DeWine exposes CPPA Follmer’s cover-up role in East Cleveland murder investigation
Cleveland cop blows whistle on police union boss' role in obstructing criminal investigation of American citizens shot 47 times by 13 cops
CLEVELAND, OH – A Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) statement obtained from a Cleveland cop who was interviewed twice exposes evidence that Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association (CPPA) president Jeffery Follmer actively obstructed the criminal investigation being conducted by Ohio Attorney General Richard Michael DeWine.
Patrol Officer James Hummel told two of the Ohio Attorney General’s BCI special agents that he texted a message to another cop that “the union” told him to “keep his mouth shut.” He repeated the claim to two Special Agents on December 19 in front of Attorney Patrick D’Angelo, who represents the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association (CPPA).
D’Angelo is restricted as an attorney by the disciplinary rules found in Ohio’s Code of Professional Conduct from helping a client engage in criminal acts. Doing so could result in charges being filed against him with the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Disciplinary Counsel and his permanent suspension from practicing law.
Hummel’s claim supports allegations that Follmer, who had no authority as a labor official inside East Cleveland, conflicted his union role with that as a Cleveland police officer to obstruct the investigations.
Neither Cleveland’s collective bargaining agreement with the CPPA nor any of its ordinances or departmental rules gives the union president a role or a presence in criminal investigations. The CPPA’s contract did not give Follmer any official role to play at a crime scene in East Cleveland. When Follmer crossed into East Cleveland’s borders without the authority of his superior officer as a Cleveland cop, he, too, violated the city’s pursuit departmental orders and Ohio law as uncovered by DeWine’s investigation.
Follmer immediately launched a public relations campaign to slant the public’s perception of what happened to the one he was allegedly creating behind the scenes. The cops were good. Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were bad people. He tried to use the car as a weapon. The cop shooters defended themselves. Mayor Frank Jackson isn’t a good mayor. Police chief Michael McGrath should step down for “failing” the 13 shooters.
None of Follmer’s statements had anything to do with his duties as a police officer who served dually as union president. His main job is as a public employee under Jackson and McGrath’s supervision. The CPPA as a union is not an official arm of Cleveland government. The U.S. Supreme Court in Garcetti v. Ceballos (2005) gave government managers the right to silence employees from speaking out about issues that have nothing to do with their jobs.
Statements taken from cops Wilfredo Diaz and Michael Demchak reveal that they called Follmer from the East Cleveland crime scene while they were behind Heritage Middle School. Demchak said Follmer told him to keep quiet. That same message was shared among the nearly 114 Cleveland cops who arrived in East Cleveland.
Cleveland cop Michael McNeeley’s interview made the eye-opening claim that the 13 shooter cops were “mustered” together by a Sgt. Patricia Coleman. Evidence shows they were intentionally kept away from East Cleveland cops who were arriving at the crime scene inside their jurisdiction. Coleman told BCI investigators she separated the officers in groups of “shooters” versus “non-shooters” and treated it like a roll call.
On scene East Cleveland investigators said Cleveland’s cops “clammed up” after Follmer arrived and refused to answer questions or relinquish crime scene control. Video footage taken by Cleveland’s television news crews clearly show the larger police department’s cops controlling, investigating and removing evidence from a municipal corporation where they had no law enforcement authority.
Hummel said Follmer went as far to tell him not to immediately share information that he and his partner, David Siefer, knew Russell and Williams were unarmed. He said the CPPA president told him to keep quiet about Russell’s car backfiring 14 times between West 45th and Detroit and Heritage Middle School.
“Wait until your interview,” Hummel said Follmer told him.
DeWine’s BCI investigation revealed that Follmer’s alleged interference thwarted East Cleveland’s ability to get fresh and uncoached statements from the 13 Cleveland shooter cops while at the crime scene; and interfered with their ability to identify every other cop who’d arrived “unauthorized” within the municipal corporation. All should have been detained and questioned. Hummel accused some of hiding their East Cleveland visit from the duty logs they submitted to the city.
Hummel told DeWine’s two BCI agents he thought the “backfiring” information would have immediately shed a different light on the tragic events that had taken place, and that Follmer’s instructions didn’t sit well with him.
Follmer’s second statement shows he contacted East Cleveland Lieutenant Matthew Balli and confided his concerns to him. In an interview with Balli on December 18, the East Cleveland cop told BCI investigators he encouraged Hummel to contact Cleveland Lt. William Traine since the cop didn’t trust his 2nd District supervisor. Hummel described his supervisor to the BCI agents as “unprofessional.” Balli said Hummel’s conscience was bothering him about what was taking place.
The 114 cop “invasion” of East Cleveland occurred on November 29. Acting on orders from Follmer and D’Angelo, not Mayor Frank Jackson or Police Chief Michael McGrath, Cleveland cops began making themselves available to BCI special agents and two East Cleveland detectives on December 5. One of the East Cleveland detectives, Scott Gardner, is Follmer’s union counterpart for that city. The interviews with the shooters began six days after the shooting.
All of the interviews were videotaped. Each cop was read and then waived their Miranda rights. Many of the interviews were attended by Follmer, D’Angelo and CPPA official Steve Kinas. The three union officials initially attended Hummel’s first interview on December 12. He was rescheduled for another interview one day after Balli gave statements that the Cleveland cop had called him to express his concern over being told to withhold information.
Hummel’s first interview was similar to that of the other crime scene cops. In fact, a common theme ran throughout all of their stories. In every story cops said the suspects were cornered with no escape. Russell’s vehicle spun around and was pointed towards Heritage’s Middle School’s exit, aiming directly at Diaz. Diaz drew his weapon and “the suspect” drove straight at him. The car was now being used as a weapon. Diaz fired and then all the other cops heard gunshots. All of the cops interviewed said they thought the unarmed Russell and Williams were shooting at them so they shot back. They didn’t realize Williams was a woman, they all said, until learning about it on the news.
Michael Brelo was consistently described as the cop who walked straight towards Russell’s vehicle firing directly into it at the two dead or dying unarmed Americans. Emptying two full 15 round clips, Brelo jumped on the hood of Russell’s car allegedly yelling “Semper Fi” and shot them directly in the face, emptying yet another clip into the unarmed citizens because “they wouldn’t stop moving.” This ex-U.S. Marine, an Iraq veteran who saw no combat action, said he was more frightened of the unarmed man and woman than he’d ever been in his life as justification for his extreme action.
Demchak said he thought Russell was shooting and Williams was reloading. In his mind he thought they were wearing bullet proof vests, just like a gunman in L.A. All of the cops’ statements create the impression that they were experiencing the same mental delusion.
“The battle is on,” Demchak told an investigator he thought to himself as he got of the patrol car. “These are some bad mother -fuckers.”
All of the interviews show the cops checking on and praising each other after the shooting stopped. The delusions they were experiencing quickly turned to horror as the realization that Russell and Williams were unarmed, and that they were actually shooting at each other shocked them back to reality. That’s when Demchak called Follmer and was told to keep quiet. He was on his way.
At the interviews, the leading question of all leading questions was asked by the investigators. “Did you feel in fear of your life?” All said the cops said they “felt in fear of their lives.” When asked if they saw anyone violating deparatmental rules, all said no. Unloading 47 bullets into an unarmed man and woman was a good kill. Race, they said when asked, wasn’t an issue.
Hummel’s vantage point was different since he had had been the driver following Russell’s vehicle. He at first seemed to support the story line that cops pursuing Russell’s vehicle all believed he and Williams were pointing weapons at them. In his first statement he claimed that Williams pointed in their direction and Siefer thought she had a weapon. Hummel’s original version of the story and his Siefer’s were similar. But after East Cleveland Lt. Balli’s December 18 interview, Hummel was interviewed again and his story changed … significantly.
“I thought we had a confidential conversation,” he said when asked about his discussion with East Cleveland Lt. Balli.
Hummel’s second interview revealed that he and his partner, Siefer, knew Russell and Williams did not appear to be armed. He told the investigators that he could see Russell’s hands were firmly on the steering wheel. His partner knew Williams wasn’t pointing a weapon outside of any window, and that she was bouncing up and down in the car as cops claimed Russell “sped” away. Hummel told investigators that Williams had placed both her empty hands on the interior top of Russell’s vehicle.
Hummel said he knew it was problematic for police to accuse Russell of evading them because the car behind him was unmarked and being driven by a plain clothes vice detective. Policy, Hummel said, clearly dictated that marked vehicles had to be in the lead. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he wants legislation to stiffen the penalties for people evading the police. But Hummel’s interview suggests that Russell might not have even known the car behind him was being driven by a cop.
In his second interview Hummel attended without Follmer and Kinas. D’Angelo was present, a fact which establishes he now knows evidence through Hummel’s testimony exists that Follmer may have abused the limited authority of the CPPA president to obstruct BCI and East Cleveland’s criminal investigation.
More importantly, D’Angelo sat through both Hummel and Siefer’s interviews and heard the contrasts. According to the disciplinary rules he has a duty to report Follmer to the highest authority within an organization with the power to stop him. Since Follmer is a Cleveland police employee, D’Angelo should have already informed McGrath of his obstructive acts.
Evidence strongly suggests that Follmer should be interviewed and cops more intensely questioned about the allegations involving his obstructive role in the Attorney General’s criminal investigation. Follmer sat in the same room as the cops being questioned when all were asked by BCI and East Cleveland investigators if their statements had been “coerced.” There’s a school of thought that the police chief, not the union president, should have been in the room since the criminal investigation was a management issue and not one that involved the CPPA until and if disciplinary actions were taken against the police officers.
Siefer was only interviewed once with Follmer in attendance. It’s unsure if he knew Hummel had been forced to amend their “shared” earlier version of the story because of the call he’d made to Balli. Continued calls for a federal investigation by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge and the NAACP could result in Siefer being forced to reveal why two men in the same car have such radically different versions of the same set of facts. It should further lead to intense FBI questioning of Follmer and re-questioning of the police officers to validate whether or not the union president obstructed the homicide investigation.
Hummel said in his second interview that he didn’t think Brelo would fair well because he reloaded twice.
“I was just like wow. To reload twice, you know, do that just to … it’s adding,” Hummel said.
One of the key statements in Hummel’s interview exposes the idea that he didn’t think Russell or Williams were threats. As the driver of the vehicle who first picked up their trail that led to the pursuit, Hummel said he realized Russell had no where to run once he cornered himself behind Heritage. Since he believed the two weren’t armed, he got out of his vehicle to arrest them. That’s when the shooting started and Hummel said he dove for cover. He was not one of the shooters.
In his second statement Hummel said he knew his Cleveland co-workers had positioned themselves in a dangerous crossfire and that when the shooting started they were only shooting at each other.
“It was like Cowboys and Indians, ” Hummel told BCI investigators.
DeWine’s demeanor at the news conference revealed the tension that was inside him. He knew something was wrong and his decision to make all of the “law enforcement investigative documents” public showed it. Anyone with his law enforcement and prosecutorial experience could smell a cover-up. So he made the results of his findings public.
“We have completed our investigation, and typically at this point, I would turn over our report and all the information we have gathered to the county prosecutor,”DeWine said in a statement to the public through the media. “We normally would make nothing, at this point, public. However, there is nothing normal about this situation, and Prosecutor McGinty and I both feel strongly that this information must be made public immediately.”