Cleveland Police Officer "Not Guilty" Of Voluntary Manslaughter In 2012 Shooting Of Two Unarmed Citizens

A Cuyahoga County, Ohio court reached a verdict of "not guilty" in the case of Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo on Saturday morning. Brelo had previously been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of two unarmed, black citizens in 2012 following a police chase. According to court documents, Brelo had stood on the hood of the victims' car and shot 15 times into the windshield. Both Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were unarmed.

Judge John P. O'Donnell ruled that Brelo was not guilty of two accompanying felonious assault charges, court officials said on Saturday morning. Local police and community volunteers met earlier this week to discuss a plan to ensure the peace if such a verdict was reached, citing concerns over possible Baltimore-style riots.

"It's extremely important to us to make sure our city stays calm in the midst of what could happen based on the Brelo ruling," explained Rev. Jimmy Gates, who is also African-American.

Brelo was originally indicted on the manslaughter charges after chasing down Russell and Williams, both homeless, in his police car on November 29, 2012 near Lakeside Avenue. Because the area was a known drug-dealer hotspot, a plainclothes police officer who had spotted the two asked Brelo to run their plates. When their plates came back clean, police reports later stated that Brelo had attempted to pull over their 1979 Chevy Malibu for a turn-signal violation.

Rather than stopping, Russell and Williams took off, and the car backfired as they sped away. Police reports at the time indicated that the officers involved had mistaken the backfire for a gunshot and began pursuing them. Police also stated that at one point there were as many as 62 squad cars involved in the high speed chase which reached as high as 100 miles per hour at some points.

After Russell pulled over into a school parking lot, the officers alleged that the two had tried to run them over and had brandished a weapon, causing the officers to open fire and advance on the vehicle. Upon investigation of the scene, authorities reported that police had fired 137 bullets at the two and that both Russell and Williams had been hit nearly 25 times each.

County Prosecutor Timothy McGlinty described Brelo's part in the shootings as excessive. "[Brelo] fired at least 15 shots, including fatal shots, downward through the windshield into the victims at close range as he stood on the hood of Mr. Russell's car," explained McGlinty in court proceedings.

Prosecutors had alleged that Brelo's final 15 shots were "unlawful" because the two had no clear means of escape and were not in possession of a weapon. Brelo, however, told a different story.

"I've never been so afraid in my life," Brelo told investigators. "I thought my partner and I would be shot and that we were going to be killed."

Brelo's case comes on the heels of a scathing, two-year Justice Department investigation which showed Cleveland police had used inappropriate and excessive force on multiple occasions, including use of weapons on mentally ill citizens and "the retaliatory use of less lethal force including tasers, chemical spray and fists."