**Updated: May 25, 2015
Cleveland Reaches Settlement With Justice Department Over Police Conduct
The United States is the country that made police chases, and the birth of NASCAR, with its role in bootlegging, and shootouts world famous (think Bonnie and Clyde,) starting in the 1940’s. Car chases are most abundant and famous in California probably due, mostly, to its geography and the way its police forces are set up, with a special highway police. I remember, police chases became a thing in DC with the advent of crack and the war on drugs and it quickly became a concern because the geography of the DC area did not lend itself to lengthy car chases or shootouts without innocent civilians getting caught in the cross-hairs. But I digress…
In hindsight, we know that Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell died for no reason other than their clunker of a car made noises that, to the police officers who killed them, were reminiscent of gun fire. We know that the pursuit was unauthorized. We also know that:
“Michael Brelo jumped on top of a 1979 Chevy Malibu with Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams inside. The car was wedged between two police cars. Thirteen police officers had already shot the pair more than 100 times. And then Brelo fired 15 more shots straight down at them through the Malibu’s windshield.”
Officer Brelo is the only officer, out of a grand total of 13, to stand trial. We know that 63 officers were suspended following this incident. We know that a judge ordered the city to rehire an officer who was fired and reinstate two supervisors who were demoted.
But what did Brelo stand trial for? As the curated news items below explain, a conviction in his case would have required proving that his 15 bullets, specifically, caused or directly contributed to the death of the occupants of the vehicle. Had only one or two officers been involved, this might not have been such a tall order. But when one considers that 13 officers and 149 bullets were fired at two bodies, then one begins to understand the futility of such charges and wonder about the prosecutor’s intent. It is a rare jurisdiction that has prosecutors who are willing to prosecute police. It is far too common for prosecutors to manipulate the process, either at the grand jury stage or at trial, so the outcome is an acquittal, and that is if the cases are even prosecuted. All too many are not, as is evident in the Brelo case, where only one out of 13 was charged with any crime.
Not unlike Ferguson, where the approach to the Grand Jury in the case of officer Wilson was questioned, the tactic in Cleveland was its minimalist opposite, considering all of the physical evidence at the prosecutor’s disposal and the possible number of players.
Why such a narrow prosecution? Why focus only on the shots that contributed to the couple’s deaths? Why was the extraordinarily shocking brutality of the officers’ conduct not put up for a jury to examine? How common are car chases that are this violently conducted in Cleveland? In the state of Ohio? In the entire tri-state area? Across the nation?
Bonnie and Clyde, who were notorious as dangerous criminals and in a completely different class, had 137 bullets fired upon them. In searching for more closely-matched precedents, I could find none – not in recent memory – that came even close. That is, I could find no others until I opened my search to include lynchings. As impossible as it would have been for a medical examiner to determine exactly the order in which bullets killed Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, it isn’t impossible to imagine that they most likely died or were mortally wounded after after the first three dozen or so bullets were fired from multiple directions.
The prosecution of Michael Brelo leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The first I asked myself is, in what jurisdiction in our United States is it constitutional to finish off a suspect, when it is an officer’s legal duty to render aid promptly after disabling and securing said suspect. So, just from that perspective, the charges filed against Brelo, and none of his fellow officers, makes absolutely no sense.
How likely is it that the couple was already deceased as Officer Brelo hopped onto Williams’ car, aimed down, then shot at the couple? If they were such a danger, was it even logical for Brelo, well-trained or not, to take even more of a risk by getting so much closer to such supposedly dangerous people? Remember, these officers all claimed that they proceeded as they did because they felt threatened by the couple. So, this final course of action makes no sense if Brelo had even a shred of a doubt the couple wasn’t already dead. It makes a lot of sense if, as was the custom in lynchings, the intent was to desecrate the Black bodies in that car.
It has been announced that the Department of Justice will be investigating the possibility of bringing charges against officers in this case. Quite frankly, if the last four years are any indication, the approach used has been a failure in even getting close to bringing a sense of justice to entire communities of aggrieved and traumatized African American citizens from Georgia to Florida, to North and South Carolina, Missouri, Maryland, New York and, now, Ohio. We are now in a rut where prosecutors intentionally foil Lady Justice and all the Department of Justice can offer as a substitute are civil rights investigations. It just isn’t good enough.
To pour salt on an open wound, “Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty says the shooting reinforces the need for more training and better supervision in the police department.” If that isn’t a slap in the face of justice, if it isn’t an insult to the community, I don’t know what is. There is no amount of training that will excise the instincts of these officers. They are tainted; damaged goods, unfit for office. While a judge did order the department to rehire and reinstate all these officers, the need for them to be removed from the proximity of the citizens of Cleveland has not lessened one iota.
Increasingly, it is becoming clear that certain police departments around the country should be taken over by the Feds as they are not fit to be autonomous.
The fallen Black bodies we hear about on the news, daily, are people. Each life worthy of preserving. None deserving of the reign of death we are increasingly under. We need decisive action from the executive branch. Enough with the investigations. It’s time for action.
Why the judge found Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo not guilty | cleveland.com
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo jumped on top of a 1979 Chevy Malibu with Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams inside. The car was wedged between two police cars. Thirteen police officers had already shot the pair more than 100 times. And then Brelo fired 15 more shots straight down at them through the Malibu’s windshield.
Given all that, many Clevelanders were hoping for, if not expecting, guilty verdicts on two counts of voluntary manslaughter for Brelo.
But Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell ruled that Brelo is not guilty of either count of voluntary manslaughter, nor is he guilty of the lesser included offense of felonious assault.
While some protesters took to the streets of Cleveland, Brelo cried tears of relief in the courtroom.
So how, exactly, did O’Donnell arrive at his conclusion?
It took him nearly an hour to meticulously explain his reasoning before a courtroom packed with the supporters of Brelo on one side, and the friends and family of Russell and Williams on the other.
He also released his 34-page verdict, which you can read for yourself below.
Here are the main points O’Donnell made when announcing his decision.
Why Brelo was not guilty of the voluntary manslaughter of Timothy Russell
Russell was shot 23 times. O’Donnell found that based on the testimony at trial, four of those shots were lethal. Those shots came from three different directions. Two were to the top of Russell’s head, but one was to the right side of his chest and another to the left side.
“It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that during that less than 8 seconds Russell was positioned, then repositioned, then repositioned again so that all four wounds came from the same gun in the same place,” O’Donnell said.
In other words, O’Donnell concluded that Brelo fired at least one of those shots, but could not have fired all four.
To prove voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors would have had to show beyond a reasonable doubt that “but for” Brelo’s actions, Russell and Williams would have lived.