CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News investigators have learned the punishment for an officer who shot and killed an alleged carjacking suspect in January.
To be clear, whether the January shooting itself was justified or not is still under investigation by state police. But, those investigators are missing a piece of the puzzle.
In most other stories about a police shooting, we would show you a clip of video, showing the shots fired so that you can form your own opinion of what happened. But that’s the problem in this case. The chief of police says that clip of video that might have added clarity simply doesn’t exist.
“I do believe there was a violation of body camera footage,” Chief Scott Gardner of the East Cleveland Police Department said.
However, 19 investigates has learned Sgt. Larry McDonald will stay on the East Cleveland Police force and without serving any suspension.
The decision made, despite the mistake the chief says McDonald made in turning off his body camera the day he shot and killed 19-year-old Vincent Belmonte.
“It’s horrible, and I wish we had body camera footage,” the chief said in an interview with 19 investigates in March.
The mistake comes from an officer who’s been disciplined multiple times in the past. In fact, as we discovered the city council had just raised concerns about McDonald’s body camera usage him weeks before the shooting.
For that reason, Belmonte’s family, the public and council members were calling for the city to terminate McDonald this winter.
But, Chief Scott Gardner says firing McDonald simply wasn’t an option.
“Body camera is actually a class two offense. So, it’s not a fire-able offense,” Gardner said.
A body camera violation is however, an offense that can be punished with up to 10 days suspension according to Chief Gardner.
“I presented charges to a hearing panel. I presented charges relative to the body camera and those charges came back unsustained,” he said.
Gardner says the panel told him they believed McDonald accidentally turned off his camera the day of the shooting.
When we talked to the chief last month, he said the decision on punishment is ultimately up to him though.
“I will probably be issuing some sort of discipline, probably suspension,” Gardner said.
A letter dated April 12 we obtained shows the chief’s final decision.
He writes, “lethal force was used, and we failed to be able to provide that accountability to the public. It was unfortunate, it made us look bad.”
However, Gardner says McDonald will be given a written reprimand and more training, but no suspension.
He says since the panel recommended no discipline and since neither of McDonalds prior discipline cases were relative to body camera usage, Garnder says a suspension would have been quote “lost in union arbitration” and ultimately may not have stuck.
According to records we have from the Cleveland police department, officers with a history of discipline received at least one day suspension for a body camera infraction.
In the East Cleveland Chief’s letter, he also gave the same reprimand to another officer who failed to record a separate deadly shooting he was involved in. However, we learned that officer had never been disciplined previously.
We tried reaching out to the police union on this story. We will let you know if we hear back.