CLEVELAND - The family of Timothy Russell, one of two people shot dead by Cleveland police following a high-speed chase Thursday, is speaking out about the incident for the first time.
"Our family is deeply grieving the loss of Tim," said sister Michelle Russell, reading from a prepared statement. "Tim was a man of faith. He was not a violent man and he didn't own a gun."
Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were chased by police Thursday night in an incident that ended in East Cleveland with both dead. Authorities, along with Russell's family, are asking why dozens of rounds were fired at the pair, and are calling for multiple investigations.
"We know that Tim was being chased, but we don't know any details. He was unarmed and executed by police. Tim didn't deserve to be killed," Michelle said. "One hundred thirty seven rounds can't be justified. This must be fully investigated by federal authorities."
When the family heard of the tragic news, they were devastated.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought whoever was in the car with him had to be the one shooting. My brother couldn't have done anything like that," Michelle said.
"It should've played out in the justice system and it didn't get that opportunity. It's too late for that. He's dead, gone," explained Tim's father, Dave Russell.
"We want to see Chief McGrath follow through with getting civil rights and the FBI involved," Paul Cristallo, the family's attorney said. "It will benefit the family and police to get an outside, federal investigation in conjunction with local authorities."
The Russells also want an apology from Cleveland's police union, saying the union calling officers in this incident "heroes" is "wrong."
The family has a lot of questions they want answers to:
- was the excessive force within the police department's guidelines?
- were the number of shots fired justified?
- why was the pursuit outside of policies and procedures?
- where were CPD supervisors and why did this happen?
"Use of force. You sit back and say how do you fire 137 shots at two unarmed people at a car?" Cristallo said.
At an earlier news conference, with Mayor Frank Jackson and Cleveland's police chief, they said 12 officers involved were white and one was Hispanic. But the family isn't jumping to say race was a factor.
"We don't know if race played a part in this at all. Again, all the more reason why the FBI should be doing an investigation. When you have people executed in this fashion, you need outside sources to come in," explained Cristallo. He's pushing for that saying East Cleveland is "underfunded and has a history of problems and troubles."
The family has not filed any civil action at this point.
"We're encouraged that the chief has indicated willingness to bring a federal agency in to determine what happened," said Cristallo. "We will accept the truth provided there's evidence to support it."
"My brother wasn't a bad person. He had such a big heart," Michelle said. When asked about her brother's criminal background, she said, "everyone has a past."
While Cleveland police maintain they heard a "loud noise" possibly a gunshot outside the Justice Center on Thursday, the Russell family said maybe it was a car noise they heard instead. Timothy was given a car from his brother four days before the incident happened. The family said it had a bad muffler but was unsure of any other problems, if any.
The Russells didn't know Malissa, who police said was homeless and living at a shelter, they haven't spoken to any of her family members or friends and have no idea where the two would have met.
"People of all faiths, please pray for our family. Please pray for Malissa's family. We know that God will write all wrongs," Michelle said crying. "We also want to thank everyone who has offered condolences."
Timothy's brother Dave Russell Jr. was the last person to see him alive, shortly before the high-speed chase began Thursday. Timothy leaves behind a teen son.
A vigil to honor Timothy's life and Malissa's is set for 4 p.m. and the Russell family said they will be there.
"When I was young, I ran from the police a couple times," said Timothy's father, Dave Russell. "They should've been burying me instead of (my son). I taught him how to work. I ain't never had to get him out of an ordeal. I miss him is all I can say."
The Russell family hasn't given up on police and said they still trust them.
"Maybe this was out of anger, I don't know," said Michelle. "You need your justice department at any given time. Just because someone did something wrong, doesn't make them all bad."
Funeral services for Timothy will be held Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Sanctuary of Praise, 8788 Hadden Rd. in Twinsburg. The service begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Timothy was a 1988 graduate of Twinsburg High School and was interested in getting into ministry.