On November 29, 2012, police officers and witnesses heard what appeared to be gunshots coming from a car driving near a police station in Cleveland. A high-speed car chase ensued, drawing in over 100 officers on duty, before the police managed to corner the car. Thirteen police officers then fired 137 rounds of ammunition at the vehicle, whose occupants Cleveland police suspected were armed. After the other officers stopped firing, 31-year-old Michael Brelo climbed on top of the hood of the suspect’s car and fired 15 more rounds at close range. When the shooting stopped, the car’s occupants, 43-year-old Timothy Russell and 30-year-old Malissa Williams, were dead. Both were unarmed. The “gunshot” witnesses heard turned out to be a backfiring car.
Brelo, who is white, was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter. On Saturday, an Ohio court acquitted him, claiming that the officer’s actions were “reasonable despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car and he was mistaken about the gunshots.” Barring the subsequent prosecution of other police officers involved in the shooting, no officers will serve time for the deaths of Williams and Russell.
Relatives and supporters of the victims reacted to the verdict with outrage. “The police should have went to jail for life for this,” said Alfredo Williams, Malissa’s brother. “This is straight murder.” U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge, whose 11th Congressional district includes the part of Cleveland, added that “the verdict is another chilling reminder of the broken relationship between the Cleveland Police Department and the community it serves.”