CLEVELAND — The misdemeanor trial for five white Cleveland police supervisors accused of failing to control a high-speed car chase that led to two unarmed black people being killed in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire will be held in a predominantly black suburb, not in county court, prosecutors said Monday.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said officials in East Cleveland, where the November 2012 car chase ended and the shooting occurred, contacted his office about trying the case in that suburban city after a judge acquitted a white Cleveland patrolman last month on felony manslaughter charges for his role in the shooting deaths of driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams. The patrolman's acquittal sparked protests among blacks.
McGinty said the same misdemeanor charges against the supervisors will be filed in East Cleveland and county prosecutors will help try the case, which had been set for trial in county court on July 27.
East Cleveland Municipal Court is an appropriate venue because the five supervisors endangered the lives of East Cleveland residents and other police officers by not ending the chase and preventing the shooting, McGinty said.
The chase ended in East Cleveland but mostly occurred on streets and freeways in Cleveland. More than 100 Cleveland officers in 62 patrol cars participated in the 22-mile-long chase, which reached speeds of 100 mph.
The judge who acquitted Patrolman Michael Brelo was set to preside over the supervisors' trial. McGinty, when asked if he thought the move to East Cleveland would improve the chances of a conviction, said that would be speculation.
"I think we have an excellent chance no matter where we try the case," McGinty said.
Defense attorney Henry Hilow, speaking for the attorneys representing the supervisors, said that race appears to be a factor in the trial move, which he called "inappropriate." He said East Cleveland prosecutors had a chance more than two years ago to charge the officers.
The lone municipal judge in East Cleveland is black. If the trial is held in East Cleveland and the supervisors ask for a jury trial, the pool of potential jurors would be drawn from a city with a black population of 93 percent.
By contrast, about 30 percent of Cuyahoga County's residents are black, as are about 53 percent of Cleveland's residents, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
McGinty raised issues of race before Brelo's trial when the patrolman asked that a judge and not a jury decide the case. McGinty objected and filed an unsuccessful motion that said a bench trial would deprive black Cuyahoga County residents of a chance to be part of a jury to hear the charges.