Cleveland Police Officer Receives Not Guilty Verdicts
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Judge John OâDonnell has found Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and lesser charges in the 2012 shooting of Timothy Russell and a passenger named Melissa Williams following a car chase. Officer Brelo fired 49 shots - the most of any officer who were in pursuit. In all, 13 police officers fired 137 shots during the incident. Joining us now from the court in Cleveland is reporter Nick Castele of member station WCPN. Nick, thanks for being with us.
NICK CASTELE, BYLINE: Of course. Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: A lot of attention, a lot of tension there in Cleveland over this case - remind us of what happened that day.
CASTELE: Sure. This case began in November of 2012. There was a car that passed by Clevelandâs police headquarters in downtown. Officers heard what they thought was a gunshot coming from the car, and they began to pursue. Twenty minutes later or so this chase ended in a middle school parking lot in a neighboring suburb at night. This car was cornered in the parking lot, began driving back toward officers, and thatâs when they opened fire, firing 137 gunshots. Michael Brelo, as you said, fired the most, including, he climbed on the hood of this car - it was a blue Chevy Malibu - after it had stopped and had fired shots down through the windshield as well. A subsequent investigation by the state attorney general determined that two people in the car, Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams, likely never had a gun at all because no gun had ever been found, and in fact their car had backfired, which was the source of the popping noises police heard. Officer Brelo was then indicted on two counts of manslaughter, and now his trial has just finished up.
SIMON: And Judge OâDonnell laid out has decision in great detail. What did he say he considered?
CASTELE: He said he considered a number of things. The first was he listened to quite a bit of testimony during the trial about the trajectories of the gunshots that hit these two people, Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams, and he considered whether the prosecution could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those shots were in fact fatal that Officer Michael Brelo fired. And in fact, he even considered whether the prosecution could prove that the shots that had hit the two people in the car were fired by Brelo himself and not by other officers. So that was the first thing that he considered. And he eventually ruled that the prosecution could not prove that those shots fired hit Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams fired by Brelo and were fatal.
The other thing that he considered was whether Officer Brelo was legally justified in firing at all. And the judge ruled that given the circumstances of the chase, given the officersâ perception that they had been fired at, and then given the crossfire situation where police believed they were in a shootout, that Officer Breloâs actions, according to the judge, were justified because he feared for his life and believed there was a threat.
SIMON: Nick, in the 30 seconds we have left, there must be concern in Cleveland over public reaction today.
CASTELE: Sure. And the mayor has been preparing the public for some time now for peaceful protests. Theyâve been working with community leaders to make sure that they have their ears to the ground and understand whatâs going on in Cleveland. And I should say itâs worth mentioning that to this point there have been other protests in Cleveland over police shootings and other deaths in custody. None of those have been violent. They have all been non-violent and peaceful, and thatâs what protesters there are preparing for today.
SIMON: Reporter Nick Castele of member station WCPN outside the courtroom in Cleveland, thanks very much for being with us.
CASTELE: Youâre welcome.
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