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Trial Begins For Cleveland Officer Charged In 2012 Car Chase Shooting

Michael Brelo with his defense attorneys at court in Cleveland. police
Joanna Richards
/
WCPN
Michael Brelo with his defense attorneys at court in Cleveland.

The trial began Monday for a Cleveland police officer charged in the deaths of two people after a 2012 car chase that involved dozens of officers, 137 shots fired, and sparked a federal investigation of the department. Michael Brelo faces two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Thirteen officers took part in the shooting, but Brelo is the only one facing manslaughter charges.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors say he continued firing even when others stopped, believing the threat was over. They contend that’s when Brelo crossed a legal line, firing multiple shots into the windshield of Russell’s car while standing on the hood.

Brelo is a former Marine, and told investigators he was more afraid during the incident than he was in Iraq—a point prosecutors may try to use against him.

“Those military rules are for every soldier with a purposeful objective to kill enemy combatants. Citizens are not the enemy, and Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams were not in a war,” said Prosecutor Rick Bell in his opening arguments.

Defense attorney Patrick D’Angelo said Brelo understood the difference between warfare and civilian policing, and had fired into the car “not because he was in Iraq, and not because he was Rambo, and not because he was finishing off some people because of the color of their skin. He did it out of fear, and out of perception that they were taking gunfire.”

D’Angelo argued Brelo’s fear was the same as the dozen other officers who also fired their weapons.

No gun was ever found in the car, and state investigators later concluded Russell’s 1979 Chevy Malibu had likely backfired, sparking the police chase when an officer mistook the sound for gunfire.

The state began its case yesterday with testimony from the officer who first stopped Russell for a turn signal violation. Cuyahoga County Judge John O’Donnell plans to visit the site of the shooting on Friday. Brelo waived his right to a jury trial, so O’Donnell will decide the case.