CLEVELAND (AP) — A Cleveland police officer has been acquitted in the shooting deaths of two unarmed people in a car following a high-speed chase.
Michael Brelo (BREE’-loh) could have faced up to 22 years in prison had the judge convicted him on two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH’-guh) County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell said he could not determine whether Brelo alone fired the fatal shots. The judge spent nearly an hour summarizing his decision before declaring Brelo not guilty.
Thirteen officers fired at the suspects’ car that night in a school parking lot. Yet only Brelo was charged criminally.
Prosecutors said he waited until the vehicle had stopped and the occupants were no longer a threat to step onto the hood and fire 15 rounds into the windshield.
The verdict follows a four-week bench trial on two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams on Nov. 29, 2012.
At least 30 protesters have gathered at the Cleveland courthouse. An equal number of sheriff’s deputies stood in front of the courthouse, holding clear shields, as the demonstrators chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”
The Justice Department says it will review the trial testimony and evidence to determine if “additional steps are available and appropriate” in the federal judicial system.
The lead attorney for the acquitted officer says prosecutors “were ruthless.” Patrick D’Angelo says Michael Brelo risked his life the night Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams led police on a long chase through city streets before dying in a barrage of police gunfire. He calls the case a “tragedy” that was brought about by the actions of the two people who were killed.
The head of the city’s police union says Brelo was held accountable through the indictment, trial and ultimate acquittal. Steve Loomis of Cleveland Patrolmen’s Association says he hopes the community respects the judge and the process.