An Ohio prosecutor has filed an appeal in the case of Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, accusing the judge who acquitted Officer Brelo of setting a dangerous precedent that would allow more cops to kill more citizens without worrying about legal consequences.
The court documents were posted online Friday by Cuyuhoga County Assistant Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who wrote that the legal precedent set by Judge John O’Donnell’s acquittal of Brelo in the killings of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell would “endanger the public.”
Officer Michael Brelo is the officer who stood on the hood of Russell’s car and fired 15 shots through the windshield after Brelo and other officers had already shot at Russell and Williams 122 times on Nov. 29, 2012.
The shooting took place after a 22-mile chase with over 100 Cleveland police officers and 60 policer cars – all because Russell’s car backfired while speeding past police headquarters.
An officer mistakenly reported that he thought he’d seen Williams with a gun, and the officers claimed that they had mistaken their own gunfire for shots from Russell’s car, which is as close to a plausible reason as the police could come up with for Brelo standing on the front of Russell’s car and firing those last 15 shots through the windshield.
“The law as stated in the verdict places no restraint on the tactics civilian police officers are to use, finding the use of any tactics to be justifiable so long as the officer perceives a subjective fear of his or her life,” McGinty wrote in his filing with the appeals court.
McGinty wants a higher court to overrule Judge O’Donnell, whose ruling could allow almost any police action in his jurisdiction to be justified as reasonable use of deadly force so long as the officer claims he “feared for his life.”
“The United States Constitution does not provide cover for those officers who abandon all cover and place themselves and other officers in danger, using deadly force not as a last resort but, like Brelo did, in a manner inconsistent with reason, inconsistent with training, and inconsistent with established federal law,” McGinty wrote.
McGinty also wrote that the judge mistakenly reasoned that the state must prove one person among the several who fired that day was the sole cause of the two deaths.
“As it stands, the trial court’s verdict will endanger the public, allow for one of multiple actors to escape culpability, and lead to more unnecessary deaths by police-created crossfire situations,” wrote McGinty. “This court must return the case with the corrections of law to the trial court with instructions to deliberate and reach a verdict with the correct application of the law and correct determination of lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter — attempted voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault.”
The appeal will have no bearing on the actual acquittal. It is merely an attempt to “correct the record.”
Brelo fired 49 of the 137 shots fired by police that day, reloading before he climbed on the hood, which was when he realized he was in fear for his life, and fired his final 15 shots at the unarmed couple.
But Judge O’Donnell acquitted him on the basis that there was no way of determining if those final shots were the ones that caused their death.