At this point, I just want to know what it would take for a cop to found guilty of ANY violence-related charge in a court of law. Not only was Officer Michael Brelo acquitted of manslaughter, but also the lesser charge of felonious assault. Do you think he was he justified in his actions?
What led to the deaths of Russell and Williams, prosecutors said, was a chase that began when a car driven by Russell backfired — a noise that 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.
Brelo and 12 other officers fired more than 100 times in eight seconds at the car, after which, according to prosecutors, the pair could no longer be a threat.
But Brelo exited his car, got on top of Williams’ car’s hood and “fired at least 15 shots … downward through the windshield into the victims at close range as he stood on the hood of Mr. Russell’s car,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGlinty said.
Judge John P. O’Donnell, who rendered Saturday’s verdict himself after a multiweek, nonjury trial, spelled out the reasons for his 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 killings of Russell and Williams were among several police incidents spurring an outcry in Cleveland. This incident happened two years before an officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice — and was one of the cases highlighted in a 2014 Department of Justice report that found that Cleveland police had a pattern of using excessive force.
Brelo’s lawyer celebrated O’Donnell’s decision and the efforts that led up to it. He portrayed the case as a “David vs. Goliath” fight, with his client being the underdog.
“The prosecution in this case spared no expense and was, in fact, ruthless,” attorney Patrick D’Angelo told reporters. “But notwithstanding that, we fought tooth and nail, as you saw in this courtroom.”