A white police officer who fired 34 shots at an unarmed black couple in 2012 has been acquitted of manslaughter in Cleveland.
Michael Brelo, 31, was found not guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams on 29 November 2012.
The seven-year veteran was one of 13 officers who fired a total of 137 rounds, killing the couple after a 20-mile high speed chase. Prosecutors said the officers mistook the noise of the car backfiring for gunfire.
However, when Mr Russell’s car was surrounded and stopped, Mr Brelo jumped onto the hood of the Chevy Malibu and fired 15 additional rounds at close range into the couple’s windshield.
Despite this, Judge John O’Donnell could not find enough evidence to convict Mr Brelo.
“The state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Michael Brelo, knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams,” he ruled.
Legal question: If a group of non-cops killed a couple with 140 bullets, would it matter for charging who fired the fatal rounds? #Brelo— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) May 23, 2015
Representative Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat, called Mr O’Donnell's ruling “a stunning setback."
"The verdict is another chilling reminder of a broken relationship between the Cleveland Police Department and the community it serves,” she said. “Today we have been told — yet again — our lives have no value.”
She also pointed to the Justice Department’s review of the Cleveland Police Department which found patterns of systemic deficiencies and inappropriate uses of force against suspects.
“The December 2014 US Department of Justice review of the Cleveland Police Department showed that we need sweeping, systemic changes in how our law enforcement works and interacts with the community. I pledge to continue to work with city officials to help implement these changes,” she said.
“The decision may not be what we want but our march for justice continues. We still have a long way to go toward racial equality and justice in Ohio, and in the entire United States of America.”
Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James called for the city to remain calm. "For the city of Cleveland, let's use our excitement or whatever passion that we have for our sport tomorrow, for the game tomorrow night, bring it tomorrow night," he said.
Legally excused for killing black folk because cop feels threatened by black victims. Real threat here is our black identity. #BreloVerdicthyphen; Michael Eric Dyson (@MichaelEDyson) May 23, 2015
The Department of Justice also released a statement, announcing that they will continue to conduct an independent investigation.
“We will not review the testimony and evidence presented in the state trial," it said.
"We will continue our assessment, review all available legal options, and will collaboratively determine what, if any, additional steps are available and appropriate given the requirements and limitations of the applicable laws in the federal judicial system.”
Amid disappointment of the verdict, demonstrators made their voices heard and continued to protest overnight.
Disturbing number of tweets on the #BreloVerdict from people worrying about rioting. A not guilty verdict should be far more upsetting.hyphen; Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) May 23, 2015