Stories of police being charged with deaths of suspects have been a big part of the news lately, seeming to start with the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mississippi, which really started riots and public unrest. The most recent and one that has received a lot of media attention was the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, which has also caused riots in that city.
The cases cast a very negative shadow on police forces in the United States. Recently, Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo was acquitted for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams that occurred on November 29, 2012, according to a May 25 CNN article. He was found not guilty in the shootings on Friday, and “dozens have marched through downtown Cleveland on Tuesday and demanded changes to the city’s criminal justice system,” according to an NBC article.
The shooting of Russell and Williams began when the couple sped away from an undercover cop and a loud bang sounded from the tailpipe when their engine backfired, and prosecutors suggest the officers mistook the noise for gunshots, initiating a 22-mile car chase when as many as 62 police cars joined the high-speed chase. While 13 police officers fired more than 100 times in eight seconds, it seems rather unfair that Michael Brelo was the only one to be charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
It seems the reason that Brelo was charged was because he was the most ruthless of the officers, who stood on the hood of the couple’s car and fired 15 shots through the windshield at close range, suggests Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGlinty to CNN. Brelo cited fear for his own life and his partner’s as motivation.
The decision to acquit was reached by Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell, and not by a jury. He cited his reasoning as the fact that the officers had reason to believe they and the public were at risk, and Brelo’s actions were permissible because the threat might not have been over. One might wonder if the verdict would have been different if a jury had decided the officer’s fate, as just one person was given the responsibility.
According to the CNN article, each of the victim’s families will receive more than $865,000 each, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported last year, where the total settlement amount is $1.5 million for each family but lawyers received 40 per cent of it.
According to a DOJ report released last year, the Cleveland police force have used unnecessary and unreasonable force at a significant rate, using guns, Tasers, pepper spray and their fists excessively. To me, it really should mean that the officers need to be better trained and need to assess situations better and are too quick to use lethal or aggressive force on certain situations that don’t particularly need it.