It became evident that Cleveland police officer John Petkac had trouble controlling his temper back in 2018 when he arrested a man by grabbing him by his hair and dragging him on the ground before planting his boot against his neck as he lay on the ground with his hands over his head.
That incident which was recorded on his body camera was followed by another incident in 2019 in which he tasered and arrested a man who had been verbally taunting him rather than just ignore him which is what he should have done, according to an internal investigation. Videos of both incidents were released earlier this month.
But he didn’t get fired for those incidents until December 2020 and only because the city replaced the previous public safety director with a former prosecutor who vowed to crack down on problem cops.
Prior to Karrie Howard replacing Michael McGrath as public safety director in June 2020, the position that overseas the police department, Petkac had been named “Officer of the Month” for January 2020 for his “dedication to the community.”
McGrath retired after six years as public safety director after a federal investigative report accused him of being too lenient with problem cops. He was likely forced out.
According to MSN.com:
McGrath was often lenient in instances that called for more severe punishments involving officers who lied to or misled authorities, said the report by Hassan Aden, the monitor working with the city and the U.S. Justice Department in the court-ordered process.
The report, the first published review of discipline by Aden and his monitoring team, is among the most critical examinations issued against the department since the reform process began in 2015.
The span of cases involved only those in which discipline was handed down in the past two years, well after the reform process began.
The 101-page document detailed how McGrath doled out punishment, often with little explanation, to officers who committed some of the most severe offenses in the department in recent years.
Often, rulings were handed down weeks after disciplinary hearings and without providing any written rationale, the report said.
“Unless and until the city ensures that Cleveland Division of Police employees are fairly and consistently disciplined for serious violations of law and policy, the city will be unable to build an accountability system that generates fair treatment to officers and has legitimacy with the community,” the report said.
Howard, a former U.S. Attorney and county prosecutor, took over in June vowing to reform the police department that had been under federal consent decree since 2015 where reform was supposed to be taking place. The consent decree followed a federal investigation that concluded the department routinely “engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
”I hear all the voices of the Cleveland community,” Howard said upon being sworn in, according to WKYC. “I hear you calling out for change, reforms, and collaboration. I stand ready to listen, to learn, to serve, and to build bridges between public safety and the community we protect and serve.”
Two incidents that led to Petkac’s termination are included in the above video. In the first incident, he was chasing a domestic violence suspect on foot who hid in a garbage can on somebody’s property.
When Petkac opened the garbage can, the suspect, London Wilson, placed both hands up in an attempt to surrender but the cop grabbed him by his dreadlocks and yanked him out of the garbage can and dragged him on the ground.
He then points his gun at Wilson’s face while planting his foot on his neck. Then a scuffle ensues in which Petkac punches Wilson which is not captured on camera but it is acknowledged by both men after more cops arrived.
“Why are you punching me though?” Wilson asks which is when Petkac accuses him of trying to take his gun.
But Wilson denies that allegation.
Petkac also shoves Wilson to the ground after he was handcuffed, then slammed him against the patrol car which was noted in the termination letter which you can read below. Charges of domestic violence and obstruction were dismissed against Wilson who pleaded guilty to resisting arrest. Five cops that witnessed his actions that day were also suspended for not reporting him.
In the second incident, a man named Maurice Lewis is yelling at Petkac from down the street as the cop is making an arrest, only for the cop to tell him to leave the area and go back to a homeless shelter.
Lewis, instead, walks up to Petkac and stands before him as the cop threatens to taser him if he does not leave. Lewis does not leave but does not make any threatening move towards Petkac when he is tasered.
However, he was carrying a plastic jug of anti-freeze which made Petkac fear for his life. Penkac claimed he tried to de-escalate the interaction but the investigation determined he did the opposite.
According to Cleveland.com:
Petkac wrote in his report of the incident that he knew Lewis from previous incidents involving drug use and “violent behavior.” He wrote that he tried to de-escalate the situation but that Lewis walked up to him with two other men. The video showed two men standing behind Lewis, but they appeared to be watching the interaction.
Petkac wrote that he became fearful because Lewis appeared intoxicated and was “armed with a large yellow container” that turned out to be a jug of antifreeze. Petkac also wrote that Lewis raised the bottle “in a swinging manner” that made Petkac believe Lewis was about to attack him. Petkac’s report said that’s when he fired his stun gun.
The officer also wrote that Lewis continued resisting arrest after he handcuffed Lewis, but that didn’t happen.
A third incident from October 5, 2019 was mentioned in Petkac’s termination letter in which he tasered a man who was “passively resisting” but that video has not yet been released.
Although Petkac is no longer working for the Cleveland Police Department which hired him in 2014, he is still certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, allowing to find work in any other law enforcement agency in Ohio which is one reason why it is important to keep track of these cops as we are planning to do this year once we obtain the funding.
Read Petkac’s termination letter here. Read the federal investigative report that led to McGrath’s resignation.