Even though a judge said a Cleveland cop put his own life danger when he hopped on a car and fired 15 shots at two unarmed suspects who had led cops on a long pursuit, the judge found him not guilty, clearing officer Michael Brelo after a four-week trial.
It took more than an hour for Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell to explain his verdict, at times insinuating he might find the cop guilty, at times leaning the other way.
But in the end, he sided with the cop’s story as the courts normally do, saying he acted reasonably for a cop.
Brelo opted to have a trial by judge instead of a trial by jury because many residents were outraged by the shooting that involved 60 police cars chasing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams for more than 20 miles.
Judge O’Donnell based his verdict on the belief that there was no way to prove Brelo’s shots were the only ones that killed the two suspects because a total of 137 shots were fired by all police in 2012.
According to the Cleveland Plains-Dealer:
Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell said that while Brelo did fire lethal shots at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, other officers did as well.
O’Donnell also concluded that Brelo was not guilty of the lesser included offense of felonious assault because he was legally justified in his use of deadly force.
Brelo, 31, was one of more than 100 police officers to participate in a 22-minute police chase, and one of 13 who shot at a 1979 Chevy Malibu. The shooting ended in the deaths of the driver, Russell and the passenger, Williams.
Prosecutors argued throughout Brelo’s month-long trial that when other officers stopped firing, Brelo jumped onto the Malibu’s hood and shot straight down at Russell and Williams. Those actions, they argued, were unreasonable and went well past his duties as a police officer.
But defense attorneys said Brelo had reason to fear for his life, and was justified in his use of deadly force because he and other officers believed that Russell and Williams had a gun and had fired shots. They also argued that if the 12 other police officers who fired shots were justified in their use of force, so was Brelo.
Cleveland police said they were in fear for their lives because the suspects’ car had backfired, making them all think that they had fired at them.
Protesters are crowding around the courthouse, chanting “no justice, no peace.” Police in riot gear are also at the scene, so this is far from over.
UPDATE: Read the full verdict here.
Below are videos of closing arguments from both the defense attorney and prosecutor.
Come back later for more details as this is a developing story.