A white Cleveland police officer who stood on a car and shot the vehicle’s two unarmed black occupants after other officers already riddled the car with over 100 bullets in 2012 was found not guilty Saturday in their deaths. The judge ruled his actions were constitutionally justified.
via NBC News:
Michael Brelo, 31, who is white, was charged with killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams — both of whom were black — after a car chase in November 2012. He rubbed his face and nodded his head as the judge read the verdict.
“Brelo reasonably perceived a threat,” Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said while he found beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo caused at least one fatal wound to Williams’ chest, he couldn’t determine that the other fatal shots came from his gun.
“One or two other officers inflicted” the others, O’Donnell said, and therefore, he couldn’t find Brelo guilty of Williams’ death.
Nonethless, he said, Brelo “ran afoul of the Constitution” when he got on top of the car, taking action that officers are not trained to do. Brelo could still face lesser charges.
The high-speed pursuit started after Russell’s 1979 Chevy Malibu backfired while driving past police headquarters. Officers thought the noise was a gun going off inside the car, and 13 cops responded by firing shots.
Brelo was the only officer to face criminal charges. Prosecutors say he waited until the car had stopped moving and no longer poised a threat to fire 15 rounds into the windshield while standing on the car hood, firing a total of 49 rounds.
Altogether, the officers fired 137 shots. Experts testified at the trial that Russell had 23 bullet wounds and Williams had 24, reported NBC affiliate WKYC.
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, an Iraq war Marine veteran who joined the Cleveland Police Department in 2007, ambushed them.
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.”
Malissa Williams’ brother, Alfredo, slammed D’Angelo, the verdict, and the police department.
“Why should I call the police to my house when I know they let police get off with murders?” he told WKYC.
“If he would have never gotten on the hood of the car, they would be living today,” he said. “The bullet came from the officer’s gun.”
Prayers go out to the Williams & Russell family.