A white policeman who fatally shot an unarmed black driver in a Cleveland suburb will not face charges.
A grand jury Tuesday declined to indict Euclid Police Officer Matthew Rhodes after hearing evidence from prosecutors with the Ohio attorney general’s office.
Authorities said Rhodes shot Luke Stewart, 23, several times after a struggle to gain control of a moving car in March. Rhodes was responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle in Euclid.
Sarah Gelsomino, one of the attorneys representing Stewart’s family, said the family was “extremely disappointed and upset” by the grand jury’s decision.
“They were really hoping for some justice from the criminal legal system and feel very disappointed that they didn’t get it,” Gelsomino said.
The decision comes as activists have been criticizing Euclid police for an arrest in which a white officer with a history of disciplinary issues was caught on video punching a black man more than a dozen times in an August traffic stop. Stewart’s shooting and the August arrest have inflamed racial tensions in Euclid, with activists interrupting a City Council meeting last week and confronting the mayor and police chief. Euclid is about 46% white and 54% black, according to the 2010 census, the most recent figures available.
Euclid Police Chief Scott Meyer asked for “peace” after the decision.
“We extend our deepest sympathy to all those affected by this terrible event,” Meyer said in a statement.
Neither Rhodes, his attorney nor Euclid police union President Dave Trend could be reached for comment.
Gelsomino criticized Euclid police for “failing to appropriately discipline and supervise their officers.” Though Gelsomino noted Rhodes did not have a disciplinary history, she criticized him for getting into Stewart’s car, a decision she called “a breathtaking display of recklessness and incompetence” that put the officer at risk.
On March 13, Rhodes was dispatched to investigate a car that had been idling with lights on just before 7 a.m., according to an investigative report released Tuesday by the state attorney general’s office. Another officer arrived before Rhodes and saw Stewart asleep behind the wheel with a suspected marijuana joint in the passenger’s seat.
As Rhodes approached the car, Stewart woke up, saw Rhodes, and started the car, Rhodes told investigators after the encounter as detailed in the report. Rhodes said he opened the passenger door and reached in to push Stewart out of the car while the other officer tried to pull Steward out from the other side. Stewart put the car in drive and struck Rhodes’ police cruiser, and then backed up as Rhodes’ legs were still hanging out of the passenger door, Rhodes said. As Stewart maneuvered around the cruiser and started to drive down the street, Rhodes said he jumped into the vehicle to avoid getting hurt.
Rhodes told investigators he struggled with Stewart to gain control of the car, punching him, shocking him with a stun gun and then smacking him with the stun gun. Rhodes said he shot and killed Stewart because he was worried Stewart would crash the car.
“My thought was I am going through this windshield and I am going to die,” Rhodes told investigators. “If that didn’t kill me, he probably would have then ran me over.”
Witnesses and physical evidence at the scene corroborated Rhodes’ account, the report said. Stewart’s blood and urine tested positive for opiates, marijuana, cocaine and alcohol, according to an autopsy report.
Euclid police put Rhodes back on duty in March after placing him on paid leave after the shooting. The criminal investigation is now closed, though Rhodes could still face further discipline from Euclid police.