Six police officers in Cleveland have been fired in connection with the 2012 deadly shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, two unarmed Black people. One of the officers fired is Michael Brelo, who in 2014 was charged with manslaughter for his involvement with the shooting.
On Nov. 29, 2012, an officer attempted to pull over the vehicle Russell was driving; when Russell did not comply, a police chase began. During the chase, officers heard what they believed to be gunshots but a subsequent search of Russell’s car did not turn up a firearm, and the sound was later believed to be Russell’s car backfiring. The chase ended in a school parking lot, where officers claimed they believed they saw a firearm in Russell’s car. Officers opened fire and, as they shot, thought some of the fire was coming from Russell’s car rather than from other officers.
Brelo jumped on the hood of the car and fired directly at the victims through the windshield even after the other officers had stopped firing. Brelo alone fired 49 of the 137 shots. Both victims were struck by at least 23 bullets.
Three years later, six officers are being firing and six face suspensions ranging from 21 to 30 days. A seventh officer who would have faced suspension retired last year.
In addition to Brelo, three other officers, Wilfredo Diaz, Brian Sabolik and Michael Farley, now face termination, as well as two detectives, Christopher Ereg and Erin O’Donnell.
Steve Loomis, president of the city’s largest police union, is appealing the six firings.
“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 of the shooting. “And we responded within our training.”
Director of Public Safety and former Police Chief Michael McGrath, though, said “general police orders” were not followed.
“There are manual rules and regulations that we expect officers to comply with,” he said. “If they didn’t comply with those particular general police orders or manual rules and regulations, I sustained charges.”
The chase, which spanned a total of 22 miles, ultimately involved a total of 62 police vehicles, 18 supervisors and 105 officers, according to Cleveland.com. The 137 bullets fired at Russell and Williams were all fired in less than 20 seconds, the majority of them in less than 10. The website also reports, “Of [the supervisors], 12 received administrative charges. One was terminated, two were demoted and nine were suspended anywhere from three to 30 days. Seventy-four [of the officers involved] were brought up on administrative charges, with 63 being suspended anywhere from one to 10 days. Seven received non-disciplinary letters, one received a written reprimand and three officers had their administrative charges dismissed.”
Out of all those officers involved in the brutal attack, only one faced criminal charges.
Brelo was charged with involuntary manslaughter for his actions by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty the same prosecutor who failed to indict Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, the officers involved in 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death. Brelo, who fired a total of 49 shots (double that of any of the other officers on the scene), was acquitted in 2015 because it could not be definitively proven that Brelo’s shots were fatal. Shortly after his acquittal, the Department of Justice revealed its disturbing findings of a “pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment” in the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP) and proposed an agreement for major departmental changes.
The Tamir Rice case also called into question the use of excessive force against Blacks by the Cleveland police. Rice was playing with a toy pellet gun at a recreation center when Officer Loehmann, who was a rookie at the time, pulled up with Garmback and gunned down Rice within seconds. Loehmann remains on the force and has been on desk duty since the shooting.
The fact that no other officers were indicted in Russell and Williams’ deaths is not surprising, though, when taking into consideration the criticism McGinty has drawn to himself for his words and behavior regarding Rice’s murder, which he described as a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications” and said “did not indicate criminal conduct of police.”