Cleveland Police Hit The Streets Following Brelo Verdict
Cleveland Police in riot gear made numerous arrests as protesters took to the streets Saturday after a judge found a white police officer not guilty in the deaths of two unarmed black suspects killed in a barrage of police gunfire. Protesters gathered in downtown Cleveland and west side neighborhoods after the acquittal of 31-year-old officer Michael Brelo. Police Chief Calvin Williams says officers are trying to ensure people's right to protest peacefully.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is urging calm.
Judge John P. O'Donnell said in his written verdict delivered to a packed courtroom Saturday Brelo's actions in the November 2012 shootings were justified because he believed that someone in the car containing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams fired shots at police at the beginning, middle and end of the chase. Brelo remains on an unpaid suspension while officials consider administrative charges against him. The city of Cleveland earlier agreed to pay the families of Russell and Williams a total of 3 million dollars to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. Attorney Paul Cristallo, who represents the families of Russell and Williams, is asking why Brelo was the only officer charged. Cristallo says even though Brelo was acquitted, one the 13 other officers who fired shots should be charged. Brelo's attorney, Patrick D'Angelo, says the prosecution spared no expense and "were ruthless." D'Angelo calls the case a "tragedy" that was brought about by the actions of Russell and Williams. He also called it a classic case of "David versus Goliath" with civil rights lawyers and the state of Ohio going after one of its own citizens.
Steve Loomis, the head of the city's police union, says Brelo was held accountable through the indictment, trial and ultimate acquittal. Loomis says he hopes the community respects the judge and the process. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty says his office will continue to pursue charges in the case.
The Justice Department plans to "review all available legal options" after the verdict. Officials say they will review the trial testimony and evidence to determine if "additional steps are available and appropriate" in the federal judicial system. The department says the review is separate from its efforts to resolve a pattern of civil rights violations at the Cleveland police department. A report in December outlined a string of examples of excessive use of force, including officers who unnecessarily fired guns, hit suspects in the head with weapons, and punched and used Tasers on people already handcuffed. Brelo will remain on unpaid suspension during an administrative review.