CLEVELAND (AP) – Allowing a white police officer to have a judge decide his fate for his role in a 137-bullet shooting that killed two unarmed black suspects would be unfair because it excludes blacks from being jurors, prosecutors argued in a motion filed on Monday.
Attorneys for Michael Brelo on Sunday filed a motion asking for a bench trial for his two counts of voluntary manslaughter. Brelo, who was among more than a dozen officers, is accused of firing the final 15 rounds of that barrage into the windshield of a car after a high-speed chase in November 2012. The driver, Timothy Russell, and his passenger, Malissa Williams, were each shot more than 20 times.
Prosecutors said it would be an “injustice” to have a bench trial, noting that all 13 officers who fired into the car that night are white. Brelo was the only officer charged because prosecutors said he waited until after the car had stopped and Russell and Williams were no longer a threat to fire the last of his 49 rounds that night.
Excluding blacks from deciding Brelo’s charges “works against the interest of justice,” prosecutors said.
“There is nothing in Ohio law that would prohibit this court from declining Brelo’s jury waiver,” prosecutors wrote.
Brelo’s attorneys disagreed. Attorney Tom Shaughnessy told Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell that the state constitution guarantees a criminal defendant’s right to a bench trial “regardless of race or religion or standing in the community.”
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said after the hearing that Ohio law states that a judge may accept a defendant’s waiver of a jury but doesn’t have to.
“This is an attempt to end-run African-American participation in a trial about the death of two unarmed African Americans, and we don’t think Judge O’Donnell has to go along,” spokesman Joe Frolik said.
The judge said he would rule on prosecutors’ motion later this week. Brelo’s trial is scheduled to start April 6.
The judge ruled last week that one of Brelo’s attorneys, Patrick D’Angelo, should not be disqualified and removed from Brelo’s defense team. Prosecutors had argued that D’Angelo had a conflict of interest because, as attorney for a Cleveland police union, he represented 68 patrol officers and dispatchers who were interviewed by criminal investigators, including some who testified before a grand jury.
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