CLEVELAND - Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo has been found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Protesters gathered in front of the The Justice Center in Cleveland at around 10 a.m. and began chanting as word spread of the judge's verdict.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell announced his decision in open court on Saturday.
Brelo was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could have face up to 22 years in prison.
"At the end of the day, that tragedy was brought about by conscious decision-making and lifestyles that those two individuals, irrespective of their mental states, voluntarily took throughout their adult lives," said Brelo's attorney Patrick D'Angelo immediately following the announcement.
"Although profoundly disappointed with today' verdict, I respect the legal process that we have followed here and we accept the judge's decision," said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty. "I urge everyone else, in Cleveland and elsewhere — especially those who shared our hope for a different outcome — to do the same. The rule of law so fundamental to our American society demands nothing less."
"I am convinced that this prosecution in this case will prevent future deaths of police and civilians in the future," McGinty added. "If we all listen to the powerful and indisputable lesson that the Heritage Middle School shootout has taught us, there will never have to be another Brelo trial. If we correct the failures that made this tragedy possible the city and its citizens do not have to suffer through another such fiasco."
O’Donnell could have brought lesser charges such as attempted voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault, but did not.
Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, led Cleveland Police on a 23-minute high-speed chase from downtown Cleveland to East Cleveland the evening of November 29, 2012.
The chase started when an officer at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center thought heard a gunshot come from Russell’s Chevy Malibu. Investigators later determined the car backfired.
As officers around the city heard radio reports involving an officer being fired upon, they joined the chase.
By the end, 62 Cleveland patrol cars were involved in the chase. It ended when officers blocked Russell and Williams in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland and then opened fire.
13 Cleveland police officers, including Brelo, fired a total of 137 bullets. Brelo fired 49 of the shots.
Brelo told BCI Investigators he had no recollection of being on the hood of the Russell’s car, but that he had shot at Russell and Williams because they were still moving and he believed they were armed and dangerous.
Russell was shot 23 times. Williams was shot 24 times.
Investigators later discovered the two suspects were unarmed.
Prosecutors have been arguing in court since April 6 that Brelo is responsible for firing the fatal shots that ultimately killed Russell and Williams.
Along with Brelo, five supervisors were criminally charged with two counts each of dereliction of duty. They include Sgt. Patricia Coleman, Sgt. Randolph Daley, Sgt. Michael Donegan, Sgt. Jason Edens and Lt. Paul Wilson.
In court, all five supervisors were called to the stand. All the supervisors invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A sixth officer, Michael Demchake, immediately stated he was told not to answer questions based on advice from his attorneys when he took the stand.
His response triggered an angry outburst by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
Ahead of the verdict, local leaders reached out to communities to urge peaceful protest no matter the outcome.
With recent police incidents sparking riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson laid out an anti-violence plan last week.
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