CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland police suspended an officer for 30 days without pay for calling a Black man a racial slur as she drunkenly harassed employees of a pizzeria while off-duty.
Officer Jessica Ortiz served the suspension in July and August after Cleveland Safety Director Karrie Howard signed off on the decision. City officials released documents to cleveland.com Wednesday but did not provide videos that recorded the incident.
In her interview with investigators, Ortiz denied the accusations, but she eventually pleaded no contest to the internal charges during a June disciplinary hearing. Ortiz was hired as an officer in 2018 and works in the city’s Third District, which includes downtown Cleveland and parts of the near East Side.
The city’s Office of Professional Standards and Internal Affairs investigators conducted the investigation following a civilian complaint. The Civilian Police Review Board reviewed the case, sustained the accusations and sent the case to Howard.
Cleveland Police Patrolmen Association President Jeff Follmer did not return a call seeking comment on Ortiz’s behalf.
The incident happened April 30, 2018, at Nunzio’s pizzeria on Lorain Avenue. Ortiz, who was off-duty at the time, stumbled into the pizzeria to pick up an order, according to the disciplinary records.
Witnesses reported that she nearly fell several times. A group of employees in the parking lot saw Ortiz stumbling and fall. One employee helped Ortiz up, according to the records.
One of the employees pulled their car closer to watch her and called 911 because Ortiz appeared drunk and was driving, the records say.
Ortiz went inside, where she spat on the floor and argued with different employees. She got her pizza, took several steps and vomited inside the pizza box.
She walked outside, where employees saw her stumble around the parking lot, apparently forgetting where she parked her car, according to the records. Ortiz spotted the pizzeria employees sitting in their car.
Ortiz walked up to the car and asked the name of the man sitting in the passenger seat. He didn’t answer and told Ortiz to step away from the car. Ortiz responded: “I’m a cop. I can do whatever I want.”
Ortiz reached inside the car, inadvertently hit the woman’s nose, and called the man, who is Black, the slur.
“I can tell by your tattoos that you’re a little n—-r,” she continued. Ortiz told the group to get out of their car, but they refused and rolled up their windows.
Ortiz took off her jacket, punched the car window and ordered them to open the windows. She grabbed the door handle and tried to open the car as the group again called 911.
“These m———–s think I’m lying. I’ m a cop. I’ll do something. I’ll have the whole district down here,” Ortiz said, according to the files.
Ortiz’s friend got out of their car, grabbed her and convinced her to drive away. Ortiz sped off and ran a stoplight, nearly striking a utility pole, according to the records.
In a written statement three days after the incident, Ortiz said she got into an argument at the pick-up window, left her badge number and name and left.
In a recorded interview with investigators months later, she said the employee threatened to call the police. Ortiz responded by saying that she was a police officer and provided her badge number and name.
She told investigators she was not drunk and had only two beers that night. She denied using racial slurs and vomiting in the pizza box, according to the records.
Investigators showed her surveillance video of the incident and asked if the person in the video appeared intoxicated. Ortiz responded: “It may appear that way, but all I had was the two Coronas.”