Cleveland police officer found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects.
CLEVELAND, OHIO, UNITED STATES (MAY 23, 2015) (NBC) – A Cleveland police officer was found not guilty on Saturday (May 23) of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of a man and a woman who led police on a 25-minute high-speed chase in 2012.
Judge John O’Donnell announced the verdict in the case of Officer Michael Brelo, 31, who, if convicted, would have faced three to 11 years in prison for the fatal shooting of the two unarmed African-American suspects, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Brelo was also found not guilty of aggravated assault in the case.
The trial, which began on April 6, was held amid increased focus on the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers in various states across the country.
The two people who were killed, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, were black and Brelo, a former Marine, is white.
Experts testifying for Brelo said Williams and Russell died early in a barrage of gunfire and Brelo had acted reasonably in the belief that they were shooting at him and other officers.
Defense attorneys said ballistic experts could not determine who or how many officers fired the final shots.
Brelo’s’ Attorney Patrick D’Angelo told reporters he was pleased with the outcome of the verdict.
“We stood toe-to-toe with an oppressive government trying to coerce and put away a law-abiding citizen who did his job in this case, even though there were tragic circumstances and outcomes. And we fought, the four of us, against all odds, and I am so happy that we can walk out of this courtroom with out heads held high” he said just after the judge read the verdict.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim Mcginty said his team would continue to seek justice.
“This was a challenging case, no doubt, but I would not hesitate to do it again if the facts and the law demand it. I was proud of our efforts to seek justice in this case and we will continue to seek justice on behalf of the people.”
The chase, which started in downtown Cleveland after reports of gunfire coming from the car, went through multiple cities at speeds topping 90 mph and ended with 13 Cleveland police officers firing 137 rounds.
Russell was struck 24 times and Williams 23 times. No weapon was found in the car or along the route, and a forensic mechanic testified that the car, a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu, was prone to backfiring.
Five police supervisors were indicted on misdemeanor dereliction of duty charges and are scheduled to go on trial in July. Sixty-four officers were disciplined.
Cleveland paid the families of Williams and Russell $1.5 million each to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Brelo, who waived his right to a jury trial, could have faced between three and 11 years in prison if convicted.