News & Politics

Six Cops Who Shot 137 Rounds at Unarmed Couple Fired, But Can Still Work as Cops

Neither of the victims was armed or suspected of anything more serious than traffic violations.

policeman
Photo Credit: Fresnel

Six of the Cleveland police officers involved in the 137-shot, execution-style fusillade that killed an unarmed couple, have become “gypsy cops” eligible to be hired by other departments — which is to say they have been terminated without facing criminal prosecution. Six others have been given suspensions ranging from 21 to 30 days, and a 13th has been fired, reports ABC News.

The shooting came at the end of a November 12, 2012 high-speed chase involving more than 100 officers and 62 police vehicles. The pursuit began when officers standing outside police headquarters mistook the sound of Russell’s backfiring Chevy Malibu for gunfire. When the car stopped outside city limits, officers opened fire, perforating Russell with 24 shots and Williams with 23. Neither of the victims was armed, or suspected of anything more serious than traffic violations resulting from the pursuit. A search of the vehicle following the double homicide revealed a crack pipe. Both Russell and Williams had been diagnosed as mentally ill.

Officer Michael Brelo, who mounted the hood of the vehicle to shoot through the windshield, was the only assailant who faced criminal charges. He was acquitted in a bench trial after W. Ken Katsaris, a retired sheriff and expert witness specializing in testimony tailored to exonerate police officers, testified that Brelo’s only mistake was to expose himself to potential danger, thereby potentially inhibiting his colleagues as they unleashed gunfire in the direction of the vehicle.

By leaping on top of the hood of the car, Brelo was “taking action that is not trained, not recognized, not safe, and put all of the other officers in the vicinity of his becoming a victim and their [the other officers] having to attempt to now engage to save his life,” Katsaris testified before trial judge John P. O’Donnell, who in exonerated the officer. Brelo was one of the six officers fired on January 26.

If an officer is in fear for his life and behind cover, which was Brelo’s posture until the last eight seconds of the engagement, it would make sense for that officer to abandon cover and “put [himself] standing on top of a car in the middle of, as he called it, a fire fight,” Katsaris explained. This violation of the sacred principle of officer safety, rather than the reflexive resort to lethal force and clear overkill involved in firing through the windshield, was why Brelo’s actions were “unreasonable” and “unconstitutional” fashion, according to Katsaris.

“You don’t put yourself in a position of officer down in the middle of a situation [like] that he was involved in,” the expert witness elaborated. “That’s why it’s objectively unreasonable…. It’s taking yourself out from behind cover. And you’re putting yourself in crossfire. And you’re putting the other officers in jeopardy of having to now, if you get shot, save your life which risks their lives.”

Asked if Brelo would have acted “reasonably” and “constitutionally” by remaining behind cover while firing the final 15 shots, Katsaris replied: “I would probably say so.”

That analysis ignored any consideration of whether the use of lethal force was justified and proportionate. Once a police officer has decided on a “taking” – whether a traffic stop, investigative detention, an arrest or a killing – the matter has been settled, and the subject has no choice but to submit. If this results in an innocent member of the public suffering injury or death, this is a regrettable “error,” but the officer cannot be held responsible; doing so would inhibit his comrades in similar situations, thereby putting their lives at unacceptable risk.

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