In this April 7, 2015 file photo, assistant prosecuting attorney Erica Barnhill points out locations of shell casings in photographs taken by BCI’s special agent Dan Winterich during his testimony during the trial of Cleveland police officer, Michael Brelo in Cleveland. Cleveland officials said Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, that they’re firing six police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed people after a high-speed chase. The high-speed chase involved 62 police cruisers and more than 100 officers. Russell was hit by 24 shots, Malissa Williams by 23. (John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer via AP, Pool, File)
Cleveland officials said Tuesday they’re firing six police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed people after a high-speed chase.
Those officers included Michael Brelo, a patrolman acquitted of manslaughter charges in May for having fired the last 15 shots of the barrage in East Cleveland on Nov. 29, 2012. The chase began when officers standing outside police headquarters mistook the sound of a beat-up Chevrolet Malibu backfiring as a gunshot.
Six more officers who fired during the barrage face suspensions ranging from 21 to 30 days, said Public Safety Director Michael McGrath, the former police chief. A total of 13 officers had been notified they faced administrative discipline, and one of them has retired, McGrath said.
The president of Cleveland’s largest police union, Steve Loomis, vowed to fight the discipline and said grievances appealing the firings were filed with the city Tuesday. He described the firings as unbelievable, unprecedented and politically motivated.
This April 10, 2015 file photo shows the car that was driven by Timothy Russell in Cleveland. Cleveland officials said Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, that they’re firing six police officers involved in a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed people after a high-speed chase. The high-speed chase involved 62 police cruisers and more than 100 officers. Russell was hit by 24 shots, Malissa Williams by 23. (Aaron Josefczyk via AP, Pool, File)
“It’s tragic that it went down this way, but at the end of the day, two people high on crack cocaine, high on marijuana, one of them intoxicated, made the decisions that they made and we responded to them,” Loomis said. “And we responded within our training.”
The officers had been cited for joining the chase and leaving the city without permission. More seriously, some were accused of endangering other officers by creating a crossfire situation.
McGrath said officials reviewed hundreds of pages of related documents and multimedia to reach decisions on discipline.
“It was very difficult. … But at the end of the day, there were general police orders. There are manual rules and regulations that we expect officers to comply with,” McGrath said. “If they didn’t comply with those particular general police orders or manual rules and regulations, I sustained charges.”
The high-speed chase involved 62 police cruisers and more than 100 officers. The shooting killed both occupants of the car. Timothy Russell was hit by 24 shots, Malissa Williams by 23.
Authorities never learned why Russell didn’t stop. He had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery and had been involved in a previous police pursuit. Williams had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction. Both were described as mentally ill, homeless and addicted to drugs. A crack pipe was found in the car.
Of the officers who fired, only Brelo faced criminal charges. Prosecutors said he stood on the vehicle’s hood and fired inside repeatedly after the car had stopped and its occupants were no longer a threat.
Defense attorneys said the officers involved in the chase and shooting had probable cause to believe the people in the car were a safety threat. Investigators later concluded Russell and Williams weren’t armed.
Loomis said the officers were right to chase the car because Russell fled at a high rate of speed. After the car stopped, the first shots were fired after Russell used the car as a deadly weapon and drove at an officer, Loomis said.
The shooting preceded a months long U.S. Department of Justice investigation that concluded Cleveland police engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. The city negotiated an agreement to make changes overseen by an independent monitor.
Associated Press writer Mitch Stacy in Columbus contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to note that the announcement of firings happened Tuesday, not Wednesday.