Prosecutor asks court to correct judge's errors on Cleveland officer verdict

Reuters News
Posted: May 30, 2015 5:56 AM

(Reuters) - An Ohio prosecutor on Friday asked a state appeals court to correct legal errors made by a judge who found a Cleveland officer not guilty in the shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and woman after a high-speed car chase in 2012.

Timothy McGinty of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office filed the motion highlighting "egregious" mistakes in Judge John O'Donnell's ruling last Saturday that cleared officer Michael Brelo in the shooting deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell.

The filing comes amid a national outcry against police violence towards minorities, following a series of high-profile police killings of unarmed black men around the country that prompted waves of protest.

McGinty said in the document that prosecutors could not contest Brelo's acquittal but maintained that O'Donnell's errors needed to be remedied.

"If the errors in the verdict's legal statements and reasoning are left uncorrected, the future administration of justice in this county is compromised," McGinty said in a copy of the filing published on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.

O'Donnell could not be immediately reached for comment, according to the Plain Dealer.

McGinty argued that O'Donnell applied a "unique and imaginative theory" when finding it impossible to determine whether Brelo fired the fatal shots, and also erred in applying the law around whether an officer's use of force is justified.

McGinty said O'Donnell also considered the wrong lesser offense in the case.

O'Donnell ruled that Brelo acted reasonably in shooting the two victims while standing on the hood of their surrounded car and firing multiple rounds through the windshield.

Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

"Never in the history of American policing has a police officer left cover to attack a stopped, trapped, and incapacitated car, by jumping on the hood, reloading his weapon, and firing fifteen more shots downward into the unarmed occupants' chests at point blank range and then have it declined (sic) 'reasonable,'" McGinty wrote.

The chase, which started in downtown Cleveland after reports of gunfire coming from the car, went through multiple cities at speeds topping 90 mph (145 kph), involved more than 100 police officers, and ended with 13 Cleveland officers firing 137 rounds.

Russell was struck 24 times and Malissa Williams 23 times. No weapon was found in the car or along the route. A forensic mechanic testified that the car was prone to backfiring.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco)