Cleveland firing 6 cops in fatal 137-shot barrage

Kantele Franko
Associated Press

Cleveland officials said Wednesday they’re terminating six police officers who fired during a 137-shot barrage that killed two unarmed people after a high-speed chase.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the fired officers include Patrolman Michael Brelo, who was acquitted of manslaughter charges in May for having fired the last 15 shots of the barrage in East Cleveland on Nov. 29, 2012. City officials didn’t identify officers by name during the announcement but promised to release documentation about the discipline.

Six more officers who fired during the barrage face suspensions ranging from 21 to 30 days, said Public Safety Director Michael McGrath, the former police chief. A total of 13 officers had been notified that they faced administrative discipline, and one of them has retired, McGrath said.

The officers had been cited for joining the chase and leaving the city without permission. More seriously, some were cited for endangering other officers by creating a crossfire situation.

The president of Cleveland’s largest police union didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. When the officers were notified late last summer that they were facing administrative discipline, the union said it would be challenged during hearings.

The officers fired at a car after a high-speed chase that involved 62 police cruisers and more than 100 officers. It began when officers standing outside police headquarters mistook the sound of a beat-up Chevrolet Malibu backfiring as a gunshot.

The occupants of the car were killed. Timothy Russell was hit by 24 shots, Malissa Williams by 23.

Of the officers who fired, only Brelo faced criminal charges. Prosecutors said he stood on the vehicle’s hood and fired inside repeatedly after the car had stopped and its occupants were no longer a threat.

Defense attorneys said the officers involved in the chase and shooting had probable cause to believe the people in the car were a safety threat. Investigators later concluded Russell and Williams weren’t armed.

The shooting preceded a monthslong U.S. Department of Justice investigation that concluded Cleveland police engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. The city negotiated an agreement to make changes overseen by an independent monitor.