The trial of a white Cleveland police officer began Monday in a case that triggered a federal investigation into the Cleveland Police Department’s use of deadly force.
Michael Brelo faces two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were African American, after a high-speed chase. A judge will decide whether Brelo’s 15 shots in a hail of 137 police bullets were justified, according to the Associated Press.
It all began with a traffic stop near downtown Cleveland that turned into a car chase involving more than 100 officers driving in some five dozen police cars. The chase ended in a middle school parking lot, where Russell and Williams’ Chevy Malibu became trapped.
An officer opened fire when Russell allegedly tried to move the Malibu. Prosecutors say that Brelo jumped on the hood of the car and fired the final 15 shots down into the windshield. Russell and Williams were unarmed.
The prosecution contends that Brelo fired his weapon directly at Russell and Williams after the threat was over. But the defense says that the threat to the officers’ lives did not end until Brelo removed the keys from the suspects’ vehicle.
Brelo’s defense team opted to have a judge rather than a jury decide his fate. He could receive a maximum sentence of 25 years if convicted.
This shooting led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into a pattern and practice of excessive force by Cleveland police.
Read more at the Associated Press.