An 18-year-old Cleveland man shot and killed by an East Cleveland police officer Tuesday morning was driving his girlfriend to work in a car a friend allowed him to drive as a favor, his stepmother told cleveland.com.
The family’s insistence that Vincent Belmonte drove a borrowed car runs counter to East Cleveland police’s initial report that says the officers tried to stop a car they say was stolen.
Body camera video released by East Cleveland identified the officer who shot Belmonte as Sgt. Larry McDonald, a police officer with a history of discipline issues currently on departmental probation for getting a woman released from jail in 2019 in exchange for a date.
The department placed McDonald on paid administrative leave while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigates the shooting, East Cleveland Police Chief Scott Gardner said.
When asked how police concluded that the Belmonte was in a stolen car, Gardner said the car was speeding down Euclid Avenue and responding officers told the dispatcher that “the vehicle was the same vehicle that had run from an officer on a previous occasion.”
“At some point, they are able to get the plate information and the plates did not match the vehicle,” Gardner said.
In response to the family’s claim that Belmonte borrowed the car, Gardner said, “I have no idea if the owner made a false report, but that would be hindsight from our officers thinking it was stolen. I am unaware of the owner of the vehicle had a relationship with the decedent.”
Belmonte spent his life working on his family’s 7-acre farm in Garrettsville, where he lived at the time of his death. Bullets struck him in the back of the neck, his shoulder and his head, according to Gardener and Belmonte’s stepmother Nickey Duckworth.
Belmonte’s father, who asked not to be identified over concerns for his safety, said the shooting left him in a state of panic. He said he’s visited the crime scene three times as he and other family members attempt to get some closure over his son’s death.
“He didn’t get the time he probably should have,” he said as he choked back tears. “Vincent was so gifted. He could read by the time he was 3. He was taking high school classes in the fourth grade.”
“I don’t understand why this happened,” his father said.
The shooting happened about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday on Allandale Avenue near the Apex Academy charter school. The initial police statement said that officers followed Belmonte because they said the same car had driven away from officers the day before.
Police followed him, and the car caught fire after it hit several objects police have still not identified. Police gave a short chase as Belmonte sped through side streets, Gardner said.
Belmonte, his girlfriend and another man got out of the car and ran. Belmonte ran behind houses and jumped over a fence to head to the school.
Officers told a dispatcher that he pulled out a gun, and they shot at him. Though videos obtained by cleveland.com do not show the actual shooting.
Duckworth said the car Belmonte drove belonged to a friend, and he borrowed it because his car would not start. She called rumors that her stepson — who has no criminal record available in public records — was involved in a robbery or a carjacking are disheartening.
“And it’s not like he hot-wired the car. He had the keys. (Police are) trying to say my son’s a carjacker,” Duckworth said. “And we’re not going to pretend like Black men don’t run from police. Why he ran from the police was because he was scared he was going to die. And guess what? His worse nightmare came to life, and he died. That’s why he ran. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t try to run that car into the police. He didn’t try to run over police. He ran away.”
Belmonte’s brother, Dejour Duckworth, said the police don’t care what they did to Belmonte.
“He knew what was going to happen after he got out of the car,” he said. “He feared for his life. I know my brother. Even if he did have his gun on him, we have a farm. We have firearms. There were really no bad intentions with what he was trying to do.”
Paramedics took Belmonte to University Hospitals, where he died.
“They (police) snatched a vital part out of our lives,” Nickey Duckworth said as she described her blended family of eight children. “We always teach about blended families and how to get along. We’ve taught our children how to properly release their anger. They’re farm people. He wouldn’t have shot (at the police).”
Advocates, pastors, family of Belmonte and public officials held a press conference Friday afternoon to demand the firing of McDonald and that changes in the police department’s policies be made.
Civil Rights Advocate Justin Anderson said during the press conference that McDonald has been a huge problem for the city. Anderson said he has begged East Cleveland Mayor Brandon King to terminate him.
“Instead the mayor promoted him,” Anderson said. “I’m not saying all officers are bad, there are a lot of good officers in this department. I and the community are fed up. We demand the termination of Officer Larry McDonald.”
He turned his body camera off, Anderson said. To him, that should be enough to terminate him, he added.
“Enough is enough” Anderson said. “We have waited long enough.”