CLEVELAND – An Ohio cop on trial for killing an unarmed black couple after he and fellow officers fired 137 shots into their car was found not guilty of voluntarily manslaughter by an Ohio judge on Saturday.
Michael Brelo, 31, and 12 other officers unleashed a hail of bullets into the couple’s car during a high-speed chase in November 2012, killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Russell and Williams were each shot at least 20 times apiece. At one point during the hail of bullets at the car, Brelo reloaded his gun, climbed atop of the suspects car and fired 15 more rounds into the windshield.
No weapon was ever found in the car nor on the dead couple’s bodies, making it hard to justify why the officers firing 137 shots into the car.
Prosecutors said Brelo reloaded his gun after they were no longer a threat, mounted the car’s hood and fired 15 rounds into the windshield. In total, Brelo fired 49 shots by himself, Time magazine reported.
Brelo wept as the long judge’s ruling was read Saturday and at times crossed himself and held his head in his hands. After being declared not guilty, he hugged his attorneys in the crowded courtroom. The verdict capped a four-week trial that ended on May 5.
Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were each shot more than 20 times in less than eight seconds. The chase began after officers in a patrol car mistook the sound of the couple’s car backfiring for gun shots on Nov. 29, 2012. More than 60 squad cars chased the man and woman for about 20 miles.
About 30 demonstrators stood outside the Cleveland courthouse chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as the hour-long verdict was read, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported. Sheriff’s deputies with riot shields flanked the building. Steve Loomis of the Cleveland police union said he hoped residents would respect the ruling.
Five other officers await trail on dereliction of duty and are awaiting trial.
The controversial shooting is one of several noted in a 2014 U.S. Justice Department report that showed the Cleveland Police Department has pattern of using excessive force.
“The officers, who were firing on the car from all sides, reported believing that they were being fired at by the suspects. It now appears that those shots were being fired by fellow officers,” the report said of the fusillade of bullets.