Police Abuse

Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo Shoots Through Windshield at Unarmed Couple 15 Times: Found Not Guilty

Couldn't Prove Brelo's Specific Bullets Killed Them, Judge Decides

|

Some people in Cleveland back in November 2012 thought they heard a gun firing. It was a car backfiring. So they chased the car from which they imagined the gunshot came at high speeds, often reaching 100 mph, for 20 miles, themselves shooting at or into that car 137 times.

One of the shooters, named Michael Brelo, leapt on the hood of the car after it was halted and shot 15 times. The people inside the car, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, were, predictably, murdered in this barrage of 137 gunshots all told. They were unarmed.

Do you think Brelo committed a crime?

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell didn't think so. This morning a trial for Brelo (the only one of the group of 13 people responsible charged with any crime, in this case "voluntary manslaughter") ended with a verdict from the judge of not guilty.

Why? How?

Oh wait—did I forget to mention Brelo was a police officer? Never mind!

But the reasoning was, according to the Columbus Dispatch report: There wasn't any way to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the specific bullets that Brelo fired that ended Russell and Williams's life, after

a nearly hour-long summation of his conclusion, an involved explanation of the decision that involved mannequins marked with the gunshot wounds that the two motorists suffered.

As NPR summed up:

it was impossible to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that either suspect would have survived if not for Brelo's shots.

He also determined that Brelo's use of force was constitutionally reasonable given that he and other officers perceived that Russell and Williams posed a threat.

"It is Brelo's perception of a threat that matters," O'Donnell said.

Have a great weekend, Cleveland.

Ed Krayewski blogged about this case in January, last November (about the $3 million civil wrongful death suit payout from the city over the murder, er, "incident"), and June.

NEXT: VID: Meet the Woman Caring for Over 800 Kids Hurt By Immigration Laws

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Cops and prosecutors are digging their own grave with their gold-plated pensions, immunity, and swagger. It will be a while before the public turns on them, but when they do — look out!

    1. If by turning on them you mean string them up like a pi?ata at a Cinco de Mayo party in the park I’m with ya.

      1. Yeah, good luck with that. Talk to almost anyone outside of the gadsden plated walls of libertopia and you’ll get a completely different response. They love the police even more when they are under attack. Add in the fact that the race-baiters have joined the fray and predictably turned it away from bad governance and toward racist individuals and you have a recipe for divide and conquer. Plus they always seem to pick the wrong hill to die on. Someone should tell them to go read Balko’s archives where they could easily pick a dozen cases that don’t involve plausible self defense arguments.

        Divide and conquer is the game, and they are winning. They have managed to turn the discussion away from any real reforms that matter and toward “don’t shoot black people” and “hire more black police”. More angry inner city folk means more votes for the (D), and the riots by those same constituents means more votes for the (R) in suburbia.

        A real lose-lose for those who value liberty.

        1. I had this discussion with some friends over the weekend and I am afraid you are right. People just don’t care until it happens to them or someone they love. And numerically, that is not very likely.

  2. So if I “feel” threatened I can fire at will? Or are things different for cops? Equal protection before the what?

    1. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell and police officer Michael Brelo (in unison):

      “I AM THE LAW!!!”

    2. Exactly.

      “”It is Brelo’s perception of a threat that matters,” O’Donnell said.”

      So when a mundane (civilian) feels threatened, the same low hurdle will apply?

    3. You’re not specifically trained to quickly analyze and comprehend difficult threatening situations, which is why you are required to use greater discretion and more rationally scrutinize your own actions when you feel threatened.

      1. Nor do you have a right to get home safely after work. Your potential widow and orphans have no value either.

    4. Apparently for cops, having an unreasonable fear for your life is a requirement.

  3. I can’t say I’m pleased that this guy is off the hook, but it certainly seemed like the department threw him out as the fall guy and sacrificial lamb for what was plainly a department-wide fuckup. Something like 100 cops chased these guys who did literally nothing wrong, and something like 13 cops fired shots for literally no reason. Justice would have been cleaning out the Cleveland PD from top to bottom, not sending one particular idiot to jail.

    That said…fuck that guy. He deserves to rot in jail.

    1. At least those police officers who murdered Tamir Rice will be sent to prison. Also, all of the police officers involved in the beating of the man outside of the charity event will lose their jobs! So, there is that.

      1. The beating incident was Akron pigs, right?

    2. If the 137 total shots fired, he fired 49 of them including 15 directly through the windshield. But yeah, he probably didn’t kill them.

      http://www.nbc4i.com/story/291…..ot-barrage

      1. I didn’t realize he had shot every round he had* at them. This is even more of a bullshit ruling than I thought, then.

        *I believe he had a glock 22, which I think has 16 round mags, so 16*3+1=49.

        1. 15+1. I have a glock 22

          1. It seems he had a Glock 17. So he reloaded twice and left 3 in the mag. He’s a fucking model of restraint.

            1. Might have just had 16 in each mag. The last round is always a bitch to put in a glock mag

              1. Loading the mags to full capacity can cause a “stove-pipe” during a rapid/panic fire scenario…

                1. Never stovepiped any of my glocks. My officers special on the other hand…

                  1. It’s all in the wrist…

                    1. For my officers special, it’s all in the ammo. Loves winchester, hates federal.

    3. Then all 13 of the pigs deserve to rot in jail.

    4. Although 13 officers discharged their weapons during the incident, only Brelo, 31 was charged with voluntary manslaughter because “prosecutors said he waited until the car had stopped and the occupants were no longer a threat to fire 15 rounds down into the windshield while standing on its hood.”

      I don’t know. If this is true I can see why they singled him out.

      1. I don’t think it was the standing on the hood that was so outrageous, it was the nutting on the windshield that crossed the line.

  4. “It is Brelo’s perception of a threat that matters,” O’Donnell said.

    You know who else perceived threats?

    1. Joe McCarthy?

    2. The Mad King?

    3. The poor bastards that died in that car?

    4. Bobby Fisher’s bishop?

    5. Mattress girl?

    6. Howard Hughes?

    7. Nostradamus?

      1. Moldova sucks.

    8. College students reading the classics of antiquity?

    9. The Pink Panther?

    10. The roommate of the guy who ate all the beans?

  5. OT: Teach women not to lie about rape:

    A Manhattan model who once dated actor Gerard Butler brought rape charges against a fashion photographer ? but the case fell apart when she claimed he got her pregnant and a DNA test proved he was not the father, The Post has learned…


    About 45 minutes later, Riabenkova told a doorman she had been raped by the photographer and asked him to call 911, said his lawyer, Tom Kenniff.


    Police arrested the lensman, and he spent a night behind bars. Prosecutors soon downgraded the charge to sexual misconduct because they found holes in her story and her rape kit tested inconclusive, Kenniff said.
    Then, in January 2015, Riabenkova made a shocking claim ? telling prosecutors she was impregnated during the alleged rape and wanted an abortion.


    The DA’s Office told the clinic to preserve the biological material, and Kenniff immediately asked for a DNA test.
    The results proved his client was not the father, and on May 15 the case was thrown out and sealed.

    1. Good for him:

      Asked whether his client would file a civil suit against the catwalk stunner, Kenniff said, “We are exploring all options.”

      “She tried to destroy my client’s life, and she should be punished for it,” Kenniff, railed about Riabenkova, who will not face false-report charges.

      Kenniff ? who said his client fooled around with the model but did not have sex with her ? said she appeared completely calm in the elevator ride down and in the lobby after making the allegation.

      “The surveillance footage showed her sipping from a water bottle in the lobby without a care in the world while waiting for the police to arrive,” Kenniff charged.

      1. “railed about Riabenkova”

        The term “railed” is generally considered derogatory, as in someone hysterically throwing out insults.

        1. Or at least that *used* to be the meaning.

        2. Well this is the NY Post after all… They aren’t exactly renown for their delicate, considered prose.

  6. Car backfiring, door slamming, dog farting. It doesn’t matter. Fire first and go home safely. It’s a good world to be a cop. For now.

  7. I remember watching a case on the *People’s Court* where a bunch of kids threw rocks at some innocent guy, who filed a claim against one of the kids (the one who was caught, I suppose).

    I thought that they wouldn’t be able to prove that the particular kid’s rocks hit the plaintiff, but Wapner said that the kid was responsible for being part of the mob which was attacking the guy, never mind if the kid’s specific rocks made contact.

    I guess cops are judged by a more lenient standard than punk kids?

    1. Punk kids don’t have a gang of armed friends who are above the law who may go after your family if you find them guilty.

    2. It’s also a matter of joint and several liability in Tort law, as opposed to criminal law.

  8. By the way, this is the reason that, if there is to be a criminal trial, the trial should be by jury.

    The Constitution guarantees a trial by jury, not a trial by judge.

    1. The Constitution guarantees that the accused be judged by their peers. In this case the cop decided to be judged by a judge. One of his peers. Who of course went through as much legal gymnastics as possible to find his peer not guilty.

      1. You know the constitution promises a lot of stuff. It needs to animate itself and kick ass or we can admit it’s a piece of paper and not hold it to higher standards than we do other inanimate objects.

        1. The next time around there needs to be provisions in the constitution that mandates punishments for violations.

      2. It probably depends on if your particular judge is an ex-cop.

      3. The constitution DOES NOT guarantee a trial by a jury of your peers. It guarantees you a trial by jury, full stop. “Peers” are an aristocratic convention (you had to be a nobleman of some sort to be in the “peerage”; a trial by your “peers” was a guarantee to nobleman that they’d be tried by other nobleman, and not by a bunch of “commoners”, and hence was a right reserved by the aristocracy), and the founders wanted fuck-all to do with those bunch of rotters, so they did not include that into the verbiage of the Bill of Rights.

    2. That right is held by the defedant, not the State, and may be waived in favor of a bench trial at pretty much any time before trial (I believe). The cop’s attorneys knew he’d get a better outcome with a judge and waived the right to a jury.

      1. We’re talking about a statutory, not constitutional right, to be tried by a judge.

        “A defendant’s only constitutional right concerning the method of trial is to an impartial trial by jury.”

        (from justicia.com)

        http://ow.ly/NkXJK

        Why are we passing statutes allowing a judicial trial?

        1. The fact that the defendant has a right does not require that he exercise it. Nobody interprets the second amendment to require all citizens to keep and bear arms.

          1. OK, but if the defendant has no *constitutional* right to a trial by jury, there is no particular reason to guarantee him the right to any alternate form of trial – whether trial by judge, or trial by ordeal, or trial by compurgation.

          2. A3S2 isn’t a right, it’s a limitation of power placed upon government to ensure your right to a trial by jury. It is very specific and makes no mention of the government having options other than a trial by jury.

            The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury;

            [emphasis mine]

            I agree with Eddie on this. But I’m not a lawyer.

            1. I think that is only for federal crimes.

            2. “I agree with Eddie on this.”

              [flips through Book of Revelations]

              uh-oh…

            3. Looking at the wording I see your point. But I think the intent is for the right to a jury trial, even if that’s not the literal meaning.

              It doesn’t matter anyway in this case, as the trial judge can overrule the jury’s guilty verdict if he thinks it’s unwarranted. So the same outcome would have probably arisen from a jury trial, it just would have taken longer.

              1. The purpose of the Constitution isn’t to grant rights to individuals, it’s to limit the powers of government. I have rights whether they are listed in the Constitution or not. The government may only do the things they are granted power to do by the Constitution.

                The Founders made a huge mistake in not requiring the court to make a constitutional determination on every bill prior to passage. As it stands, one must challenge the law and show damage by it before the constitutionality may be questioned. So if no one challenges it, it creates precedent and more law is built upon it, so it becomes too much hassle to rule it unconstitutional in the future even when it CLEARLY violates the wording.

                Next time…

                1. That may be, but in this case the cop is the individual whose rights aren’t listed. Which is why a knee-jerk championing of rights of the defendant isn’t always advantageous for the defense of liberty.

                  Sending innocent people to jail or even putting them through the distress of a trial is a very bad thing. But letting guilty people go unpunished has bad consequences too.

                  1. Fuck off Tulpa.

                    The question was whether the state has the ability to do ANYTHING other than trial by jury.

                    The point was they do, in violation of A3S2.

                    As usual, I’m sorry I engaged you. Typical disingenuous Tupla bullshit! I should have recognized you sooner.

  9. So none of the guys charged in the biker shootout in Texas is going to be found guilty either? Because I doubt they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt whose bullets did what to whom right? No double standards.

    1. I’ll be very interested to see the ballistics report and find out how many bikers were shot by other bikers and how many were shot by the police.

  10. “It is Brelo’s perception of a threat that matters,” O’Donnell said.

    Who could possibly be qualified to second guess the heightened perceptions of the noble law enforcement professional?
    Certainly not a civilian.

  11. If a peasant waives his right to a trial by jury, the verdict is guaranteed to be guilty.

    If a knight waives his right to a trial by jury, the verdict is guaranteed to be not guilty.

    But there’s no double standard. Nope. None at all.

  12. This morning, MHP’s stand-in had MSNBC’s go-to cop apologist on, talking abut the Baltimore indictments. Apo0logist was whining about how

  13. Note to self: No going to Reason on weekends. Weekend nutpunches hurt more than weekday ones.

    Between this and the Illinois “he’s not guilty because he intended to kill the guy so it wasn’t reckless” verdict, i really have to stop getting excited when cops are even charged, because it won’t matter when they’re acquitted. Just like I’m sure the cop who shot the man in the back in South Carolina will be acquitted.

  14. WTF?
    The guy was whining about how those poor Baltimore cops are being subjected to an unreasonable degree of scrutiny (by CIVILIANS! who record their every move), which forces them to not properly do their jobs.
    What a bunch of petulant crybabies. In a sane world, any cops engaged in such a “work slowdown” would be summarily booted off the force.
    Of course, the panel were too focused on the ramifications of white privilege on persons of color and indiscriminate sexual proclivities to ask why those fuckers cannot be fired.

  15. it was impossible to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that either suspect would have survived if not for Brelo’s shots.

    Now, I’m no lawyer, but I’m fairly certain that if I’m driving the getaway car in a bank robbery and my accomplices kill someone in the bank, I get brought up on murder charges.

    Leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of such laws, why are some pigs more equal than others?

  16. there wasn’t any way to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the specific bullets that Brelo fired that ended Russell and Williams’s life, after:

    So all this ballistics shit I see on teh teeeveee is bullshit?

    I am to assume that all criminals convicted on the basis of weapon ballistics are in the process of being released this morning?

  17. It’s just a couple of officers that text off-color messages to their friends. We don’t have a larger accountability problem with state power. Nope.

    Carry on.

    1. We don’t need less state power, we just need the effects of state power to be distributed equally across the races.

      /derp

      1. I’m willing to bet that more whites are killed by cops than blacks.

  18. If I am part of a robbery and my accomplice fires and kills someone, I get charged even if I didn’t fire a bullet.

    It was mentioned above that people are frequently charged for murder of the same person even when both could not have technically been responsible for killing them.

    I don’t know all of the case law and such, but this is a complete copout.

    Also, isn’t the judge’s job here to weigh the evidence presented before him and then make his decision? Why the hell is he giving a hour long presentation explaining his decision to include his own mock-ups of what happened.

    1. Also, isn’t the judge’s job here to weigh the evidence presented before him and then make his decision?

      Not when the defendant is a cop. In the case of a cop the judge’s job is to find some way, any way, to find the guy innocent. After all, they’re on the same team.

    2. Imagine the forensics and bullet matching and comparing that would have gone on had this been a civilian.

    3. The cop needed an out. That’s why they call it a cop-out.

  19. Hmm. If “the victim would have died eventually anyway” is now an acceptable defense against murder/manslaughter charges, I have a feeling we’ll see a steep drop in convictions.

    1. Statistically, the victim had only ten years left to live, so this is only one-eighth of a murder.

  20. I agree that this is a total miscarriage of justice. However, it is also dangerous to welcome the feds in to clean up the mess. That would be like setting loose pythons in your house to get rid of the mouse problem.

  21. Two innocent people are now dead, and no one’s to blame for it? Disgusting.

    1. Don’t you know the blame is on the driver who ran?

  22. And here I thought it was the reasonableness of the perception of a threat that matters.

  23. Cuyahoga Country Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the case showed that the police need an “exhaustive” new training program.

    “The end result should be better trained police forces” that can deescalate dangerous situations,” McGinty said following the verdict.

    What possible incentive would an acquittal here, like every other time, be to police to change anything?

    1. It seems to me that they did de-escalate the situation. The situation was much more dangerous while the cops were chasing the car going 100 mph than it was after the car was stopped and the occupants killed.

      1. Fuck off, Tulpa. Why don’t you go beat some fucking Jews for giving you Passover Coke or something, you disgusting excuse for a man.

        1. Great minds. But I’m having an OK day.

          1. Groupthink not make one’s mind great.

        2. Your sarcasm detector is as bad as your taste in sweetener. Didn’t you see where I condemned the police behavior?

          Whatever. I hope you get bit by a centipeed and noone is there to help you.

      2. Otherwise, someone could have been killed. Right, Tulpa?

  24. I don’t know how anti-gun people can say with a straight face that it’s paranoid to think American citizens would need weapons to protect themselves from the government.

  25. I got to drive through a crowd of protestors who were attempting to block the Shoreway, so that was fun. I got some middle fingers. Way to make me not want to be on your side, you fucking cunts. POLICE BRUTALITY 4 LYFE

  26. “He also determined that Brelo’s use of force was constitutionally reasonable given that he and other officers perceived that Russell and Williams posed a threat.”

    So when citizens see politicians, cops, and other agencies as a threat to their constitutional rights, their use of force shall be constitutionally reasonable?

    But but but!!! We need a violent coercive police force that isn’t accountable to the people, and instead is the arm of the state…..to protect and serve us!!!

  27. Would the judge have made the same decision had the pair shot been ‘white suburban folk?’ To what degree did the victim’s ‘race and lifestyle’ affect their final fate and why have police adopted a heavy handed policy towards minorities and to what degree does this case expose the distorted and duplicitous application of law and punishment in the US?

    Or are we to just to accept this was a case of one cop believing his life was in imminent danger as he pumped 49 desperate bullets whilst his fellow cops had long ceased?

    http://scallywagandvagabond.co…..assengers/

  28. You know its funny. If I commit a crime and during that crime someone dies – even if I’m not there nor had anything to do with it – I get charged with murder also.

    1. wonder if they could at least get the cop on destruction of property?

  29. Human life clearly means nothing to a large handful of police officers all around the country. When will the Citizens of the United States Stand Up And Say; “NO MORE POLICE BRUTALITY!” When A Mob Of Police “HUNT” down A couple And Slaughter Them Because They “Felt threatened”, We really have something wrong with our law enforcement. And if “We The People” Don’t Stand Up To These Thugs What will they Do Next.

  30. From the linked article:

    Thirteen officers fired at the car with Russell and Malissa Williams inside after a 22-mile high-speed chase that involved 62 marked and unmarked cars and reached 100 mph. The pursuit began when Russell’s car backfired as he sped past Cleveland police headquarters and police officers and bystanders thought someone inside had fired a gun. […]

    Authorities never learned why Russell didn’t stop. He had a criminal record including convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery and had been involved in a previous police pursuit. Williams had convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction. Both were described as mentally ill, homeless and addicted to drugs. A crack pipe was found in the car.

    So, in other words, had Russell simply stopped when first pursued, they’d both be alive (but in jail)? Sorry, this looks like another “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” case. Yes, it does seem like the police were trigger-happy, but jeez, talk about Darwin Award winners. Yeah, if you lead police on a 22-mile, 100 mph chase, there might be a bit of danger involved. Duh.

    And exactly how did this end? They crashed? They got bottled up somewhere? They tried to run someone over?It looked like they tried? I have no idea, but without knowing those details how can we say the cops were lying about feeling there was danger?

    1. Who had “Papaya defends the pigs”? Come collect your winnings.

      1. it does seem like the police were trigger-happy

        Papaya defends the pigs

        Reading comprehension fail.

        1. Of course, Papaya. You never outright defend the police. You just move the blame to the victim, and if the victim hadn’t done this, this, or this, the shooting never would have happened! So it’s clearly the victim’s fault, not the officers.

          Go fuck yourself. You’re worse than Tulpa. At least Tulpa has the balls to outright slurp police cock in every scenario.

          1. Pointing out that a victim may have contributed to their own fate is not the same as blaming them for it. Many tragedies are multi-causal. Too many people want to see these cases as cut and dried instances of police abuse. Some are, but some aren’t. If someone smokes cigarettes for 50 years and gets lung cancer, is it “blaming the victim” to point out that their actions likely had something to do with it? Well, leading police on a high-speed chase rarely ends well, especially if (as some reports say) at the end of it you hit a police car and make some cops think you are going to run them over.

            I’m perfectly willing to condemn real cases of police abuse, but Darwin Award winners are not good examples. This probably edges into the abuse category due to the excessive number of shots fired. But it’s idiotic to ignore the fact that if you do stupid and violent things to police, you are putting your life on the line.

    2. You left out the part where you don’t know when the shooting started.

      That might tell you a lot about the rest of the actions.

  31. so the high speed chase didn’t put bystanders in danger? why would police chase when they have helicopters and radios to call ahead and set up road blocks instead of putting the public in danger by giving chase? still overkill blasting away from the hood point blank. sounds like excessive force.

  32. how many fired bullets missed the car and might of hit innocent bystanders? how wouldn’t a call ahead to set up tire spikes not of solved a chase?

  33. no one put a gun to some ones head and said you will be a police officer. they signed up for it, if they can not handle situations logically and safely perhaps the should try another career. they have all the tools, equipment, technology and information to at least try or learn new ways to contain persons or situations. in this day and age with technology there is no reason for reckless pursuit or apprehension of “SUSPECTS”(.)

  34. and to cdn.flashtalking.com wanting to track my physical location… SCREW YOU! Track your self pricks. you have no God Damm Right to track Any Of Us.

  35. I’m mowing my lawn across the street from police headquarters when the mower backfires, then I speed off with my riding johndeer. cops chase me down without knowing who I was or if it wasn’t just a backfire, because why again? and how did they not know it wasn’t from someone elses vehicle or if there had been a gunman on foot. so the flee the headquarters leaving it vulnerable and everyone inside vulnerable in pursuit to “catch someone” instead of protecting those in and around the headquarters. (tis is logical because since a “possible gun shot” was possibly directed at the headquarters it is likely they would attempt firing at non police facilities there after. most vindictive crimes are randomly executed to a wide scope past their prospective target) does this make common sense?

  36. I can’t agree with the Judge’s reasoning.

    He says you can’t say that Brelo’s shots caused the deaths, so Brelo can’t be found guilty.

    If 5 guys jump a person and beat him to death, aren’t they ALL guilty of homicide even though you can’t say whose blow caused the death?

  37. Also, left out of the story is that the other 11 cops plead the 5th, and only one testified that Brelo jumped on the car.

    I would hope that there is a better way to prosecute these types of incidents. Why was the blue gang violence only charged to a single pig?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.