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Thursday 29 September 2016

City faces more police death probes

Published 25/05/2015 | 02:56

A man is arrested during the Cleveland protests (AP)
A man is arrested during the Cleveland protests (AP)

Cleveland has emerged unscathed after protests following the acquittal of a white officer over the shooting of two black suspects killed in a 137-shot hail of police gunfire - but is not yet done with deadly race-case encounters .

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Officers in the Ohio city arrested 71 people the night after the verdict in the case of Patrolman Michael Brelo, though there was nothing close to the violence other cities such as Baltimore have experienced during protests over incidents in which black suspects were killed by police.

Two other high-profile deaths still hang over the city: a boy holding a pellet gun fatally shot by a rookie patrolman and a mentally ill woman in distress who died after officers took her to the ground and handcuffed her.

The deaths of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, 37, occurred just eight days apart last November. An investigation by the Cuyahoga County sheriff's department into Tamir's death is nearly finished and ready to be given to county prosecutors to decide whether to pursue criminal charges against the policeman.

The status of the investigation into Ms Anderson's death is unclear. A medical examiner said she died of positional asphyxiation, which meant she could not breathe, and ruled her death a homicide.

Tamir and Ms Anderson, like the two motorists whose deaths were at the centre of Saturday's verdict, were black. The rookie officer who fatally shot Tamir is white. In the Anderson case, one officer is white and the other is black, although a family lawsuit does not make an issue of race.

The acquittal of Mr Brelo on in the November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams prompted a spontaneous protest outside the court that later merged with a planned protest over Tamir's death at the recreation centre where he was shot.

Tamir's grandfather expressed his outrage to a crowd of several hundred people. "I'm mad as hell," Eugene Rice said. "What I want to do I better not say."

Walter Madison, a lawyer for Tamir's family, said he had been cautiously optimistic about the outcome in the Brelo case. He said he respected the judge's legal analysis in acquitting him, but wondered if the prosecutor's office would have better served justice by pursuing some other charge, such as conspiracy.

Mr Madison wants Tamir's case to be reviewed by an independent prosecutor instead of the county prosecutor.

"It would be the best practice to avoid the appearance of impropriety at this particular junction," he said.

A spokesman for the county prosecutor's office had no comment on Mr Madison's request for an independent review.

The protests that weaved through central Cleveland were boisterous but peaceful throughout Saturday. It was only later that trouble began with fights, bystanders being pepper-sprayed by protesters and confrontations involving police, some of whom wore riot gear.

The largest number of arrests occurred in the popular Warehouse District, where a large group of protesters gathered in an alley and refused to disperse.

Yesterday mayor Frank Jackson thanked the vast majority of protesters who remained peaceful and respectful as they voiced their frustration over the verdict.

Mr Brelo, 31, still faces administrative charges while remaining suspended without pay after being found not guilty of two counts of voluntary manslaughter.

He and 12 other officers fired 137 shots at a car with Mr Russell and Ms Williams inside at the end of a 22-mile chase. The chase began when Mr Russell's car backfired while passing by police headquarters and officers mistook the sounds for gunfire.

Mr Brelo fired 49 of those shots that night, but it was the final 15 fired into the windscreen while he stood on the bonnet of Mr Russell's car that led to his indictment and a four-week trial.

After his acquittal, the US Department of Justice, which had previously determined that Cleveland police had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights, said it would look into the matter.

The prosecutions related to the deaths of Mr Russell and Ms Williams are not over either. Five police supervisors have been charged with misdemeanour dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase. All five have pleaded not guilty.

Press Association

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