Read time: 3 minutes

Cleveland Judge Acquits Officer Who Shot Unarmed Black Couple

Officer Brelo climbed onto the hood of the car and shot Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams again and again, but a judge didn't think he used excessive force.
Cleveland Judge Acquits Officer Who Shot Unarmed Black Couple
Image from: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

The moral of the story: If you're a cop that prosecutors dare to charge, go for trial by judge rather than jury so you'll be acquitted.

Officer Michael Brelo didn't just shoot once or twice in the heat of the moment. No, after a car chase and shootfest against unarmed occupants of the car, he climbed on the hood and shot them 15 more times, but a judge didn't see that as a problem.

A Cleveland police officer who climbed onto the hood of a car after a chase and fired repeatedly at its unarmed occupants in 2012 was acquitted of manslaughter on Saturday by an Ohio judge.

The trial of the officer, Michael Brelo, played out amid broader questions about how the police interact with African-Americans and the use force, in Cleveland and across the country.

Officer Brelo was one of several officers who shot at Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, during a chase through the Cleveland area on Nov. 29, 2012. The chase, which started in downtown Cleveland, began after reports of gunfire from the car; prosecutors said the noise may have been the car backfiring.

After the gunfire reports, over 100 officers pursued the car for more than 20 miles at speeds that reached 100 miles an hour. Police officers fired 137 rounds at the car after it was cornered, prosecutors have said, including 49 by Officer Brelo.

Other officers stopped firing after Mr. Russell’s Chevy Malibu was surrounded and came to a stop, but prosecutors said Officer Brelo had climbed onto the car’s hood and fired at least 15 rounds from close range. Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams, who were black, died of their wounds. Officer Brelo, 31, is white.

The judge did not view Brelo's actions as manslaughter.

Before rendering his verdict, Judge John P. O’Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court spoke from the bench about widespread tensions between the police and African-Americans, mentioning Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.

“In many American places, people are angry with, mistrustful and fearful of the police,” Judge O’Donnell said. “Citizens think the men and women sworn to protect and serve have violated that oath or never meant it in the first place.”


↓ Story continues below ↓

But he said he would not let those sentiments cloud his verdict and found that Officer Brelo had reasonably perceived a threat from the car. The decision to continue firing from the hood was protected by law, he ruled, clearing Officer Brelo of all charges. The shooting was “reasonable despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car, and he was mistaken about the gunshots,” Judge O’Donnell said.

“I reject the claim that 12 seconds after the shooting began, it was patently clear from the perspective of a reasonable police officer that the threat had been stopped,” Judge O’Donnell said, contrasting the prosecutors’ claims that the justifiable action ended when Officer Brelo climbed onto the hood.

Oh, how brave of him not to consider what it must have been like for that UNARMED couple to sit in their car while a cop executed him. What a big man he is.

Once again, the black community is reminded that their lives don't matter to the justice system in cities where they live. Justice seems to be for white people there.

I worry for Tamir Rice's family after this verdict.

Comments

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service (revised 3/17/2016) for information on our posting policy.