On Saturday, a judge ruled Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo not guilty, he was charged with killing both Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both who are African Americans. According to Judge John O’Donnell says Brelo was cleared because he believed his life was in danger and therefore he is not guilty of crime. He was facing charges of voluntary manslaughter as a result of a 137-shot barrage following a high-speed car chase. He ruled that officer Michael Brelo acted within his constitutional rights three years ago when he killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
This concludes one of several police abuse cases stirring up anger throughout Cleveland. Emotions among people upset at the verdict ran high outside the Cleveland courtroom. Some held up signs and chanted “no justice, no peace,” words heard in recent months in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, where massive demonstrations sprung up after African-Americans died at the hands of white police officers.
Prosecutors claimed that the deaths of the two individuals were result of a chase that began after the car driven by Russell backfired and officers mistakenly thought was caused by gunshots in Cleveland on November 29, 2012. It turned out that neither Russell, 43, nor Williams, 30, were armed, but Russell led numerous police officers on a 22-mile chase — sometimes at speeds above 100 mph — before ramming a police car in a middle school parking lot in East Cleveland, police said.
NBC affiliate WKYC reported that the officers involved fired 137 shots and experts testified that Russell had 23 bullet wounds and Williams had 24. Brelo’s attorneys argued that it wasn’t possible to prove who fired the fatal shots, while prosecutors claimed that Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were still alive until Brelo ambushed them.
Brelo is a Iraq war Marine veteran who was facing a maximum of 22 years in prison. He is expected to remain on unpaid suspension while a police review continues investigating of him and the other officers involved. Brelo’s attorney, Pat D’Angelo, said on Saturday he was “elated” with the verdict. “We didn’t do anything illegal. We didn’t do anything wrong. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let any bully push us around,” he said. “We stood toe-to-toe with an oppressive government trying to put away a law-abiding citizen.”
County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the cause would create a ripple effect on the Cleveland Police Department and officers around the nation, despite the not guilty ruling by O’Donnell. “I am convinced that this prosecution and this case will prevent future deaths of police and civilians,” he said. “This case also points out that retraining is needed for returning combat veterans who serve in police departments.” Judge John P. O’Donnell’s verdict spelled out the reason for the not guilty decision.
- The officers’ first round of gunfire was permissible because they had reason to believe they and the public were at risk, in part because other officers told them the pair had weapons, that one of them had fired, because Russell led them on a chase for so long, and because of the ramming.
- Brelo’s second round was permissible because a reasonable police officer could decide that, even after the 100 shots, the threat might not have been over in part because the pair might still have been moving.
- Evidence shows Brelo’s gunfire caused at least one wound each to Russell and Williams that would have killed either of them. But they suffered other lethal wounds, probably from other officers’ guns.
- Since evidence doesn’t prove Brelo’s shots were the ones that killed the pair, he can’t be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
- Brelo also is not guilty of a lesser possible charge, felonious assault, because it wasn’t necessarily clear the threat was over.
The police department fired one supervisor, demoted two and suspended 72 officers in 2013 after a review panel determined they violated policies in connection with the 2012 chase and shooting. The suspensions ranged from one day to 30 days. The department still has yet to finalize punishments for the 13 officers involved in the shooting, including Brelo, because it was waiting for the court case to end, Police Chief Calvin Williams said.
Alfredo Williams, Malissa’s brother, told CNN that his family is “hurting” after the verdict was handed down. “I am tried of black folks dying,” he said. “Enough is enough.” He blamed the city of Cleveland for the acquittal, telling CNN that if the case had been tried in any other city in the country “that police officer would be in jail — we know it, they know it.”