Cleveland police officers indicted in large chase

MARK GILLISPIE
Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — Six officers in Cleveland’s troubled police department were indicted Friday in a November 2012 car chase that ended with two unarmed suspects dying in a hail of 137 shots, was decried as a racially motivated execution and is part of a wide-ranging federal investigation.

Patrol officer Michael Brelo has been charged with two counts of manslaughter, and five supervisors have been charged with dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said at a news conference Friday that the law dictated he not seek charges against the other 12 officers who fired shots that night.

“No one respects or admires the work of a dedicated professional police officer more than a prosecutor,” McGinty said. “They are heroes, but they, too, must answer to the law.”

Brelo fired a total of 49 shots, McGinty said. After the initial barrage, Brelo jumped on the hood of victims’ car, which by then was trapped by police cruisers, and fired 15 more shots, McGinty said. The prosecutor said that final volley caused fatal wounds.

“The driver was fully stopped. Escape was no longer even a remote possibility. The flight was over,” McGinty said.

He said investigators have established that the victims were unarmed.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this week made clear that officers are prohibited from firing on suspects after a threat to public safety has ended, McGinty said.

The five supervisors ignored departmental policies on chases, he said.

“They ignored their own training. They put the public at risk. They put the officers under their command at risk,” McGinty said.

The incident prompted federal investigators to examine the department’s use of deadly force and pursuit policies.

Cleveland’s police department has been dealing with the fallout from the chase, which involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90 and eventually ended with gunfire in East Cleveland.

Safety director Michael McGrath said Friday that 104 of the 277 Cleveland officers on duty that night were involved in the chase at some point. McGinty said the chase covered 20 miles over 23 minutes and reached speeds of 110 mph.

Driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams were both black, and no weapon was found. The police union has defended the officers’ actions and said the driver was trying to ram them.

The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, which represents patrol officers, did not return repeated calls for comment. The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the indicted supervisors, could not be reached.

The police department is now under a federal investigation into the use of force that goes beyond the car chase.

Police officials announced in early March that it now will limit when and how long squad cars can chase suspects. The revamped policy was in the works before the deadly chase, but what happened did influence the new guidelines, Police Chief Calvin Williams said.

A review of the chase led to the discipline of 64 of the 104 officers involved in the chase for violations of department rules, McGrath said. Twelve supervisors were disciplined, including one who was fired and two who were demoted, McGrath said.

Police don’t know why Russell refused to stop. The 43-year-old Russell had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Williams, 30, had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction.

Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24 times.

An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures in the chase.

McGinty said investigating the chase was complicated by the fact Cleveland cruisers don’t have video cameras.

The estates of Russell and Williams sued the city, the mayor and police. The lawsuit, which is still ongoing, asked the court to order the city to make changes in police policies to prevent similar situations.

The supervisors indicted on misdemeanor dereliction of duty charges: Lt. Paul Wilson, Sgt. Patricia Coleman, Sgt. Randolph Dailey, Sgt. Michael Donegan and Sgt. Jason Edens.

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