Six Officers Charged In Police Pursuit That Ended With 137 Shots Being Fired At Suspects In A Little Over 20 Seconds
from the 90-of-which-failed-to-find-their-targets dept
Late last year, we discussed an investigation of several Cleveland police officers after a high-speed pursuit involving over 60 squad cars and 100 officers culminated in officers unloading 137 bullets in the direction of the stopped vehicle -- 47 of which found homes in the two suspects, who were both killed. One officer -- Michael Brelo -- fired 49 rounds in a little over 20 seconds.
In all, the investigation by the state found that 64 officers violated orders, but none of these officers received anything longer than a 10-day suspension. Two supervisors were demoted and one was fired.
This whole debacle was set off by a couple of perception errors. Some officers thought they heard a gunshot and others thought an officer had been injured. This was all the "evidence" the officers needed to justify mounting a by-any-means-necessary takedown of the two suspects. 137 bullets later, the officers searched the vehicle, recovering exactly zero weapons, bullets or casings.
Nearly eight months later, a grand jury has returned charges against six of the officers. Five of the officers -- all supervisors -- are facing misdemeanor charges of dereliction of duty. Officer Brelo, the cop who single handedly delivered over a third of the 137 bullets, will be facing something more severe.
The Cuyahoga County Grand Jury today voted to indict Cleveland Police Patrol Officer Michael Brelo on two counts of Manslaughter for the killing of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams on November 29, 2012.The prosecutor's statement further details Brelo's actions.
Under Ohio Revised Code Section 2903.03, Manslaughter is a felony of the first degree, carrying a mandatory prison sentence of from three to 11 years.
After more than 100 shots were fired at Mr. Russell's car, it was trapped by police cruisers in a narrow lane and came to a full stop.You can see Brelo's "heroics" in the State Attorney General's computerized "reenactment," based on evidence gathered. Starting about the 1:00 mark, you can see Brelo move closer to the suspects' vehicle (and across a squad car, apparently), before finally standing directly on the hood and firing down through the suspects' windshield.
All officers at the scene saw fit to cease fire.
Then Officer Brelo started shooting again and fired at least 15 shots, including fatal shots, downward through the windshield into the victims at close range as he stood on the hood of Mr. Russell's car.
The state prosecutor notes that the Supreme Court recently upheld the right of police officers to use deadly (read [in most cases]: "excessive") force to end pursuits that possibly endanger officers or citizens. (More on that here.) But he points out that this situation was not one of those.
The law does not allow for a stop-and-shoot...The statement also calls out the dereliction of duty by police supervisors, who allowed a petty criminal to dictate the actions of a large percentage of Cleveland's police force that night, rather than seizing control of the situation themselves. The officers themselves aren't blameless, even those who didn't contribute to the hail of gunfire. Based on little more than a sound heard by a couple of officers (which may have been a backfire), dozens of cops bought into a narrative that armed and dangerous suspects were on the loose and may have (no one seemed to have been interested in confirming this) injured an officer.
Let's be clear what happened here:
The driver was fully stopped. Escape was no longer even a remote possibility. The flight was over. The public was no longer in danger because the car was surrounded by police cars and 23 police officers in a schoolyard safely removed from pedestrians and traffic.
The primary danger facing the police at this time was from themselves, if they continued to shoot at each other in the circular firing squad they had inadvertently formed.
After the ceasefire, Officer Brelo unleashed an unlawful, second barrage of shots.
The ultimate legal issue is whether the police officer was justified when he stood on the hood of Mr. Russell's car and emptied his clip into the occupants after the chance of flight was completely eliminated and they no longer presented a threat to the public's safety.
He was not.
The prosecutor notes the grand jury no-billed murder charges against Officer Brelo. Murder charges would be excessive, but manslaughter completely undersells Brelo's actions. After all, the vehicle was barricaded and every officer had ceased fire before he jumped up on the hood and ensured the two suspects were completely dead by unloading his weapon at point-blank range through the windshield.
Also noted by the prosecutor is the difficulty investigators had reconstructing the events, thanks to the Cleveland Police Department's lack of dashcams. Why these are still missing from its vehicles after decades of near-universal use by police departments nationwide is a true mystery, especially considering this fact:
The cost of investigating this shooting by the Attorney General, the Cleveland Police Department and the Grand Jury will exceed the cost of purchasing dash cams.There's no conceivable reason for any law enforcement agency to be lacking this equipment. The only reasons verge on inconceivable, most of which can be traced back to a reluctance to be held accountable.