EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio - It was shortly after the Nov. 29 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams that East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton asked something of his law director and prosecutor.
He wanted to know if “any charges brought by East Cleveland would be appropriate."
The answer was delivered in a memo to the mayor this past March. The answer was yes.
The recommendation? Negligent homicide, which means the taking of a life through one’s negligence. In a nutshell, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor that could result in six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Other charges recommended include reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm.
“We want to handle this with care,” said Norton in a phone interview.
Russell and Williams were shot to death by 13 Cleveland police officers. The shooting incident began as a chase, which started near the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. It continued for about 23 minutes and ended in East Cleveland. Officers fired shots at the two suspects, believing they had fired a weapon at a police officer.
About 137 rounds would be let off by officers but an investigation done by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation found that neither Russell nor Williams had a gun.
“[If we file], these charges would be heard in East Cleveland Municipal Court. The defendants would be entitled to due process so they could choose a jury trial or a bench trial,” Norton said.
Norton said he didn't want to leave it to up Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty to bring the case before a grand jury.
“We really believe the incident that occurred should be looked at by a community. We need to know as a community was that action permissible under law,” Norton said.
“The only way to answer that question … is to introduce it in a court of law someplace,” he continued.
Norton said he believes the relationship between Cleveland and East Cleveland is solid.
“I think those relationships are good now and I think they will be good into the future because we are not talking about an action between two cities, we are talking about individuals who are part of a law enforcement community,” Norton said while taking a break from playing with his kids.
The thought of bringing these charges forward now are unlikely, the mayor said.
The main reason for that? Double jeopardy.
“If these officers are tried for one set of offenses and then there are additional charges levied at some point later on we don’t want a conflict between misdemeanors and felonies.”
“I think the [Cuyahoga] prosecutor is a man of integrity. If he believes charges should be filed he will put it before the grand jury. So I don’t think the prosecutor would soft ball this in anyway,” Norton said.
Norton’s memo only deals with the officers involved in the shooting, not the officers that were involved with the chase that lead into his city.