Six Cleveland police officers were fired on Tuesday for their involvement in the killing of an unarmed couple during a 2012 police chase, CNN reports.
Thirteen total police officers were involved in the shooting. One of them, Michael Brelo, was charged and eventually acquitted of manslaughter. He reportedly fired 49 of the shots that were fired at the couple, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, while they were parked in a middle school parking lot.
Of the officers involved who weren’t fired, six were suspended and one has retired.
The Ohio attorney general released a report after the incident saying the car chase and ensuing shooting was the result of “systemic failure in the Cleveland Police Department.”
After the firings were announced, Detective Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, vowed to get their jobs back, according to CNN. He reportedly said that there was “no rhyme or reason” to the firings and said the dismissals were “nothing but politics.”
Loomis pointed out that a grand jury declined to indict 12 of the officers involved.
In the Brelo case, prosecutors argued that he was the only officer who continued shooting at the couple even after other cops had decided they weren’t a threat, according to The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation found that Brelo jumped onto the hood of the couple’s parked car and shot directly down at them.
Here’s what happened:
Police at the time called the shooting a “full blown-out” firefight.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told reporters in 2013 that “there is nothing normal about this case. … This is a tragedy.”
In November 2012, about 60 police vehicles pursued the two suspects in a 25-minute chase spanning three cities. One suspect, 30-year-old Malissa Williams, was shot 24 times, and the other, 43-year-old Timothy Russell, was shot 23 times.
Williams and Russell were both homeless and probably driving around trying to buy drugs, according to a report from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. A plainclothes officer spotted their car in an area known for drug deals and called in the licence plate.
When the officer tried to pull Russell over for a turn signal violation, he sped away, The Plain Dealer reports. Other officers later joined in the chase.
At the time, police said the suspects fired shots at them near Cleveland’s downtown Justice Center, and a police dispatcher said that shots were fired at officers during the chase, according to The Plain Dealer.
Investigators later determined that the “shot” was likely Russell’s car backfiring.
The chase ended in a gunfight near Heritage Middle School, and when police checked the car they realised neither Williams nor Russell was armed.
The attorney general’s report shows the officers likely believed the suspects were armed based on erroneous information broadcast over the police radio. Officers also told investigators they saw the suspects in the car with what looked like a gun.
Brelo told investigators he thought the officers were being shot at and that Russell would run them over.
During the chase, Russell was reportedly high and driving on a suspended licence. Toxicology results show that he was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol at the time of his death. Williams was also high on cocaine and had marijuana in her system.
The officers being disciplined for violating police protocol won’t lose their jobs and did not partake in the gunfight at the end of the chase, but they did have a role in the pursuit. More than 100 police officers were involved in the chase in some way.
In 2011, The Plain Dealer published an investigation of reports of excessive use of nondeadly force by Cleveland police officers. The newspaper found the police chief often overlooked inconsistencies with police officers’ stories when investigating use of force incidents.
Many of the officers faced accusations of brutality on the force.
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