You may have seen the viral video – a Euclid Police officer beating a man during a traffic stop. But our six-month investigation into the department goes even deeper, uncovering serious red flags related to police use of force. We found a small group of officers are involved in the most incidents, and despite police brutality lawsuits, almost all of them are still patrolling the streets.
Melissa Highsmith always wanted to be a police officer.
The 30-year-old Cleveland resident earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and even applied for a job at a local police department.
“You’re supposed to trust them,” Highsmith said. “You’re taught when you’re little, police officers are there to help you.
“But now, it’s like completely opposite,” she said. “That’s the last place I want to go if I need anything.”
On March 6, 2017, Highsmith expected a quiet night.
Around 6 p.m., she drove to Euclid to meet her friend, Shanell Gist, at Gist’s apartment.
The long-time friends planned to celebrate Gist’s final semester of graduate school.
First, they spent a few moments in the parking lot. Gist wanted to show Highsmith her new car.
Highsmith said they didn’t see or hear anyone.
“We were outside for a couple minutes,” Highsmith said. “Went back upstairs, locked her door, getting settled in.”
They opened the bottle of champagne Highsmith brought as Gist’s 2-year-old daughter played in another room.
Then, without warning, a man kicked down the front door and burst into the apartment.
Highsmith was scared. She was also confused.
The man who had used a knife to break the lock and enter the apartment was Euclid Police Officer Daniel Ferritto.
Highsmith said Ferritto screamed at her and Gist, repeatedly claiming they ran from him when they were outside.
“He said, ‘You don’t run from the f**king police,’” she said. “That’s when I started verbalizing, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I would never run from police. I want to be a police officer.’”
The next thing she knew, she said, Ferritto grabbed both sides of her shirt and dragged her to the cement patio outside the apartment.
“He picked me up and just slammed me onto the ground,” Highsmith said. “I was slammed on my head, like bleeding from the back of my head. Bleeding on my knees from being thrown on the cement.”
She said Ferritto placed her in handcuffs facedown on the ground but refused to explain why he arrested her.
“I was terrified of what was going to happen next…nothing made sense,” she said. “A person like that should not get to hold the position that he holds. It’s scary.”
In his incident report, Ferritto said he demanded the women stop after hearing Highsmith and Gist yelling racial slurs in the parking lot. He also said they had an open container of alcohol in the car.
“The two females fled on foot from police and one of the females resisted,” according to Ferritto’s narrative. “The other female [Gist] endangered her two-year-old child by leaving her home alone.”
Highsmith was charged with open container in a motor vehicle, resisting arrest and obstructing justice.
Gist was charged with child endangerment.
The charges against both women were eventually dismissed.
“[That tells me] that I did nothing wrong,” Highsmith said. “And they [Euclid Police] did everything wrong. And they know it.”
She and Gist have since filed a federal lawsuit against Ferritto and the City of Euclid for civil rights violations.
The incident is among the hundreds of use of force reports 5 On Your Side Investigators reviewed as part of our exclusive investigation.
We uncovered a broken system that leaves innocent civilians injured and allows problem officers to continue patrolling the streets – in many cases, with little or no accountability.
For example, Ferritto was never investigated related to Highsmith’s incident, even after the lawsuit was filed, and remains on the force.
When a Euclid Police officer uses force during an incident, he or she must report what happened in what’s called a resistance/response form, per department policy.
We spent six months examining all of the 273 forms filed by officers between January 2016 and June 2018.
Immediately, a troubling pattern emerged: only a handful of officers were involved in the majority of incidents involving uses of force, including punches, takedowns and Tasers.
Our data analysis found less than 20 percent of Euclid Police officers were involved in more than 80 percent of the use of force incidents.
“When that happens, that is a red flag for the organization,” said Jim Buerrmann, president of the Police Foundation, a non-partisan research group dedicated to improving policing practices.
“Clearly, when a small number of people are responsible for the lion’s share of the use of force, somebody needs to be taking a very hard look at that,” he said.
So, which officers used force the most?
Some are familiar faces, like Officer Michael Amiott.
We found he was involved in 17 incidents, the seventh highest number of any officer within the department.
WARNING: The video below contains graphic content.
In the video, you can see Amiott repeatedly punching Hubbard in the face.
The police brutality incident occurred during a routine traffic stop on Aug. 12, 2017.
In their report, officers at the scene said Hubbard ignored commands to turn away from officers after he was ordered to get out of his car.
Hubbard was charged with driving under suspension and resisting arrest, but, like Highsmith and Gist, he was later cleared of all charges.
On Sept. 28, Hubbard filed a federal lawsuit against Amiott, two additional officers and the City of Euclid alleging civil rights violations.
After the City of Euclid announced Amiott was awarded his job back by an arbitrator, the Euclid NAACP issued a travel advisory for “travelers, particularly those of color to proceed with caution when driving through the municipality of Euclid, Ohio.”
Amiott is also facing allegations of police brutality in a separate federal lawsuit filed in January stemming from another incident.
Erimius Spencer, 30, alleged Amiott reached into his pocket without cause and pulled out what appeared to be a small amount of marijuana during a Dec. 5, 2016 arrest.
The lawsuit alleges Amiott then twisted Spencer’s arm, kneed him in the groin, pushed him to the ground, Tased him 10 times and kicked him in the face.
The kick fractured Spencer’s orbital bone.
Our analysis also shows Euclid officers use or display Tasers more often than any other type of force.
In addition, we found Amiott’s partner during the arrest, Shane Rivera, was involved in more use of force incidents than almost any other officer during the time period we reviewed.
“The things they have done, the way they handle people, they just [need to] redo their whole force,” 37-year-old Lamar Wright said.
Wright has also filed a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations by Euclid Police officers.
On Nov. 4, 2016, he pulled into a driveway of an acquaintance on East 212th Street in Euclid to call his girlfriend.
Seconds later, two men wearing dark clothing appeared at his car doors, guns drawn.
He thought he was being carjacked by robbers.
Instead, it turned out the two men were Euclid Police officers Kyle Flagg and Vashon Williams, who were doing surveillance on a nearby home.
It was surveillance that had nothing to do with Wright.
Flagg’s body camera video shows the officers demand Wright show them his hands and get on the ground.
WARNING: The video below contains graphic content.
For a brief moment, Wright struggled to raise his arms.
He had recently had stomach surgery. A colostomy bag was still attached to his right side.
“I was in bad shape,” he said. “My stomach was still open from the staples.”
Wright said Flagg then grabbed and twisted his left arm and pulled him to the ground. In the video, you can hear Wright repeatedly say Flagg is hurting him. Flagg then deployed his Taser. Williams used his pepper spray.
The officers accused Wright of “reaching,” appearing as if he was grabbing a weapon.
Wright said he was lifting up the arm rest around his colostomy bag to cooperate with officers’ orders. Police did not find a gun in his car.
“I mean, you just don’t treat people like that,” Wright said. “I just wish this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Wright’s lawsuit alleges Flagg and Williams filed false police reports about the incident.
They charged Wright with resisting arrest and traffic violations. Those charges were dismissed.
The officers remain on patrol.
“It’s crazy – like they’re almost getting away with it,” Wright said.
READ MORE: News5Cleveland.com
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