CLEVELAND – Cleveland police should have stopped a car chase in November 2012 long before it ended with officers firing 137 rounds and killing two unarmed people, an Ohio prosecutor said in court filings.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty filed a motion in common pleas court Thursday in response to a request for a gag order by the attorneys representing Patrolman Michael Brelo, who was indicted last month on two counts of voluntary manslaughter. Five supervisors have been charged with misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase. All have pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for the 30-year-old Brelo sought the gag order because they say McGinty's negative comments about the chase have violated Brelo's right to a fair trial. The motion said many of the comments were made months before a county grand jury handed up an indictment.
McGinty responded with a motion opposing the gag order. That motion included a number of previously undisclosed details about the chase.
The motion said the pursuit turned into a "Blues Brothers" situation that ended with Brelo standing on the hood of a car driven by Timothy Russell and firing 15 rounds through the windshield from 5 feet away, shots the prosecutor alleged killed the 43-year-old Russell and his passenger, 30-year-old Malissa Williams.
McGinty's "Blues Brothers" movie comment referenced a scene in the 1980 comedy that included a police chase involving dozens of cruisers.
McGinty wrote that supervisors could have called off the chase and, using the identification of Williams and his vehicle, found him later. Officers pursued Williams' car because they thought they had heard gunshots. Officials now believe Russell's car had backfired.
The chase began near downtown Cleveland and eventually involved 104 officers and 62 police cruisers traveling 20 miles in 23 minutes on city streets and interstates at speeds reaching 110 mph. It ended in the parking lot of a suburban Cleveland school, where 13 officers, including Brelo, surrounded Russell's car and fired more than 100 rounds into the vehicle.
McGinty's motion said the length of time and the speed of the chase were "excessive by all standards of law and common sense." The motion said officers created a nearly 360-degree "firing circle" around the car when they began firing.
"It is quite simply a miracle there were no additional injuries or fatalities," McGinty wrote.
The other 12 officers who discharged their weapons that night were not charged criminally. McGinty said after the indictment of Brelo and the supervisors that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled officers may use excessive deadly force when they fear their lives in danger.
The motion said there was a delay of more than four seconds between the first salvo and when Brelo jumped on the hood and continued to fire. Brelo discharged 49 rounds that night.
"Brelo went beyond any justifiable action jumping on the hood of the Malibu and emptying his service weapon into Russell and Williams," McGinty wrote in his motion.
Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24 times.
The motion for a gag order cited what attorneys say were McGinty's prejudicial comments about police. The gag order request said that when McGinty was asked about the officers' actions, he responded: "The buffalo are coming. They may not be stampeding, but they are coming."
McGinty asked the judge to reject the gag order because of comments by police union officials. He cited in the motion a comment from a union official who called the events of Nov. 29, 2013, a "perfect chase."
Spokesman Joe Frolik said McGinty would not comment further about the motion or the case.
Brelo's main attorney, Patrick D'Angelo, did not return telephone calls Friday morning.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting an extensive investigation into the Cleveland police department's use of deadly force and pursuit policies.