Cleveland Police Mistake Dead Body for a Deer

"I swear I saw a dark male lying on the freeway," said a man named Ben who called Cleveland 911 in the pre-dawn hours on Monday April 5th. "It scared the crap out of me," he told the dispatcher. Before he hung up he said, "I just had to call."

Minutes later at 4:35 AM two Cleveland police officers were dispatched to check out the report of a body on the side of the road. Fifteen minutes later the officers called dispatch.

"All it is, is a dead deer," the officer said, "You might wanna notify ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation)." Then the officers went on break.

The dead body was later identified as Angel Bradley Crockett, mother of three who had been beaten and strangled. But while the Cleveland Police failed to identify a dead body, other motorists continued to see what they did not. The police department says it is now investigating the actions of the officers.

Within the hour another citizen placed a call to 911. It was still dark out, the sun didn't rise until 7:03 AM. The caller said, "It's either a body or a mannequin...it was the size of a body."

Fifteen minutes later another call came in with more detail, "There's a dead female laying here on the side of the road," the caller told the operator, "I drove backward and I stopped and sure enough it looks like a black woman,." He added, "She is definitely dead, that's for sure."

At 6:10 AM yet another motorist called from the side of the road. "There's a dead body laying on the berm," he said. This time the dispatcher told the caller that a police officer had already been to the scene and determined that the "body" was a deer.

"Doesn't look like a deer to me," the caller said incredulous. The dispatcher asked the caller if the body was male or female and the caller responded, "I'm almost too scared to get back out," but he got out and checked. Once back in the car he described what he saw, "Female. Appears to be very young."

Megan O'Bryan who runs the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center wrote in an email to supporters that the discovery of a dead woman on the highway and the police's failure to distinguish a dead woman from a deer "eerily echoes the fate" of the alleged 11 victims of accused serial killer Anthony Sowell that were found in Sowell's home. In her letter O'Bryan included a list of 20 things citizens can do to stop sexual violence.

In March, CBS News uncovered critical failures by the Cleveland Police Department to act on reports of rape by Anthony Sowell, a convicted rapist. Cleveland has the highest rate of rape in the United States of any major city with a population over 100,000.

The Cleveland Police Department issued a statement after it came to light this week that the officers failed to identify the body on the highway. Chief Michael McGrath assigned internal affairs to "investigate the circumstances that led to the misidentification of the body by the original zone car that initially responded to the call." The statement says that investigators will review the recordings from the callers and dispatch as well as interview the officers, "The investigation will determine whether Divisional protocol had been properly administered," it said.

The 911 tapes were obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

  • Laura Strickler

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