One year after a high-speed Cleveland police chase, questions remain about how the chase ended with a shootout that left two unarmed people dead.
CLEVELAND - A Cleveland police officer's text messages shine a new light on the chase turned fatal shooting on Nov. 29.
As we continue to sift through the hundreds of documents the Ohio Attorney General's Office released, we came across one officer's interview, who we will identify as *John, and text messages John sent following the fatal shooting.
In the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation report, John said he was lead car for most of the pursuit until he said unmarked vehicles ended up in front of him and the suspect's vehicle, something against police policy.
John also noted hearing Timothy Russell's car backfire multiple times and that his partner had broadcast that Russell's car "had blown a tire," but that Russell continued to drive on.
John described Russell as "steadfast" in his driving and focused. At some point, John noticed Russell had a passenger, later identified as Malissa Williams, and that she had turned completely around in the seat. "I thought they were pointing a gun at us" with her "hands up towards the top of the car," John explained.
At the school parking lot of Heritage Middle School, where the chase ended, John said he saw (officer Y), but not his vehicle. Then John saw Russell's car "lurch forward" and heard the pop from (Officer Y's) gun.
After the deadly incident, John sent several text messages to officers where he is quoted in the report as texting:
- "They were going head on into the car in front of it. They (officers at the scene) shot a bunch of rounds inside the car through the windshield."
- Based on what John knew from radio traffic, observations and actions, he believed the suspects "did for sure have a gun at one point."
- In regard to describing the pursuit, John said it looked like "cowboys and Indians. Horses everywhere." John mentioned the vice cars were also present while noting policy states a marked car leads the pursuit and an unmarked car is to let a marked car pass it. In this case, the unmarked car ended up ahead and leading the chase.
- In a lengthy message, John said "some people have lied to protect themselves and it's gonna come out." When asked who was lying, John told investigators, he heard rumors that there were officers who were involved in the chase that did not report being in the chase and didn't put the chase in the duty logs. John didn't think it was right for an officer to have participated in the pursuit and not be held responsible for their actions afterward.
- John said he mentioned he had many concerns about that night and was told by the police union to "keep my mouth shut" until he was interviewed.
- Another text message said "(officer X) is not gonna fair well in my opinion." John continued "deadly force is deadly force. If you use one or if you use 50, you shoot to kill somebody. I was like wow..."
At the end of the interview, John was asked from his position or viewpoint, did Russell's car go towards (officer Y)? From John's vantage point, he said he saw Russell's car head "straight towards (officer Y)" and that it "was no shock" to him that (officer Y) fired his weapon.
A police officer not involved in the chase said it doesn't matter how many shots were fired, rather was the first shot justified?
In all, 13 officers fired 137 rounds at and into Russell and Williams, killing both following a 22 minute chase that began at the Justice Center in Cleveland and ended in East Cleveland.
City officials and CPD's police chief are currently conducting their own administrative review to see if any policies were not properly followed. If officer's weren't in compliance to the rules, they will face consequences, officials have said.
*NewsChannel5 has decided not to name the officer in this interview or the officer's whose names were mentioned.
DeWine's office posted all of the documents related to this case online, which includes interview transcripts, diagrams and other information gathered during the investigation. Check out the files here: http://on.wews.com/XlTz5z
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