug. 6 that was held virtually. “Neither (council) president (James) Pasch, nor the members of city council are involved with police investigations, police discipline or police policy.”
He was referring to officer Blake G. Rogers, who has been on paid administrative leave since he fired two rounds from his service weapon into the driver’s side of a vehicle as Jaquan Jones of Cleveland attempted to flee after a reported theft of a $59 baseball hat from Dillard’s at Beachwood Place on June 27, 2019. Rogers is collecting an annual salary of $92,206.40, plus benefits, pending a criminal investigation, per protocol.
Jones, now 20, of Cleveland was injured in the shooting and led police on a pursuit into South Euclid following it. He was arrested nearly a month later in Cleveland in an unrelated investigation and faces multiple charges in the Beachwood case.
“I also want to clear up any misconceptions about the references to (an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation) report that was prepared in this investigation,” said Horwitz, referring to Rogers, and adding the document does not belong to the city of Beachwood.”
Horwitz said in an email to the CJN on Aug. 12, BCI was called on the day of the shooting.
“It has been our practice to request BCI involvement whenever there is an officer involved shooting or any criminal activity that requires the specialized testing and investigation skills of BCI,” he wrote.
He said a BCI’s prosecutor summary report was approved by a BCI supervisor on Dec. 9, 2019.
“The city’s prosecutor contacted the county prosecutor’s office on April 7, 2020,” Horwitz wrote. “During the time between December 2019 and April 2020 the matter was reviewed for any potential misdemeanor charges by the OAG’s special prosecution section. On March 31, 2020, the city received notification from the OAG’s Special Prosecution Section of their determination of no resulting misdemeanor charges.”
Horwitz wrote the city’s prosecutor contacted the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office on April 7.
Horwitz wrote on or around June 16, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office informed the city “it is their office’s policy not to review officer involved non-fatal shootings.”
On July 20, Horwitz wrote the city Law Director Diane Calta “verbally confirmed with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor and the chief counsel/deputy attorney general that the matter would be referred by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor to the Ohio Attorney General’s special prosecution section for review.”
The matter was officially referred and entered into the Ohio attorney general’s portal on July 29.
Horwitz wrote the city initially formally requested the Ohio attorney general review the investigation for potential charges on Nov. 5, 2019. Because the BCI investigation was not completed, it could not formally accept the case for review, he said.
“The decision to engage the OAG was made at the request of the city prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest in determining the matter,” Horwitz wrote.
The Ohio attorney general formally accepted review of the case on Dec. 4, 2019.
“Continued attacks on council, president Pasch, or myself implying that there is something secretive going on are baseless,” he said at the Aug. 6 meeting. “At some point, when the investigation process is concluded, it will fall to me to make a determination as to the extent of discipline, up to and including firing. ... I hope those with agendas will respect this process and allow it to finish and then make constructive criticisms and not flood the community with conspiracy claims.”
Horwitz wrote to the CJN there were technical problems related the software the city uses as to why the video wasn’t released.
At the Aug. 6 meeting, councilman Mike Burkons disputed the mayor’s characterization of the release of footage.
“On July 2, (television station) Channel 19 made a request for the footage,” Burkons said. “On July 16, after some urging from people, we decided to deny them the request for the footage, so I just think it’s not an accurate statement.”
Horwitz said in the email to the CJN on Aug. 12, “Between the time of the request and the date released, I worked with the law department to determine the appropriateness of deviating from its prior decision to release the redacted video. An internal decision was made to release the video on or about July 22, 2020.”
The footage was released to WOIO on July 29, the day it aired its story on the matter.
“The initial decision, in March/April of 2019 and July of 2019, to release redacted video was made by the law department according to usual and standard protocol and O.R.C. (Ohio Revised Code) provisions providing for certain redactions to be made until a matter is no longer under investigation and criminal review.
“After the request was made, the law department provided the same response given when the video was initially released about redactions all while consulting with me on the possibility of legal authority to release unredacted footage instead.”
Horwitz wrote he made the decision to release the video after consulting with the law department.
“I felt that based on certain trends developing in our society and because everyone today is a citizen journalist, it is unrealistic to believe that only bodycam footage of police events will be available to the public,” he wrote. “Releasing everything provides the transparency necessary to maintain the public trust.”
Horwitz said it has never been the practice of this or the past administration to release police video to city council during a pending investigation.
During the Aug. 6 meeting, Pasch said he and other council members support the quicker release of unredacted police video, a policy Burkons proposed.
In an emailed statement to the CJN Aug. 12, Pasch wrote, “I saw the footage shortly after the incident had taken place,” he wrote. “As a member of council (prior to becoming council president), I asked the chief to see the footage – which I viewed in his office. My thoughts then are the same exact thoughts I have now – the shooting was horrible and was preventable. I let the mayor and chief know as much and was informed that the officer would not be allowed back in the building during the investigation and that the state was going to launch an independent investigation. I have never been in possession of police tapes and as the mayor made clear, he and he alone possess the authority on the release of unredacted police videos and police policy.”
Burkons said he believes Pasch as council president bears some responsibility in determining the release of footage.
In an email to the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 11, Burkons wrote, “The city’s prepared statement read by the mayor at Thursday’s meeting (Aug. 6)was intentionally misleading and riddled with misinformation and inaccuracies. Each misleading part of the statement was specifically pointed out as well as the supporting reasons/data/facts for anyone who wasn’t sure what was true and what was not. Two residents put out written statements that demanded accountability for the way things have been handled by the city in the 13 months since the shooting.
“The city’s prepared statement responded to this legitimate criticism by attacking both of the resident’s statements as ‘full of misinformation’ and attempted to discredit them by claiming they are driven by some hidden political agenda. However, when asked, the mayor or the city can’t cite a single thing in either residents written statement that is untrue or misleading. It is bad enough that when an issue as important as this gets exposed to the public that the city couldn’t be less forthcoming. What is even more troubling is the city’s strategy to attack and try to discredit anyone who dares to tell the public the truth and it seems like every other elected official is completely fine with this response and strategy by the city.”
During the Aug. 6 meeting, Horwitz said he would favor changing the city’s policy on paid administrative leave for officers, limiting it to 90 days and that officers would receive back pay if they returned to work following a longer period of time.
The committee of the whole meeting was called to consider police and citywide reforms aimed at enhancing the city’s efforts at diversity and inclusion and in police engagement, oversight, training and recruitment. Council sent the reform proposals to committee or to the mayor as he hires a new police chief.
Horwitz said at the meeting the city has received 28 applications for police chief to replace Gary Haba, who had previously announced he would retire on July 17.
Pasch spoke about racial tensions in Beachwood and the city’s efforts following recent incidents of police brutality across the country resulting in deaths.
“One of those areas where we can do better are in the overall response to the mall shooting,” he said. “There are things from that incident that the city learned from both with the investigation, internally, and with the release of the video. It’s now incumbent on us to work with this administration to make sure we change internal policies.”
Pasch said the Aug. 6 meeting was the beginning of a process.
In his email correspondence to the CJN, Burkons said the city’s continued placement of Rogers on paid administrative leave does not conform with city policy, which specifies that paid administrative leave ends with the conclusion of an investigation, which would have been in October 2019.
“The investigation is not over with BCI,” Horwitz wrote the CJN on Aug. 12. “The investigation is over when there’s a determination if there’s felony charges.”
Horwitz told the CJN he’s working with the law department to revise several policies in an attempt to provide greater transparency and more equity in processing of such situations. He said he supports “swift” release of unredacted police video.
“I am also working on policies to address the issue of extended administrative leave with pay and our own internal investigation process,” Horwitz wrote.
Managing Editor Bob Jacob contributed to this story.