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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Cleveland, Ohio 04/10/1985

Officer Joe Paskvan drew and fired at a young man holding what he thought was a shotgun, and then the real nightmare began.

June 24, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

The shooting of Luciano was Paskvan's ninth shooting in the line of duty. The department found each shooting to be justified and no criminal charges were ever filed against him. By the luck of the draw, all of the suspects had been minority members. Paskvan hadn't picked them that way. It was just the way the racial lottery played out.

But others saw it differently. None more so than Luciano's family, who sued Paskvan for $21.8 million, claiming that Paskvan had violated Luciano's civil rights by shooting and killing him.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

To bolster their case, the plaintiffs relied on testimony of a few locals in the area, including one who claimed that she had been walking around the corner just before the shooting and arrived in time to see Paskvan cold-bloodedly shoot Luciano as he raised his hands in surrender. She made a point of mentioning that she remembered the time of the incident as she'd just heard the church bells toll before rounding the corner of the intersection.

This side detail was enough to impeach the witness's credibility: The church bells had gone off at noon and 6 p.m. for years. The shooting took place shortly after 7:30.

The coroner's office took it a step further, noting that the trajectory of the bullets fired into the decedent's body revealed an inconsistency with the man being in a position of volitional surrender. Moreover, the decedent's arms and upper torso's posture at the time of being shot were consistent with his pointing the weapon at the uniformed officers.

Paskvan won the lawsuit. But it was merely another battle in a long war that would next time find Paskvan the plaintiff and his department the defendant.

Languishing in the Gym

Immediately following the Luciano shooting, Paskvan was assigned to the department gymnasium for 90 days to "relieve stress." Ninety days passed and Paskvan remained in the gym, sitting, reading, and waiting. He attributes the numerous delays in his return to work to demonstrations by minority groups that specifically targeted him, biased media that pushed their own racial agendas, and the public officials who ignored the facts of the case and lobbied against him.

In April 1986, Howard Rudolph became chief of police for the department. Rudolph had previously investigated two of Paskvan's shootings and found that while Paskvan had not violated any department regulations, he had in Rudolph's opinion used poor judgment in both incidents. As a result, Rudolph ordered Paskvan to remain on the gym assignment and also declined his request to seek secondary employment outside of the department. Thus began a months-long cycle of arbitrations to regain his status.

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