CLEVELAND (AP) – A nighttime car chase in Cleveland that ended on a schoolyard where more than 100 shots were fired at the suspect’s vehicle appeared to be over when an officer opened fire again, a prosecutor said in announcing charges against the patrolman and five police supervisors.
Cleveland patrol officer Michael Brelo stood on the hood of the suspect’s car and fired at least 15 shots through the windshield – five fatal – at the two unarmed people inside, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said Friday.
McGinty cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that said police can’t fire on suspects after a public safety threat has ended. He said the other officers on the scene had stopped firing after the November 2012 chase ended.
“This was now a stop-and-shoot – no longer a chase-and-shoot,” McGinty said in announcing two counts of manslaughter against Brelo. “The law does not allow for a stop-and-shoot.”
Driver Timothy Russell was shot 23 times. Passenger Malissa Williams was shot 24 times. No gun was found on them or in their vehicle. The chase had begun when an officer thought he heard a gunshot from a car speeding by the police and courts complex, jumped into his patrol car and radioed for help. Police don’t know why Russell didn’t stop.
Brelo fired a total of 49 shots. In all, 137 shots were fired at the schoolyard, authorities say. None of the other 12 officers who fired shots were indicted, McGinty said Friday. Five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase.
The killings have been decried as a racially motivated execution – both victims were black – and are part of a wide-ranging federal investigation, including into the police department’s use of deadly force and its pursuit policies.
The chase involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90 and eventually ended in East Cleveland. McGinty said the chase covered 20 miles over 23 minutes and reached speeds of 110 mph.
Safety director Michael McGrath said 104 of the 277 Cleveland officers on duty that night were involved at some point.
The police union has defended the officers’ actions and said the driver was trying to ram them. The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, which represents patrol officers, did not return repeated calls for comment Friday. The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the indicted supervisors, could not be reached.
Cleveland’s police department has been dealing with the fallout.
Police officials announced in March that the department will limit when and how long squad cars can chase suspects. The revamped policy was in the works before the deadly chase, but what happened did influence the new guidelines, Police Chief Calvin Williams said.
A review of the chase led to the discipline of 64 of the 104 officers involved in the chase for violations of department rules, McGrath said. Twelve supervisors were disciplined, including one who was fired and two who were demoted, McGrath said.
An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures during the chase. McGinty said investigating the chase was complicated by the fact that Cleveland cruisers don’t have video cameras.
The 43-year-old Russell had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Williams, 30, had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction.
The estates of Russell and Williams have sued the city, the mayor and police. The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, asks the court to order the city to make changes in police policies to prevent similar situations.
The supervisors indicted on misdemeanor dereliction of duty charges were: Lt. Paul Wilson, Sgt. Patricia Coleman, Sgt. Randolph Dailey, Sgt. Michael Donegan and Sgt. Jason Edens.
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