East Cleveland Court Can Hear Dereliction-of-Duty Cases Against Five Cleveland Police Supervisors
East Cleveland Municipal Court may decide whether it has jurisdiction to try five Cleveland Police Department supervisors charged with dereliction of duty in the aftermath of a 2012 pursuit that left two people dead when police fired 137 bullets at the suspects, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
The Supreme Court lifted a writ of prohibition granted by the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which prevented East Cleveland Municipal Court Judge William L. Dawson from hearing the misdemeanor charges against the five officers. In a unanimous per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court rejected the officers’ argument that the municipal court “patently and unambiguously lacked jurisdiction” to hear the case under the “jurisdictional-priority rule” because Cuyahoga County prosecutors first filed the same charges in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The officers claimed that even though the prosecutors dismissed the charges in common pleas court, starting the charges in that court meant no other court had jurisdiction to hear the claims.
Pursuit Ended in East Cleveland
On Nov. 29, 2012, police pursued a car through Cleveland into East Cleveland, and 13 Cleveland police officers fired 137 bullets at the car resulting in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
In May 2014, a Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted police supervisors Randolph Dailey, Patricia Coleman, Michael Donegan, Jason Edens, and Paul Wilson each on two counts of misdemeanor dereliction of duty under R.C. 2921.44(E). The common pleas court scheduled a July 2015 trial, and at a June 2015 pretrial hearing, the county prosecutor’s office notified the court that East Cleveland intended to file identical charges against the five officers in municipal court. The common pleas court responded that it was retaining jurisdiction and starting the trial in July, regardless of the municipal court filing.
Days later, charges were filed in East Cleveland, and Judge Dawson ordered the officers to appear for an arraignment.
Officers Seeks to Block Municipal Court
Two days before the arraignment, the officers sought the writ of prohibition in the Eighth District Court of Appeals, arguing that the jurisdictional-priority rule prevented Judge Dawson from having authority to hear the case. Citing the Supreme Court’s 1968 State ex rel. Coss v. Hoddinott decision, the Court’s opinion explained the jurisdictional-priority rule provides that if two courts each have jurisdiction over a matter, the court in which jurisdiction was first invoked handles the entire matter.
The Eighth District sided with the officers and found Judge Dawson did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. On the day the East Cleveland arraignment was scheduled, prosecutors asked the common pleas court to dismiss the case, which it did, finding that the filing of duplicate charges in municipal court justified dismissal. The county prosecutor and East Cleveland requested the Eighth District not block Judge Dawson, arguing that even if the priority rule had applied, it no longer applied because the common pleas court charges were dismissed.
The Eighth District granted the writ in April 2016, and the prosecutor and city appealed to the Supreme Court.
Writs Granted in Limited Cases
The Court explained that writs of prohibition are granted in limited circumstances to those who can demonstrate they do not have “an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.” The opinion explained that typically when the jurisdiction of a court is challenged, the party challenging it must wait for the court to rule on the matter, then appeal the ruling. There is an exception when a court patently and unambiguously lacks jurisdiction, and a writ of prohibition is granted to prevent a court from proceeding, the opinion noted.
The officers argued allowing both the common pleas court and the municipal court to have jurisdiction means that they could face convictions and punishments in both courts for the identical charges. Because that would violate their rights, only one court can have jurisdiction, and it would be the court that first invoked, which was the common pleas court. They argued the second court, the municipal court, could not have jurisdiction.
The prosecutors and city maintain that the rule falls to the side when action is pending in only one court, and they argue that is what the Supreme Court stated in its Coss decision.
In its opinion, the Court noted, “as in Coss, no second prosecution is threatened here. The original charges have been dismissed, and only the municipal court charges remain.” However, the Court did not expressly decide whether the jurisdictional-priority rule applies in the officers’ case.
Officers Can Appeal Judge’s Decision
The Court declined to prohibit Judge Dawson from exercising jurisdiction over this case, a misdemeanor committed within the boundaries of East Cleveland. The Court concluded that if the officers disagree with his actions, they can move to dismiss the charges brought against them, and if they lose, they can appeal the judge’s decision.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
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