Why Cleveland Police Officer Verdict Was Announced Over Holiday Weekend

Judge O'Donnell wanted to announce his decision as quickly as possible.

May 23, 2015, 4:40 PM
PHOTO: Cleveland police Officer Michael Brelo listens to testimony during his trial in Cleveland, April 9, 2015.
Cleveland police Officer Michael Brelo listens to testimony during his trial in Cleveland, April 9, 2015.
Tony Dejak/AP Photo

— -- Cuyahoga County Judge John O'Donnell today acquitted Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo in the 2012 shooting deaths of two unarmed people. But why was the decision announced at the start of Memorial Day Weekend?

"The decision to announce the verdict in this high-profile case on a holiday weekend was not made lightly," Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Administrative and Presiding Judge John J. Russo said in a statement.

"The prime consideration was to not delay the reading of the verdict any longer than necessary," the statement added. "While the wait was difficult for many, it was especially hard on the parties involved in the case and their families. Once Judge O’Donnell reached his verdict and finished writing his opinion, he and the Court wanted to let the parties know the decision as quickly as possible.

"It was agreed that by announcing it on a Saturday morning, the potential for downtown traffic issues and the resulting impact on the community could also be lessened," the statement said.

Russo also wrote: "On this Memorial Day Weekend, we honor and thank those who served our nation and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms and rights that we enjoy."

Brelo was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter and a lesser charge of felonious assault in the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, as O'Donnell said he couldn't determine whether the officer alone fired the fatal shots at the end of a 137-bullet barrage.

O'Donnell ruled that Brelo's use of deadly force was constitutionally reasonable based on how the events unfolded.

"It was reasonable, despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car and he was mistaken about the origin of the gunshots," he said.

Prosecutors said Brelo, 31, was one of 13 officers who fired 137 times into the couple's car in the November 2012 shooting. The 22-mile, high-speed chase through Cleveland began when an officer tried pulling over Russell for a turn signal violation. His car backfired while speeding away, causing officers to think someone in the car had fired a gun.

Thirteen officers fired upon the car at the end of the chase, including Brelo, who prosecutors said stood on the car's hood when it was stopped and shot 15 times into the windshield. He told the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation that he thought he and his partner were being shot at.

No gun was ever found in the car. Russell and Williams were each shot more than 20 times.

Brelo was the only officer charged criminally because prosecutors said he intended to kill Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, alleging that he reloaded during the shooting barrage and that it was his final salvo that killed the couple.

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