NewsChannel5 Investigators have learned the City of Cleveland has hired an outside law firm to represent the city and 13 officers named in a federal lawsuit filed by the family members of the victims of the deadly Nov. 2012 police chase and shooting.
CLEVELAND - NewsChannel5 investigators combed through interviews conducted with the 13 officers who fired 137 rounds during the deadly Nov. 29 Cleveland police chase and shooting.
The interviews revealed why officers opened fire on Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, outside Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland -- killing both.
During a news conference Tuesday morning, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said patrol officer Wilfredo Diaz was the first officer who fired shots at the scene. During his interview, Diaz said the suspect's car was driving toward the school's parking lot and he believed he would "get hit by a car or hit by a bullet."
Diaz became emotional during the interview, saying his wife was pregnant with a baby girl. He explained as the suspects sped towards him, he feared he would die before his daughter was born.
According to the reports, patrol officer Scott Sistek arrived at the scene shortly after Diaz fired four shots at the suspect's car.
Sistek told investigators the suspect's car was "coming right at him" as he exited his patrol cruiser. He began firing shots and hit the ground for cover. He also said the suspect's car smashed into the passenger side of his cruiser. Investigators say he fired 12 shots.
Patrol officer Michael Brelo told investigators he witnessed the suspect's car slam into Sistek's cruiser and believed the suspects were firing at officers.
Officer Brian Sabolik told investigators an officer, who they determined was Brelo, climbed onto the hood of the suspect's vehicle and continuously fired shots into their vehicle. Investigators said Brelo fired 49 rounds, far more than any of the other 12 officers who opened fire.
During his interview, Brelo broke down in tears. The former U.S. Marine told investigators, "even more than in Iraq...he'd never been more afraid in his life" while facing the suspects.
Other officers who fired shots also said they believed the suspects were shooting at them, but no gun was ever found in the suspect's vehicle or along the chase route and beyond.
However, during the 22 minute chase, officers heard radio traffic indicating the suspects were "armed and and dangerous and will shoot." When they arrived, officers reported hearing "shots fired" and the sound of gunfire.
Some officers, including patrol officer Cynthia Moore, who were able to see inside the suspect's vehicle, reported seeing the suspects "holding a weapon."
DeWine said "you can understand" how officers misinterpreted the situation. "They have a horribly tough job. They must make life and death decisions in a split second based on whatever information they have at that time."
The 13 officers who fired their weapon have been on desk duty since the shooting. A grand jury will decide if they will face charges.
Below are the names of the 13 officers who fired their gun during the Nov. 29 incident:
1. Patrol Officer WIlfredo Diaz #350 - Appointment Date: 11-03-08
2. Patrol Officer Michael Brelo #416 - Appointment Date: 10-15-07
3. Patrol Officer Cynthia Moore #1277 - Appointment Date: 10-15-07
4. Patrol Officer Michael Farley #409 - Appointment Date: 04-08-96
5. Patrol Officer Brian Sabolik #1021 - Appointment Date: 01-10-11
6. Patrol Officer Paul Box #2526 - Appointment Date: 08-19-96
7. Patrol Officer Randy Patrick #1580 - Appointment Date: 08-04-97
8. Patrol Officer Scott Sistek #1395 - Appointment Date: 02-25-08
9. Detective Michael Demchak #1621 - Appointment Date: 10-23-82
10.Detective Erin O'Donnell #1027 - Appointment Date: 09-28-98
11. Detective Christopher Ereg #767 - Appointment Date: 08-30-99
12. Detective Michael Rinkus #2182 - Appointment Date: 01-06-92
13. Detective William Salupo #1969 - Appointment Date: 02-17-98
Meanwhile, city officials are conducting their own administrative review of procedures. Mayor Frank Jackson and police chief Mike McGrath said any officer who didn't follow protocol will face consequences.
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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