The PJ Tatler

Riots in Cleveland? Police Officer Found Not Guilty in Shooting Deaths

Michael Brelo, Fernando Mack, Patrick D'Angelo Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled on Saturday that white Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo is not guilty of two charges of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of two black individuals after a police chase in November of 2012. O’Donnell, a Democrat who lost his election for a spot on the Ohio Supreme Court last year, ruled that although Brelo did fire lethal shots at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams other officers also fired fatal shots, so he could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo’s bullets — and no others — killed Williams and Russell. Police officers fired 137 rounds at the car, including 49 by Officer Brelo. O’Donnell, who spent nearly an hour methodically explaining his 35-page opinion, also found Brelo not guilty of the charge of felonious assault, ruling that Brelo’s decision to use force was “constitutionally reasonable,” despite the fact that there was no gun found in the vehicle. His “perceptions were objectively reasonable,” said O’Donnell, who found Brelo not guilty on all charges. The police chase that ended in the fatal shootings involved 62 police cruisers and 100 officers. More than 70 officers and supervisors were disciplined for their roles in the chase. Brelo was charged with voluntary manslaughter because prosecutors said his actions went beyond the use of reasonable force when he jumped onto the hood of Russell’s car and shot straight down at Russell and Williams, violating police protocols. The defense argued that Brelo feared for his life, believing that Russell and Williams had a gun and had fired shots. There has been much discussion in the Cleveland media in recent weeks about when the verdict would be released, anticipating that a not guilty verdict could spark potentially violent protests in the area. The city is also awaiting the results of the investigation into the shooting death of teenager Tamir Rice, who was shot by police after he was seen waving a pellet gun at a public park. Unlike the city of Ferguson, which released the results of the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting on a Monday night, just before dark, Cleveland chose a Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. on a holiday weekend when downtown is relatively empty to make this announcement. The Cavaliers, who are in the midst of a playoff run, have a home game tomorrow night and the Indians have afternoon games Saturday and Sunday, which the city certainly took into consideration when making this decision. The 4:10 p.m. Indians game is scheduled to go on as planned. The city seems to be preparing for the worst with the National Guard on standby. My husband works for a major employer in downtown Cleveland and we just received a call from the emergency response center informing us about the outcome of the trial and saying that for now, all offices remain open, but employees should be prepared for changes. In the 15 years my husband has been employed there, the only time I recall receiving a call through this system was when the company closed for extreme weather. One high school that had its prom planned at the Cleveland Convention Center has moved the event to another location. There are scattered protests around the city, and police have closed some roads near the Justice Center. The protests have thus far been peaceful, though larger crowds are beginning to gather and block roads in the area. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is black, said in a press conference this afternoon, “My expectation… was that it would be a very difficult, uphill battle to get a conviction.” Asked if he was disappointed in the verdict Jackson said, “I’m the mayor, so I will maintain mayoral posture regarding whether I’m disappointed or not.” Police Chief Calvin Williams, also black, announced that “Officer Brelo will remain on unpaid suspension from Cleveland police,” pending internal review. Jackson said, “We fully expect that people will express their dissatisfaction with the verdict.” Former state representative Nina Turner responded on Twitter, expressing her disappointment and calling for protests:   Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland) also weighed in:   Governor Kasich also released a statement on Twitter:  Others responded on Twitter:   Yes, predictably, DOJ is now involved in the case: