Cleveland settles woman's excessive force lawsuit for $2.25M

AP News
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Posted: Feb 06, 2017 5:26 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — The mother of a mentally ill woman who suffocated while handcuffed by Cleveland police says she wants the officers prosecuted after settling a lawsuit Monday for $2.25 million, the latest large settlement with the city over allegations of police misconduct.

Last month, the city agreed to pay $2.25 million to the family of a man shot by a Cleveland officer outside the city in 2011, and last year it agreed to pay $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy fatally shot by a white Cleveland officer while playing with a pellet gun outside a recreation center.

The settlement made public Monday is for the death of Tanisha Anderson, who died of positional asphyxiation in November 2014 outside her mother's Cleveland home. Family members had called 911 seeking help for Anderson, who was wandering outdoors on a cold night wearing just a nightgown. Anderson had a history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

According to a federal civil rights lawsuit and family attorneys, officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers initially tried talking to Anderson before putting her in the backseat of a patrol car to take her to a hospital. That's when the 37-year-old Anderson panicked and climbed out of the cruiser. The lawsuit says the officers wrestled her to the ground on her stomach and handcuffed her. Although Anderson showed distress and stopped breathing, it took the officers 14 minutes to call for help, according to the suit.

Two other officers went to the home earlier that night but left after Anderson agreed to eat something and go to bed.

At a news conference Monday on the steps of Cleveland City Hall, Anderson's mother, Cassandra Johnson, said she will continue her advocacy on behalf of the mentally ill. She also said Aldridge and Myers should be sent to prison. Johnson and her attorneys are frustrated that nothing has resulted thus far from an investigation being reviewed by the Ohio Attorney General's Office. The officers remain on restricted duty.

"The police are supposed to serve and protect," Johnson said. "That's not going on these days. I tell you who they're serving and protecting — themselves. It's not the public."

A spokesman for Cleveland declined to comment about the Tanisha Anderson settlement.

Treatment of the mentally ill by Cleveland police is one of the key provisions in a reform-minded agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice. The city agreed to federal oversight of the police department in May 2015 after a Justice Department investigation concluded Cleveland officers had shown a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating the civil rights of residents, including the mentally ill.

New policies and procedures regarding Cleveland officers' treatment of the mentally ill include language that says people who are handcuffed should be kept upright to avoid positional asphyxiation.

Anderson's daughter, 18-year-old Mauvion Green, said she watched her mother die but didn't understand what was happening at the time. She described her mother as a happy, goofy person with a wealthy of knowledge.

"My graduation is coming up soon," Green said. "So I hope she's in her seat cheering me on."