The Washington Post reports that Cleveland officer, Michael Brelo was acquitted on Saturday afternoon for his role in the 2012 fatal shooting of two unarmed people after officers mistook the sounds of their car backfiring as gunshots.
A judge found Brelo not guilty on two counts of felony manslaughter in the deaths of 43-year-old Timothy Russell and 30-year-old Malissa Williams. The pair was killed on November 29, 2012 after leading police on a chase across Cleveland.
After a four-week trial, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P.O’Donnell stated:
“The state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Michael Brelo knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, because the essential element of causation was not proved for both counts.”
Prosecutors stated Brelo, a seven-year veteran, was the sole officer who continued to shoot after the threat was over during the incident. He climbed on the hood of the Malibu Russell and Williams were riding in and shot 15 rounds into the windshield striking Russell who was driving and Williams in the passenger seat. This occurred after 13 officers had already opened fire shooting at least 137 rounds into the vehicle.
After the verdict was announced Saturday, the family of Timothy Ray Russell released the following statement:
Cleveland –Today, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell found Officer Michael Brelo not guilty of felony involuntary manslaughter in the killing deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Williams and Russell were killed in November 2012 after Cleveland police officers unleashed 137 gunshots into the couple’s car following a police pursuit. The family of Timothy Ray Russell released the following statement in response:
“We are deeply disappointed in Judge John P. O’Donnell’s ruling, which failed to administer justice on behalf of our beloved Tim and his friend, Malissa Williams. The judge began the explanation of his ruling by pointing to the countless instances across the nation where racialized policing has occurred and resulted in the untimely deaths of Black and Brown women, men and children. Even as Judge O’Donnell acknowledged the disproportionate killing of people of color, he failed to hold Officer Michael Brelo accountable for his reckless and cruel actions. Across this nation, we have witnessed countless acquittals and non-indictments where officers have walked free in the face of overwhelming evidence attesting to a disregard for human life, violations of police codes of conduct, racial profiling, excessive behavior and lethal force. Our hearts are heavy to see this all too familiar scene playing out once again.
“A hailstorm of more than 137 shots rained down on Tim and Malissa on November 29, 2012. No one deserves such a fate. Fleeing is not grounds for death. The exoneration of Officer Brelo speaks to a complete disregard for the extreme and unnecessary force meted out against some American citizens who happen to be Black and Brown. It also speaks to the refusal of some to acknowledge the dignity and value of these human lives. This issue was underlined in a December 2014 Department of Justice report on the Cleveland Police Department.
“Tim and Malissa were unarmed and they were afraid for their lives. Given the realities of racial profiling and prejudiced policing, they were fleeing to escape the very fate imposed upon them. Their tragic death serves as a painful reminder of a systemic culture of violence that we cannot, and should not, ignore.
“While Officer Brelo goes on vacation with his family, Tim and Malissa will never come home. We will never look at his face and behold his infectious smile. We no longer have the privilege of sharing with our brother the celebrations that come with summer, the delight in Memorial Weekend excursions. We cannot escape the tragedy of our loss even as we remain steadfast in a spirit of love and faith that God will see us through this painful moment.
“Tim was a beautiful human being with a deep love for others. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was an evangelist that carried his bible everywhere and enjoyed sharing his faith with others. The mischaracterization of Tim is also grievous as he was working diligently to overcome depression and addiction, struggles that have impacted millions of Americans. These realities didn’t mean that Tim was a criminal or complicit in his own death. His personal, and very human, struggles didn’t justify the execution that occurred that night.
“If Tim were alive, he would push for justice and accountability. He would urge us to remain vigilant and advocate on behalf of those who are unfairly criminalized because of the color of their skin or socio-economic status.
“In Tim’s honor, our family will continue pushing for justice even as we begin our journey of putting our lives back together. As we move forward, we know that we are not the only ones that need to progress. The City of Cleveland has a moral responsibility to improve as well. To that end, we call on Mayor Jackson and the City to:
Mandate cultural and racial sensitivity training and education for all officers,
Improve hiring standards for Cleveland Police officers. Utilize a vetting system that includes police employment background, mental health and stability checks,
Mandate officers live in the city where they serve,
Ensure legislation is passed to hold accountable officers who indiscriminately discharge their weapons without any measure to avoid murder,
Train officers to use alternative measures to prevent excessive/lethal force,
Work collaboratively with the Department of Justice and ensure their December 2014 report is followed by action and real change, and
Ensure peaceful policing and improved community relations.
“While our family calls for peace, it does not mean we cease calls for reform. We encourage everyone who values justice to stand up, speak out and demand change. Write or call your local councilperson, Police Chief Calvin D. Williams and Mayor Frank Jackson’s offices. Send letters to media affiliates, post blogs, attend rallies, marches and vigils. Whether you are Black or White, rich or poor– this is a human rights issue as much as it is a civil rights issue. Collectively, we can make a difference and turn this senseless tragedy into an opportunity for reform and improved relationships between police and communities of color.”
Protests took place in Cleveland last night as city leaders tried to keep crowds under control. Police updated social media saying they had made multiple arrests due to “unlawful behavior by a large crowd”.