FEATURED PHOTO: FORMER CLEVELAND POLICE COMMANDER JAMES CHURA
IdeastreamPublicMedia.org, By Matthew Richmond-WKSU. Posted December 15th 2022
More than a year after Cleveland voters approved Issue 24, creating a police oversight board with authority over officer discipline and department policies, city council approved Mayor Justin Bibb’s ten nominees to the new board at their meeting last Monday night.
Each of Bibb’s ten nominees appeared in front of a single council committee, over the course of two days last week, and faced little opposition.
“Nearly 60 percent of the voters voted for Issue 24,” said Joe Jones, chair of the Mayor’s Appointments Committee, where the nominees appeared. “We have democracy in this city truly alive and working.”
The mayor’s ten appointments included one former Cleveland police officer, James Chura, who while serving as a commander oversaw the internal investigation of the 137 shots case.
In that 2012 incident, more than 100 officers joined the vehicle pursuit of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Neither Williams or Russell were armed but each were shot more than 20 times after the pursuit ended in a school parking lot in East Cleveland.
The internal investigation led to indictments and the firing, demotion or suspension of several officers by the time it ended in 2016. Shortly after that, Chura left his post as commander of special investigations to become a captain.
Council did not ask Chura about his involvement with the 137 shots investigation, or his role in CDP’s failure to promptly investigate sex crime and child abuse cases.
Each member of the appointments committee, along with Safety Committee Chair Mike Polensek, asked the same series of questions of each candidate. When asked what the CPC could do to increase trust, Chura focused on the disciplinary process the commission will oversee.
“Increasing trust is the key word,” Chura said. “They have to have a fair disciplinary process for the officers and it has to include the officers on the street all the way to the top, not just certain people that are connected politically within the division.”
Issue 24, now Section 115 of the city charter, allowed for up to three police association representatives on the commission. Chura represents the local branch of the union representing police supervisors, FOP Lodge 8.
He’s the only nominee from a police union or association.
The other 9 nominated by Bibb, along with three council picks, John Adams, Shandra Benito and Audrianna Rodriguez, all come from community organizations and none have worked for Cleveland Division of Police.
Gregory Reaves is a former corrections officer who spent 6 years in prison for aiding an escape. He now works at Cleveland nonprofit Towards Employment.
When asked about increasing trust between police and the community, Reaves focused on police officer interaction with the public.
“Even their uniforms can be intimidating to the community,” Reaves said. “If they came to gatherings or any type of community event in their regular clothes as regular people, and not looked at that way, they may be able to have a greater impact in the community.”
During Reaves’ appearance on the second day of hearings, one minor controversy was brought up. A nominee from the day before – Cait Kennedy – had not disclosed, during her appearance at council, a business relationship with a member of Mayor Bibb’s administration.
Kennedy is the executive directive of a nonprofit called unBail, which helps people navigate the local court system. Kennedy is a co-founder along with current Cleveland planning director, Joyce Huang.
Councilmembers brought up whether Kennedy had lied when answering “No” to a question about whether she was “friends” with anyone in the Bibb administration.
Following some discussion about how council could respond, beyond simply voting “No” on her nomination, the city’s chief ethics officer, Delante Spencer Thomas, pointed out that having a business relationship with someone is different than being friends with a person, so it is not clear at all that Kennedy lied to council.
After Thomas’ comment, council moved on and Kennedy’s nomination was ultimately approved.
Safety Committee Chair Mike Polensek attended the hearings and asked nominees two questions. Polensek wanted to know whether nominees had ever campaigned for the defunding of police and whether they would be willing to take a drug test after confirmation.
Drug screening was not part of the background investigation, but Polensek argued that they should take one since Cleveland police are required to.
“This commission will oversee the division of police. This commission will have the power to override the mayor and the chief of police and the safety director,” Polensek said. “And I hope all 13 who have come before us understand the great responsibilities that they have.”
City Council’s 3 nominees to the CPC:
- John Adams
- Shandra Bonito
- Audrianna Rodriguez
Mayor Justin Bibb’s ten nominees to the CPC:
- James Chura
- Charles Donaldson Jr.
- Pastor Kyle Earley
- Alana Garrett-Ferguson
- Cait Kennedy
- Gregory Reaves
- Jan Ridgeway
- Piet van Lier
- Teri Wang
- Sharena Zayed