A Cleveland police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting deaths of two unarmed people in a 137-shot barrage will learn his fate Saturday.
A judge said he reached a verdict in the bench trial of Officer Michael Brelo and will release it at 10 a.m. Brelo, 31, is charged in the November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after a high-speed car chase.
Brelo is white, the two motorists were black. Community and city leaders braced for the possibility of unrest in response to the verdict, which comes as investigators work toward making a decision on whether charges will be filed in the death of a black 12-year-old boy shot by a white rookie officer late last year.
The chase began after Russell’s beat-up Chevy Malibu backfired as it sped past police headquarters, which caused officers to think someone in the car had fired a gun. Thirteen officers fired at the pair’s car after the chase, though only Brelo was charged criminally. 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.
Prosecutors argued Russell and Williams were alive until Brelo’s final salvo. Brelo’s attorneys argued that other officers fired during the final barrage and that prosecutors couldn’t prove in what order the fatal shots were fired.
Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, were each shot more than 20 times.
The shooting helped prompt a months-long investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which concluded last December that the Cleveland police department had engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights. The city and DOJ are currently negotiating a reform-minded consent decree that a federal judge will approve and independent monitors will oversee.