If you’re a police officer in Cleveland, killing unarmed civilians in a hail of bullets may not get you convicted—but it might get you fired.
On Tuesday, the city of Cleveland announced it will dismiss six officers who were involved in the November 2012 shooting of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. After officers mistook the sound of the car backfiring for a gunshot, they pursued the pair on a high-speed chase through the streets of Forest City, before firing 137 shots over less than 20 seconds, killing both occupants of the car.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty charged one of the officers, Michael Brelo, with two counts of voluntary manslaughter. Brelo, 31, had stood on the hood of Williams and Russell’s car and fired 15 shots at close range into the windshield of the car, after the other officers stopped firing. But in May 2015, a judge acquitted Brelo, reasoning in part that they could not determine who fired the fatal shots. As Matt Schiavenza reported at the time, Clevelanders, especially African Americans, were furious about the outcome.
Although Brelo won’t face criminal sanctions, the city is now moving to fire him and five other officers in the case. In practical terms, the city has to initiate termination proceedings, and can’t immediately fire them. Mayor Frank Jackson said on Tuesday that he expected that appeals would drag the process out for years. Several other officers will face suspensions. Cleveland officials said it took so long to reach this point because the case was unusual. “This incident is unprecedented," said Commander James Chura. "It took an investigation just as unprecedented to get to the truth." (As David Jaros explained last year, however, police discipline tends to be conducted with a meticulousness often missing elsewhere in the criminal-justice system.) Brelo had been suspended without pay.