A Beachwood police officer-involved shooting that took place more than one year ago continues to reverberate with city council and city officials.
Details surrounding the case have led to calls for the city to consider policing reforms, as well as for a former mayoral candidate to call for the resignation of the city council president.
The issue came to the fore after a screenshot was posted on Facebook on June 18 with a photo showing a Nissan Sentra with two bullet holes in the driver’s side window. The photo dated June 27, 2019, depicted an officer-involved shooting at Beachwood Place in Beachwood.
In the incident, Beachwood police officer Blake G. Rogers fired two rounds from his service weapon into the driver’s side of a vehicle as Jaquan Jones, now 20, of Cleveland, attempted to flee after a reported theft of a $59 baseball hat from Dillard’s in June 2019. Jones was injured in the shooting.
Rogers, 33, was immediately placed on paid administrative leave, pending a criminal investigation, per protocol.
His annual salary is $92,206.40, plus benefits, according to records obtained by the CJN. He remains on paid administrative leave more than a year later.
Mayor Martin S. Horwitz told the CJN Aug. 4 the paid administrative leave is in accordance with written police policy. No one was hired to replace Blake, according to the mayor.
Horwitz would not offer an opinion about what the footage shows, citing his role as final arbiter of any potential discipline Rogers might face.
He did say that he would support a policy change that represents a reversal for the city – that of releasing dashcam and bodycam footage within seven days of officer-involved shootings.
Beachwood City Council will discuss the matter as one of several police reforms contemplated at its 6 p.m. Aug. 6 committee of the whole meeting. The next regular city council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 17.
The Aug. 6 meeting will be held by video conference via Zoom (beachwoodohio.com for more information) and live streamed on the city of Beachwood website at beachwoodohio.com and can be viewed on Spectrum Channel 1020 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99.
Horwitz said his change in position came as a result of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer.
“This is a difficult policy to create because there are still certain rights that need to be preserved dealing with privacy as defined in the Ohio Revised Code,” he wrote in an email to the CJN. “It will be my recommendation to city council as we discuss this further that we adopt this as a policy moving forward.”
Horwitz wrote the decision breaks with past city practice, “which redacted critical footage reserved for investigatory purposes.”
When Rogers first saw the suspect at Beachwood Place in June 2019, he called to him through an open window of his cruiser.
“I yelled ‘You better stop or I’m going to f****** (expletive) Tase you,’” Rogers wrote in an incident report.
He subsequently left his cruiser and approached Jones, who got into a stolen car.
The suspect then “reached down with both hands towards his floorboard in what appeared to be an attempt to conceal something or pick something up,” Rogers wrote. “Due to the suspect’s actions, the potential that he may be armed, and his clear and continuing efforts to resist arrest I drew my service weapon and ordered the suspect to exit the vehicle multiple times at gunpoint.”
Rogers wrote he noticed a family in close proximity and hesitated to fire because of its presence as the suspect accelerated and backed out.
“I was scared that I was going to be run over and dragged underneath the rear of the vehicle and killed,” Rogers wrote. “When the suspect moved forward he still appeared to be driving towards me and in a path to run me over. I felt overwhelmingly terrified that I was about to be run over by the suspect and killed.”
Rogers shot at the driver’s side window as Jones was driving away.
Rogers then ran to his patrol car and realized his body camera malfunctioned and was not recording, he wrote. Only then did he also realize the car Jones was driving ran over his foot.
The pursuit that followed was immediately publicized, with Dillard’s security photos of the suspect released to the media. Police searched for him in South Euclid and were unable to apprehend him.
Jones was arrested July 25, 2019, on an unrelated drug investigation. Charges from Beachwood police included felonious assault on a police officer, two counts of failure to comply with signals of a police officer, receiving stolen property and petty theft.
The indictment referred to Jones’ as having a firearm at the time of the Beachwood incident. His case is pending in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
While police pursued the car through the streets of Beachwood and South Euclid on June 27, 2019, Rogers wrote that he prepared to hand over his equipment and uniform and was placed on paid administrative leave, pending his investigation.
As a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Rogers is represented in the criminal investigation by Kimberly Kendall Corral, senior associate at Patituce & Associates LLC.
Corral told the CJN Aug. 4 Rogers wants a thorough, transparent investigation, is available and cooperative, and that he wants to return to work, although he may be eligible for light duty based on the injury to tendons in his foot in the incident.
“It’s taking … an uncharacteristically long time to review this case,” she said.
Corral said the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Richfield finished its review in fall 2019.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office declined to release the bureau’s findings, citing the material as trial preparation documents.
Police use of force investigations are typically first handled by a municipal prosecutor to determine whether a misdemeanor or felony took place.
Following the conclusion of the BCI’s review, Beachwood sent encrypted files to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office in April, Saleh Awadallah, supervisor of the homicide major trial unit for the county, told the CJN Aug. 5.
Awadallah said he was unable to open the files and asked BCI to deliver them in a different format. Upon viewing the files on the flash drives, he saw no determination as to whether a crime had taken place and sent the flash drives to Beachwood for determination. He has not heard about the case since.
After Cleveland TV station WOIO broadcast stories last week, the incident sparked anger on social media.
“HEY Beachwood Ohio We’re going to need some answers,” Marc Wilson, owner of EverythingbyFace Salon & Spa in University Heights, wrote in an Aug. 2 Facebook post. “This is not OK.”
Wilson is organizing a group “to make sure the city officials responsible or complicit for allowing it to be handled this way are held accountable,” he wrote on Facebook.
Sydney Eisenberg, commenting on Facebook to councilman Alec Isaacson, pressed him for answers in response to a post he made about ideas for police reform.
“Did any of you immediately ask to see the footage?” Eisenberg wrote. “And if not, what did each of you do upon learning there were serious questions that needed to be answered? You are an elected official and when you see something that might not be right, you have a duty to ask questions, act and say something.”
Mitchel Luxenburg, who ran for mayor in 2017 and is a former Beachwood school board president, criticized council president James Pasch, who is regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of Cleveland, on Facebook Aug. 5.
Luxenburg quoted Pasch’s June 3 op-ed on Cleveland.com, called “The Privilege of Breathing,” which also ran on the ADL’s website.
Luxenburg quoted Pasch’s op-ed, “So I will shout from the rooftops that while I will never know what it feels like to be Black in America, I stand with all Black Americans, arm-in-arm, in the continued fight for a more just society.”
Luxenburg called on Pasch to resign because he said Pasch’s behavior as an elected official is not consistent with his public rhetoric.
Pasch, who was not council president at the time of the shooting, said he had not seen the post.
“The release of the police dash-cam and body cam-footage and the investigation were handled by the mayor and police chief,” Pasch wrote in an Aug. 5 email to the CJN. “The video shows that the incident is horrible and was avoidable. … In my opinion, the use of unjust deadly force cannot result in a second chance.”
As the only council member who was not in office when the incident occurred, Mike Burkons said he first learned of concerns regarding the shooting on June 18.
He has been outspoken in expressing the need for transparency and release of documents and footage regarding the shooting. In email correspondence to council, the mayor and the city’s law department, he has called for release of BCI findings.
“The longer a city chooses to withhold the footage and allows those questions to be asked without being refuted,” Burkons wrote the CJN, “the more that narrative takes hold and the more damage is done to public trust.”
The CJN will continue to follow this story.