In a case that somehow had not come on my radar screen, minutes ago Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo (who is white) was found not guilty by Judge John. P. O’Connell of all criminal charges resulting from his shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams (who were both black). Brelo had been charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter and two lesser included charges of felonious assault.

This case was notable in that Russell and William had been reported as firing a shot at officers in front of a criminal justice center, then led numerous responding patrol cars on a high-speed (>100 miles per hour) 22-mile pursuit through the city of Cleveland.

The pursuit ended in an adjacent city’s school parking lot, at which point Russell began ramming the police vehicles with his car.  At that point the 13 officers at scene began firing at Russel and Williams. This firing lasted approximately 20 seconds, and during the last 8 of those seconds Officer Brelo would stand on the suspects’ vehicle and fire a final 15 rounds through the windshield into their bodies.  In total the 13 officers fired 135 shots in this final altercation.

It was agreed that the initial 12 seconds of firing was a reasonable use of force, but the prosecutor argued that Brelo’s firing in the last 8 seconds was unreasonable and constituted either voluntary manslaughter or the lesser included charge of felonious assault.

The trial was also notable in that it was a bench trial in which the Judge John. P. O’Connell acted as the finder of fact.

Even more unusually, at the close of the trial the judge spent over an hour, prior to announcing the verdict, stepping through his rationale for coming to his conclusion.

The result is Judge O’Connell ruled that:

  • The two counts of voluntary manslaughter had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt;
  • The two counts of felonious assault had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt; but
  • Brelo escapes legal liability for those assault charges because he proved justification by a preponderance of the evidence.

Bottom line: Not guilty on all charges.

I have extensive notes I hurriedly took while the judge was speaking live, and will post those up as an update.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.


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