Six Cleveland police officers will be fired based on their involvement in a deadly salvo following a high-speed chase in 2012 that left two unarmed black people dead, officials announced Tuesday.
Six more officers face suspensions of 21 to 30 days, and another officer retired last year in relation to the event. One of the officers fired, Michael Brelo, was acquitted last May of manslaughter charges stemming from the chase. Protesters, angered by the acquittal, clashed with police leading to dozens of arrests.
Such tense protests have become routine in many American cities in the past year and half as people have taken to the streets to express frustrations about fatal shootings of black citizens by police officers and what they see as a failure to adequately punish officers.
This incident occurred in November 2012. Reports of gunfire coming from a car driven by Timothy Russell and carrying passenger Malissa Williams caused officers to pursue the vehicle, and Mr. Russell did not stop. It was later determined that Russell’s vehicle, a Chevrolet Malibu, had backfired. No weapon was found in the car.
More than 100 officers and 60 police cruisers were involved in the pursuit, which lasted around 20 minutes and at points topped 90 miles per hour as Russell was chased through multiple cities. The incident ended in a school parking lot where officers opened fire on Russell’s car, discharging 137 bullets in the process. Russell was hit 24 times and Ms. Williams 23; both were killed.
“The incident was unprecedented,” said Cleveland Police Commander James Chura, according to Reuters. “It took an investigation just as unprecedented to get to the truth.”
The disciplined officers were cited for both joining the pursuit and leaving the city of Cleveland without permission, and some were accused of endangering other officers in a crossfire situation.
Steve Loomis, president of Cleveland’s largest police union, said his group would work to overturn the punitive measures and said appeals to the firings were filed with the city Tuesday.
“It's tragic that it went down this way, but at the end of the day, two people high on crack cocaine, high on marijuana, one of them intoxicated, made the decisions that they made and we responded to them,” Mr. Loomis said of the incident, per the Associated Press. “And we responded within our training.”
Loomis also called the firings “shamefully political” as “the direct result of the current and false narrative surrounding the facts and law enforcement throughout this country,” according to Reuters.
Russell and Williams were both reportedly mentally ill, homeless, and addicted to drugs, and a pipe used for smoking crack cocaine was found in Russell’s car. Russell had a criminal record, and had previously been involved in a police chase.
Cleveland paid Russell and Williams' families $1.5 million each as settlement for wrongful death lawsuits.
After the 2012 episode, the US Department of Justice investigated Cleveland’s police department and found that it “engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force,” including “unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force,” and the use of excessive force against the mentally ill.
Material from the Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.