Michael Brelo Verdict

Last Saturday, Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault. The judge found the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of felonious assault, but he determined Brelo was justified in using deadly force against the two victims: Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

The episode that led to their deaths occurred on November 29, 2012, and resulted in the police firing over 137 bullets at Russell’s car. Once the car was stopped, Officer Brelo jumped on the hood, reloaded his pistol, and fired 15 more shots. Russell and Williams were unarmed.

Three days after the judge’s verdict acquitting Brelo, the Cleveland Police Department reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreement is the product of the DOJ’s report, issued earlier this year, in which the DOJ announced its finding that the Cleveland Police Department “engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The Ohio Attorney General, Mike DeWine, had investigated the shooting of Russell and Williams and concluded that “we are dealing with a systemic failure in the Cleveland Police Department. Command failed. Communications failed. The System failed.”

It is difficult to reconcile the judge’s finding that Brelo used reasonable force with the findings of the DOJ (that the Cleveland police regularly violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights by using unreasonable force) and the finding of the Ohio Attorney General (that they did so on November 29).

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