Dozens of protesters were arrested after a Cleveland, Ohio judge found Officer Michael Brelo, 31, not guilty of felony involuntary manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting deaths of Malissa Williams, 30, and Timothy Russell, 43, CNN reports.
As previously reported by NewsOne, Brelo was one of 13 officers who gave chase after Russell’s car backfiring was allegedly mistaken for a gunshot. A total of 137 shots were fired, with Brelo firing 49 of them. The last 15 bullets were fired at point-blank range through the windshield after Brelo hopped on the hood of the car when it came to a stop.
Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell decided that Brelo’s guilt could not be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” WKYC.com reports.
O’Donnell read the medical examiner’s findings in the court before issuing his verdict and determined Russell sustained fatal wounds to his head from shots fired to his right and said there was no evidence to support Brelo fired from that direction.
The judge also determined Brelo was “highly unlikely” to have caused fatal wounds to Russell’s chest.
Williams sustained fatal wounds to the chest, one to the abdomen and another to the head, but O’Donnell said it was undetermined which of the wounds were fatal and which ones were sustained after she had already died.
The judge said he believed the wound to Williams’ head was sustained prior to death and was the wound that resulted in her death.
He said Brelo did cause fatal wounds to Williams’s chest, but she sustained other fatal wounds from other officers and he could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt which ones were caused by Brelo.
O’Donnell said a manslaughter conviction requires proof beyond reasonable doubt that Brelo’s shot alone caused death or that it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
At least 71 people were arrested during overnight protests after the verdict was reached.
The family of Timothy Ray Russell released the following statement via The Advancement Project:
“We are deeply disappointed in Judge John P. O’Donnell’s ruling, which failed to administer justice on behalf of our beloved Tim and his friend, Malissa Williams. The judge began the explanation of his ruling by pointing to the countless instances across the nation where racialized policing has occurred and resulted in the untimely deaths of Black and Brown women, men and children. Even as Judge O’Donnell acknowledged the disproportionate killing of people of color, he failed to hold Officer Michael Brelo accountable for his reckless and cruel actions. Across this nation, we have witnessed countless acquittals and non-indictments where officers have walked free in the face of overwhelming evidence attesting to a disregard for human life, violations of police codes of conduct, racial profiling, excessive behavior and lethal force. Our hearts are heavy to see this all too familiar scene playing out once again.
“A hailstorm of more than 137 shots rained down on Tim and Malissa on November 29, 2012. No one deserves such a fate. Fleeing is not grounds for death. The exoneration of Officer Brelo speaks to a complete disregard for the extreme and unnecessary force meted out against some American citizens who happen to be Black and Brown. It also speaks to the refusal of some to acknowledge the dignity and value of these human lives. This issue was underlined in a December 2014 Department of Justice report on the Cleveland Police Department.
“Tim and Malissa were unarmed and they were afraid for their lives. Given the realities of racial profiling and prejudiced policing, they were fleeing to escape the very fate imposed upon them. Their tragic death serves as a painful reminder of a systemic culture of violence that we cannot, and should not, ignore.
“While Officer Brelo goes on vacation with his family, Tim and Malissa will never come home. We will never look at his face and behold his infectious smile. We no longer have the privilege of sharing with our brother the celebrations that come with summer, the delight in Memorial Weekend excursions. We cannot escape the tragedy of our loss even as we remain steadfast in a spirit of love and faith that God will see us through this painful moment.
“Tim was a beautiful human being with a deep love for others. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was an evangelist that carried his bible everywhere and enjoyed sharing his faith with others. The mischaracterization of Tim is also grievous as he was working diligently to overcome depression and addiction, struggles that have impacted millions of Americans. These realities didn’t mean that Tim was a criminal or complicit in his own death. His personal, and very human, struggles didn’t justify the execution that occurred that night.
“If Tim were alive, he would push for justice and accountability. He would urge us to remain vigilant and advocate on behalf of those who are unfairly criminalized because of the color of their skin or socio-economic status.
Read the entire statement at The Advancement Project.