Michael Brelo (1984?- ), a White American police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, was cleared of all charges in the police killing of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell in 2012, both Black, both unarmed.
On November 29th 2012, Russell and Williams drove by a Cleveland police station in their old 1979 Chevy Malibu when it backfired. The police thought it was gunfire and gave chase: 100 police officers in 62 cars for 20 minutes and 22 miles (35 km), hitting speeds of up to 100mph (160kph). It ended in a shoot-out: 137 bullets in 18 seconds by 13 officers. For the last 7.4 seconds, Brelo jumped up onto the hood of the car and fired the last 15 bullets down on them through the windshield.
Russell was hit 23 times, four of the bullets fatal. Williams was hit 24 times, seven of which would have killed her.
So many bullets were fired that police said they thought Williams and Russell were firing on them. Brelo shot the most bullets: 49. Reloading twice.
Only Brelo was charged with a crime: two counts of voluntary manslaughter and a lesser count of felonious assault. He faced up to 22 years in prison.
Brelo requested not to have a jury trial. Cleveland is 53% Black. Some see the police as an army of occupation.
He ruled that it was impossible to tell if Brelo’s own bullets had in fact killed either Williams or Russell. He said Brelo acted reasonably in the belief that Williams and Russell were shooting at him and other officers.
The judge said the last 15 shots were:
“Not conforming to the training, and maybe not appropriate for the circumstances, but not illegal.”
The US Justice Department will review the case.
The judge waited three weeks for a Saturday morning (May 23rd 2015) on a holiday weekend to announce his decision – to give police time to prepare for a riot and limit the effect on city traffic.
Hundreds protested into the night, blocking roads, holding mock funerals, clashing with police and asking “Will I be next?” Dozens were arrested. Some marched from the Cuyahoga County Justice Center to the park where Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was gunned down by police six months ago (which the police are still investigating, his body still not laid to rest).
The Brelo shooting pushed the mayor to call for a US Justice Department patterns and practices investigation, the kind that Baltimore just asked for. It was completed in December 2014.
The Justice Department found that Cleveland police are “chaotic and dangerous”, that they are badly trained, out of control and trigger happy. Citizens rightly fear for their life in their presence. One police station had a sign that said, “forward operating base” – as if it were an outpost in a war.
The mayor and the Justice Department agreed to a set of reforms that are now being carried out.
Meanwhile, the city waits to see if Tamir Rice’s killer will be charged with a crime.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Tamir Rice
- Freddie Gray – the recent Baltimore police killing to make the news
- The extremely incomplete list of unarmed Blacks killed by police
- The police
- grand jury