Ohio patrolman acquitted in 2 deaths amid 137-shot barrage

CLEVELAND — A white Cleveland patrolman who fired down through the windshield of a suspect’s car at the end of a 137-shot barrage that left the two unarmed black occupants dead was acquitted Saturday of criminal charges by a judge who said he could not determine the officer alone fired the fatal shots.

Michael Brelo, 31, put his head in hands as the judge issued a verdict followed by angry, but peaceful, protests: Outside the courthouse police blocked furious protesters from going inside while across the city others held a mock funeral with some carrying signs asking, “Will I be next?”

The acquittal came at a time of nationwide tension among police and black citizens punctuated by protests over deaths of black suspects at the hands of white officers — and following a determination by the U.S. Department of Justice that Cleveland police had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.

Before issuing his verdict, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell reflected on the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore over the deaths of black suspects but said he would not offer up Brelo to an angry public if the evidence did not merit a conviction.

“I will not sacrifice him,” O’Donnell said.

Brelo — who fired a total of 49 shots, including 15 down through the windshield while standing on the hood of the suspects’ vehicle — faced as many as 22 years in prison had the judge convicted him on two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his role in the end of a chase that began after Timothy Russell’s beat-up Chevy Malibu backfired.

 

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