CLEVELAND: Cleveland fired six officers for their roles in a 137-shot barrage of gunfire that killed two unarmed people after a high-speed chase, but the potential consequences of that day for police still aren’t fully resolved. A review of what happened, how officers were disciplined and the status of related criminal cases:
It started with a failed traffic stop on the edge of downtown on Nov. 29, 2012. Driver Timothy Russell sped away in a beat-up Malibu that backfired as it passed police headquarters, and officers outside thought someone had fired a weapon. That began a 22-mile chase that involved 62 cars and 104 officers and ended with the deaths of Russell and passenger Malissa Williams in an East Cleveland school parking lot. Officers said they’d seen Williams with a gun, but investigators determined she and Russell weren’t armed.
Cleveland conducted a lengthy investigation to determine who should face administrative discipline. They reviewed actions of the 13 officers who fired at the Malibu in the parking lot, 12 supervisors on duty and 74 officers who participated in the chase.
Discipline against the supervisors included one officer being fired and two demoted, which an arbitrator overturned. Cleveland has appealed the decision on the firing. Nine supervisors received unpaid suspensions ranging from one day to 30 days. An arbitrator overturned the four longest suspensions.
Sixty-three patrol officers who were involved in the chase but didn’t shoot received unpaid suspensions ranging from one day to 10 days. Seven officers got letters of reinstruction, one officer received a written warning and three had administrative charges dismissed.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors presented evidence to a grand jury to determine if any officers should be criminally charged in the shootings of Russell and Williams, both of whom were black. One patrolman, Michael Brelo, was indicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter. Brelo, who was white, had fired 49 of the 137 rounds in the barrage, including the last 15 into the windshield of Russell’s car while standing on the hood. He was acquitted by a judge.
Cleveland’s largest police union is challenging the discipline announced Tuesday as the city fired six officers involved in the shooting — including Brelo — and issued multiweek suspensions for six others.
Also pending is the case of six supervisors indicted on misdemeanor charges of dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase. Those charges are in legal limbo as they await an appeals court decision about whether a trial should be held in Cleveland, where the chase began, or East Cleveland, where the chase ended. Prosecutor Timothy McGinty wants the trial held in East Cleveland, a predominantly black city. Attorneys for the six white supervisors want the case heard in Cleveland.
The chase has and will continue to cost the city millions. It paid $3 million to settle lawsuits filed by relatives of Russell and Williams. It also helped prompt an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department that led to a court-monitored consent decree to reform the police department. City officials say implementing that will cost millions of dollars.