East Cleveland officer who shot and killed suspect is back on the job; internal investigation of the incident is not complete

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 8:17 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates confirmed with East Cleveland Police that their officer who shot and killed a suspect after a high speed case is now back on the job, despite push back from city leaders and community members.

East Cleveland Police say Officer Larry McDonald is back at work on “modified duty” after firing the fatal shots and failing to capture them on his body camera.

Police say 19-year-old Vincent Belmonte fled from a car on January 5th after carjacking someone and leading officers on a chase.

Chief Scott Gardner told us that day that Officer McDonald fired because as he was running, Belmonte turned around with a gun and threatened officers.

19 News spoke to Belmonte’s older sister Diamond when she found out McDonald was back at work.

“Basically, you’re saying it’s justified to me. With him going back to work, that’s how I feel,” she said. “If my brother turned around, why is every shot from the back?”

We have not seen the official autopsy report because it is part of the investigation, but Diamond says doctors told her family Vincent was shot six times.

“Every shot came from the back,” she said.

State investigators are currently looking at the shooting itself-- did McDonald break the law, or was the shooting justified?

It’s up to the department however, to determine internally whether he violated any department policies.

The chief says it could be months before the internal investigation is complete though.

“He turned his camera off seconds before he shot my brother,” Diamond said.

We only have a three second clip from McDonald that day, even after the council voiced repeated concern about Officer McDonald keeping his body camera on weeks before the shooting.

In the days after seeing the body camera cut off, the city council president wrote a letter to Mayor Brandon King, calling for McDonald’s termination.

19 News went to King for a response a few weeks ago.

At first, he said, “I can’t talk on this.”

But then, he started to defend Officer McDonald’s actions, before he was interrupted by his staff.

“That it’s more of a normal occurrence,” King said. “You can see him cut it on. He doesn’t hear it in his ear. So, he hits it again, not knowing if it’s on while he’s running.”

His staff person then says, “Mayor, please. This is under investigation, externally.”

The mayor then asked that we change the subject.

Diamond says before now, she used to trust police.

“I am the one out of my friends that would tell them, not every cop is bad,” she said.

But, she’s lost faith in the system after watching East Cleveland handle this case.

“Your city is telling you... and y’all just got him working in public with people,” she said. “My youngest brother is 11. Do you know how hard it is to explain to him that the police are supposed to be the good guys?”

The police chief says the city’s internal investigation into what happened “will not be complete until BCI’s criminal investigation is complete.”

We asked the chief what exactly Officer McDonald is doing on “modified duty,” but he referred our request to the law department, and we have not heard back.

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