Cleveland Officers To Get Settlements in City Lawsuits

Author: Leila Atassi Plain Dealer Reporter
Date: September 19, 2009

Three Cleveland police officers who shot and killed suspects in 2005 will receive nearly a half-million dollars from the city to settle reverse discrimination and civil rights claims. The city will pay Detectives John Kraynik and Philip Habeeb and Patrolman John Frank a total of $450,000 as part of an agreement reached this week - three years after the officers sued in federal court.

The officers accused city officials of allowing political and public pressure to influence their handling of the detectives in the aftermath of on-duty shootings.

Habeeb and Kraynik were involved in the shooting of 15-year-old Brandon McCloud, who was killed as the officers attempted to serve a search warrant. McCloud was a suspect in a string of robberies of pizza delivery drivers.

Franko, who that same month fatally shot 36-year-old Laray Renshaw as he reached for the officer's gun, also sued the city.

Law Director Robert Triozzi said Friday through a city spokeswoman that the case was part of a backlog of unresolved use-of-deadly-force cases Mayor Frank Jackson inherited. Thirty-eight similar cases were resolved during Jackson's first six months in office, Triozzi said.

"The settlement of these cases brings closure to the issue and is in no way an admission that the city did anything wrong," Triozzi said. "It is simply a common-sense recognition that it is always difficult to predict exactly how a jury might rule."

All three officers were kept on leave for nearly a year, despite internal investigations that cleared them of criminal wrongdoing, including one conducted by a special prosecutor, former Cleveland Municipal Judge C. Ellen Connally.

Attorney Craig Bashein, who represented the officers, said the city's decision to keep them from returning to work was made on the eve of the 2005 mayoral election to satisfy a black electorate outraged by the shootings.

Habeeb and Kraynik claimed then-Mayor Jane Campbell told one of the detectives that she believed they had acted appropriately but that she would delay a police review of the shootings until after the November election to avoid public hostility, the suit claims.

"It's devastating enough for an officer to be involved in a fatal shooting, without being subjected to the embarrassment and improper treatment while they sit on extended leave," Bashein said. "This case was not about black and white, it was about blue - and the importance of treating each officer fairly, regardless of race and nationality."

Some in the black community staged protests after local civil rights activists said the shootings were racially motivated. State Rep. Shirley A. Smith of Cleveland wrote a letter to several political and law enforcement officials in which she labeled Habeeb and Kraynik "hit men" on an "execution assignment." Habeeb and Kraynik sued Smith for defamation in the Ohio Court of Claims, seeking damages in excess of $25,000. The case is pending.

The detectives and the city also are fighting a lawsuit filed in 2006 in federal court by the McCloud family, accusing Habeeb and Kraynik of civil rights violations and the use of unjustifiable deadly force.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: latassi@plaind.com