CLEVELAND (AP) — Charges against a police officer who jumped on the hood of a car and fired the final rounds of a 137-shot barrage that killed a pair of unarmed suspects should be dismissed because he believed his life was in danger, his attorneys said.
Michael Brelo, 30, is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his role in the shooting of driver Timothy Russell, 43, and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, through a windshield in November 2012 after a high-speed chase.
Brelo is accused of firing the final 15 rounds and 49 altogether. Neither Russell nor Williams was armed. Russell was shot 23 times and Williams 24 times. Their estates split a $3 million settlement from the city of Cleveland last year.
In a motion filed Tuesday, Brelo’s attorneys argue that their client has qualified immunity from prosecution because Russell and Williams were a threat to officers until Brelo reached into the car, put it in park and removed the keys after the gunshots had been fired.
“The suspects were using their vehicle as a deadly weapon against the officers during the chase and in the parking lot,” Brelo’s attorneys wrote.
The other 12 officers who fired shots were not charged criminally, prosecutors said last year, because the car was still moving when they fired. Prosecutors said there was a four-second lull in gunfire before Brelo fired his final burst. Brelo’s attorneys argue there was no pause and that Brelo wasn’t the only officer who fired shots at the end.
Additionally, radio transmissions gave the 13 officers reason to believe Russell and Williams were armed, Brelo’s motion said. Prosecutors have said the gunshots officers thought they heard at the beginning of the case were likely Russell’s older-model car backfiring.
A spokesman for Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty declined to comment.