Eric Holder: Cleveland police engaged in pattern of excessive force

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday that "there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern and practice of using excessive force," after Justice Department investigators examined nearly 600 cases of use of force that occurred between 2010 and 2013.

Holder went on to say that Cleveland and the Justice Department had agreed on a statement of principles that will lead to a consent decree.

The investigation in the Cleveland Police Department was launched in March 2013, "following a number of high profile use of force incidents and requests from the community and local government to investigate the [police department]," the report released Thursday said.

The report cited specific incidents, including a January 2011 police chase of an unarmed man, who suffered "kicks to the head" after he had "surrendered to officers and was handcuffed and prone on the ground." None of the officers filed a report on the use of force, and none "were appropriately disciplined for failing to report the use of force."

In another incident from November 2012, the report said, "over 100 Cleveland police officers engaged in a high speed chase, in violation of [Cleveland Division of Police] policies, and fatally shot two unarmed civilians. [Cleveland Division of Police] officers ultimately fired 137 shots at the car, killing both its occupants."

The unreasonable practices the Justice Department found included the following:

  • Unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons
  • Unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force including Tasers, chemical spray and fists
  • Excessive force against persons who are mentally ill or in crisis, including in cases where the officers were called exclusively for a welfare check
  • Employment of poor and dangerous tactics that places officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable

Justice Department investigators also said the division doesn't adequately review and investigate the use of force by its officers or fully investigate misconduct allegations or identify and respond to patterns of at-risk behavior.

The Justice Department and Cleveland Police Department so far have only agreed to come to an agreement about how to address this problem. They will work out the details of that agreement -- the so-called "consent decree" -- in the coming months, but it will include a requirement for an independent monitor who will oversee necessary reforms.

Holder invoked the names of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed in Cleveland in November, noting that there are ongoing federal civil rights investigations for each of those incidents. The Justice Department's investigation predates the recent shooting of Rice, and CBS News has learned that while that incident was not taken into consideration in the investigation, it will be considered as an agreement on changes that must be made within the Cleveland Division of Police.

"The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans - including, just last month, the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice here in Cleveland - have raised urgent, national questions. And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect."

The Cleveland investigation is the same kind of investigation the Justice Department launched into the Ferguson Police Department after one of its officers, Darren Wilson, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

Holder made his announcement in Cleveland, where he is hosting a round table discussion as part of a tour of several U.S. cities where he will meet with local leaders and discuss relations between the community and law enforcement. He is also expected to visit Memphis, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Oakland in the coming weeks.