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
O’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
After 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.”
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.