Saturday 3 December 2016

Cleveland riots after police officer 'who shot two unarmed suspects' is cleared of charges

Press Association

Published 24/05/2015 | 09:44

A protester is arrested after the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A protester is arrested after the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
A protestor writes a message on the sidewalk outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators march during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators pause at the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Justice Center as police stand guard during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators pause at the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Justice Center as police stand guard during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Mounted police follow demonstrators as they march through downtown during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Demonstrators pause to stand in solidarity during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A protestor lies on the ground on a downtown intersection as Cleveland police officers block them from a RTA bus following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Cleveland mounted police patrol the streets as protesters march out of the city following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams speaks to the media as Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson looks on at a news conference following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Protestors block a downtown intersection and yell at Cleveland Police officers following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Protestors gather in a downtown intersection and block the path of a City RTA bus as police move in to assist the bus following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk
Protestors gather in a downtown intersection as a Cleveland Police officers block them from an RTA bus following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Police in riot gear have made numerous arrests as protesters took to the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, after a judge cleared a police officer over the deaths of two unarmed black suspects killed in a barrage of gunfire.

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Demonstrators gathered in central Cleveland and west side neighbourhoods after the acquittal of patrolman Michael Brelo, 31.

In a written verdict delivered to a packed courtroom, the judge said Mr 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.

Mr Brelo remains on unpaid suspension while officials consider administrative charges against him.

The officer put his head in his hands as the judge issued the verdict that was followed by angry protests, with some holding a mock funeral, carrying signs asking: "Will I be next?"

The city of Cleveland earlier agreed to pay the families of Mr Russell and Ms Williams a total of three million dollars (£1.9m) to settle a federal civil rights action.

The acquittal came at a time of nationwide tension over the deaths of black suspects at the hands of white officers, and following a determination by the US Department of Justice that Cleveland police had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.

"In many American places people are angry with, mistrusting and fearful of the police," Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge John O'Donnell said before issuing his verdict.

But he said he would not "sacrifice" Mr Brelo to an angry public if the evidence did not merit a conviction.

Mr Brelo, who fired a total of 49 shots, including 15 through the windscreen while standing on the bonnet of the suspects' vehicle, would have faced as many as 22 years in prison had the judge convicted him on two counts of voluntary manslaughter.

The deaths occurred after Timothy Russell's car backfired outside police headquarters on November 29 2012. Thirteen officers fired at the car with Mr Russell and Ms Williams inside after a 22-mile chase that involved 62 marked and unmarked cars and reached 100mph.

Mr Russell, 43, and Ms Williams, 30, were each shot more than 20 times. Mr Brelo was the only officer charged because prosecutors said he waited until the pair was no longer a threat to fire his final 15 rounds.

Prosecutors argued they were alive until Mr Brelo's final shots, but medical examiners for both sides said they could not determine the order in which the deadly shots were fired.

Mr Russell's sister Michelle said she believed Mr Brelo would ultimately face justice.

"He's not going to dodge this just because he was acquitted," she said. "God will have the final say."

Authorities never learned why Mr Russell did not stop the car. He had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Ms Williams had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction. Both were described as homeless. A crack pipe was found in the car.

The US Justice Department, US Attorney's Office and the FBI will review the evidence and examine all available legal options, said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.

About 200 people walked in a mock funeral procession that had already been planned to mark six months since another deadly shooting that sparked anger in Cleveland's black community: the killing of Tamir Rice, 12, carrying a pellet gun who was shot by a white officer in a park.

After the verdict, sheriff's deputies stood in front of the court carrying shields as protesters chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" - a rallying cry linked to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Mr Brelo could have been convicted of lesser charges, but Judge O'Donnell determined his actions were justified following the chase, which included reports of shots fired from Mr Russell's car, because officers perceived a threat.

Mr Brelo's lead lawyer Patrick D'Angelo said the officer had been unfairly prosecuted and had risked his life in the incident.

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