CLEVELAND — The case against a Cleveland police officer on trial for the deaths of two unarmed suspects in a barrage of bullets after a high-speed chase should be dismissed, the defense argued Wednesday, saying prosecutors failed to prove the officer wrongly resorted to deadly force or fired the fatal shots.
The defense made the motion after prosecutors made their case over more than two weeks of testimony in the voluntary manslaughter trial of 31-year-old Patrolman Michael Brelo.
Brelo attorney Tom Shaughnessy told the judge that prosecutors failed to prove the officer violated the constitutional rights of Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, when the patrolman fired 49 rounds at them, including the final 15 from the hood of Russell's car.
Judge John P. O'Donnell is expected to decide on the motion by Monday, when the defense also is scheduled to begin presenting witnesses.
Anticipating the defense motion, prosecutors already had written arguments prepared Wednesday. They said trial testimony showed Brelo fired "kill shots" from the hood of Russell's car after it had stopped and the pair was no longer a threat to anyone's life.
The November 2012 chase began after an officer standing outside police headquarters in downtown Cleveland mistakenly thought that someone had fired a gun when it sped by. Experts later concluded Russell's car had backfired.
More than 100 officers in 62 police cars were involved in the chase, which stretched over 22 miles and reached speeds of 100 mph. Thirteen officers fired a total of 137 rounds at the car that night.
The officer who fired the first shots told investigators he was nearly struck by Russell's Malibu and thought he might be killed. Other officers said they then began firing because they thought they were in a shootout with the occupants of the vehicle. Despite an exhaustive search, no gun was ever found.
The chase and shooting helped spur a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Cleveland police practices. The federal investigation found a pattern and practice of Cleveland police officers using excessive force and violating rights. The city and Justice Department are negotiating a consent decree on changes to city police practices.