CLEVELAND — Six Cleveland police officers charged for their roles in a November 2012 car chase that ended with a hail of 137 gunshots and the deaths of two unarmed suspects pleaded not guilty today to various crimes.
The six officers were arraigned in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and were released on bond.
Patrolman Michael Brelo faces the most serious charges, two counts of manslaughter, in the deaths of the driver, 43-year-old Timothy Russell, and his 30-year-old passenger, Malissa Williams.
Brelo, 30, is accused of jumping on the hood of Russell’s car after the initial salvo and unloading his weapon, firing 15 rounds that have been described as fatal to Russell and Williams. Brelo fired a total of 49 rounds that night.
Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24 times. No gun was found on them or in the vehicle. The chase began when an officer thought he heard a gunshot from a car speeding by the police and courts complex, jumped into his patrol car and radioed for help. Police don’t know why Russell didn’t stop.
Five supervisors have been charged with dereliction of duty, a misdemeanor, for failing to control officers. Cleveland safety officials have said 104 of the 277 officers on duty that night participated in the chase, which covered 20 miles over 23 minutes and reached speeds of 110 mph.
Attorney Patrick D’Angelo spoke after today’s arraignment on behalf of the attorneys representing the six officers.
D’Angelo, who is one of three attorneys representing Brelo, asked people not rush to judgment about what occurred on Nov. 29, 2012.
“We intend to fight this case,” he said. “We feel the officers all acted within the bounds of the law are not guilty of these charges.”
The killings in the parking lot of a suburban Cleveland elementary school have been decried as a racially motivated execution — both victims were black — and are part of a larger federal investigation into the troubled police department.
U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the Cleveland Police Department’s policies governing vehicle pursuits and the use of deadly force. The department changed its pursuit policy after the episode, limiting when and how long patrol cars can chase suspects. Five dozen cars were involved in the chase.
An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures for what happened. County prosecutor Tim McGinty said investigating the chase was complicated by the fact that Cleveland cruisers don’t have video cameras.
City officials recently announced that a pilot program is underway to equip officers with body cameras.