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How Brelo verdict was reached and reaction to it
Judge's deliberation and what officer Brelo may do now
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


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Kevin Niedermier
 
Judge John O'Donnell describes how bullet paths played into his decision to acquit officer Brelo of voluntary mansalughter charges.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter today in the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Judge John O’Donnell announced his verdict after about two weeks of deliberations into the case involving a chase and 137 shots. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on the judge’s reasoning behind his decision, and some of the reaction to it.

 

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Judge O’Donnell spent nearly an hour explaining in detail how the evidence played into his decision, at times using two mannequins showing the bullet wounds Russell and Williams sustained. O’Donnell says the evidence shows Brelo likely fired a fatal shot at Russell, but there were other deadly shots as well.

“Brelo’s deadly shot would have caused the cessation of life if none of the other three were fired on Timothy Russell, but they were. And that fact precludes beyond a reasonable doubt that Russell would have lived but for Brelo’s single lethal shot.”

More than one lethal shot, from more than one gun
Michael Brelo and defense attorney Pat D'Angelo await the verdictO’Donnell says there was also more than one deadly shot that hit Williams, and one of them was probably Brelo’s, so it was not proven beyond doubt that he was responsible for her death. The judge could have also convicted Brelo on lesser charges of felonious assault.  He said there was evidence supporting that. But because Brelo is a police officer who believed he and the public were in danger, he could not be convicted.  O’Donnell cited the belief by many officers that Williams and Russell were armed as one of several reasons Brelo’s actions were reasonable.

“Although he was driving one of the cars nearest to the Malibu he likely knew many other cars were in pursuit yet Russell still would not stop. He knew Russell had gone over 100 miles per hour and ignored dozens of traffic controls. All of this would make him wonder why the people in the car were so desperate to escape.’

Letdown for the prosecution
After the verdict, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he was disappointed but accepts the decision and hopes everyone else does. McGinty says even though there was not conviction, the case has benefited the community in the long run.

“A series of tragic errors in November, 2012 and the subsequent trial of officer Brelo forced all of us, the city, the community and the police to confront some tough issues that many would have preferred to avoid or postpone. The trial forced us to examine how and why so many errors were made and flawed assumptions made. And that could have led to the deaths of two unarmed people, including a totally innocent eseentially trapped, kidnapped and mentally ill passenger and a panicked, disturbed petty criminal driver.”

McGinty listed better training now underway regarding police pursuits and use of deadly force and more emphasis on how officers respond to calls involving the mentally ill. And he pointed to the Department of Justice investigation into Cleveland police use of deadly force.

What's next for Brelo
Police union head Steve LoomisAfter the verdict, Cleveland police union President Steve Loomis said Brelo was decompressing with his family, and that he still wants to be a police officer.

“Absolutely, he’s a policeman, he loves public service. His entire life, he’s a decorated Marine over in the Gulf, and he’s a fine police officer here and he wants to come back to work.”

Loomis praised Judge O’Donnell’s verdict, and says it sent a good message to Cleveland’s police officers.

“Do things the right way, and you’ll be OK, despite the rhetoric, emotions and politics of it, despite the media, no offense. We live in America, this is the best court system in the world and we saw that today. The facts were presented, the judge made a decision and Mike Brelo was held accountable.”

Justice served?
But Timothy Russell’s sister, Michelle Russell, does not believe justice was served.

“We’re only looking at one side of this story and that’s the police version of the event. I do not believe Tim and Malissa ever used their car as a weapon, I don’t believe they ever had a gun. It’s outside of my brother’s character to be a violent person.”

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson again called for calm following the verdict, and said how people react to it, good or bad, will have a long-lasting impact on the city.  Jackson says disciplinary action against Brelo and other officers involved in the shooting are still being pursued, and Brelo remains on unpaid suspension as an internal investigation continues.

(Click image for larger view.)

Officer Brelo (R) and his attorney Patrick DeAngelo waiting for the judge's verdict.
Cleveland police union President Steve Loomis after the Brelo verdict was read.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty and the Brelo prosecution team react to the verdict

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