Ohio (The Gaslamp Post) Credit to Gaslamp Post reader Chris for the lead on this story – The Ohio state attorney general’s office is calling the fatal shooting of 2 unarmed suspects at the conclusion of a pursuit in November a “systemic failure”. The 22-minute long pursuit involved over 60 officers, many of whom did not have permission to become involved in the chase, and ended with over 130 rounds being fired.
Of the shots fired at suspects during the reported 17.8 seconds of officers firing from point blank range, 49 came from just one officer.
“We have violations all over the place, a lack of command and control,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“By failing to provide adequate structure and support, the system failed the officers,” he continued. “The number of vehicles involved contributed to crossfire that risked the lives of many, many officers. It’s a miracle officers weren’t killed.”
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said friendly-fire “tore up police vehicles.” He also called it a miracle that police burials didn’t follow the chase.
On November 29, 2012, Cleveland police were pursuing an older model Chevrolet Malibu that they had attempted to pull over. The Malibu reportedly driven by Timothy Russell, 43, had reportedly led police on a chase that at times reached over 100 mph.
During the chase, recorded audio exchanged between officers and dispatchers revealed one officer claiming that one of the suspects had a gun, another had said that something was thrown from the vehicle, and yet another called out that shots had been fired. A subsequent search of scene, the suspects vehicle, as well as the entire route traveled during the pursuit which was performed with a metal detector, but turned up no firearm.
East Cleveland Councilwoman Barbra Thomas, who is reported to have been critical of the incident since the story broke called the incident “wild, wild west coming straight down Euclid.”
“I think it was deplorable,” Thomas said. “I think it was a massacre.”
“I am from labor,” Thomas said, “and I believe in having the police, the firemen, all our safety people around that can protect us and keep us safe. But in this instance, you killed them. You actually murdered them. That was murder.”
The chase ended in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland where 13 officers had converged on the Malibu driven by Russell, with Malissa Williams, 30 in the passenger seat. The Malibu had reportedly struck a police cruiser and come to a complete stop prior to pursuing officers firing bullets at Russell and Williams.
The first officer who reportedly began firing at the Malibu, Officer Wilfredo Diaz, stated in an interview that he feared for his life as the car driven by Russell was coming at him at a high rate of speed. He stated during his interview that he feared he would “get hit by a car or hit by a bullet.”
The following video animation shows the details of the last few seconds of the chase where Ofc. Diaz was almost hit by Russell. The video rendition of the last seconds of the pursuit based on officer’s testimony and audio recordings shows that the only reason the Malibu was coming towards Diaz was due to the fact that his cruiser had hit it, spun it around, and then exited his cruiser immediately after car spun around.
The second responding officer who began firing, Scott Sistek, told investigators that he saw the suspect’s vehicle “coming right at him” as he exited his vehicle. He reportedly fired four times at the Malibu before as he stated, it “smashed into his cruiser”. Sistek reportedly “hit the ground for cover” and then fired at the Malibu 8 more times.
Another responding officer, Patrolman Michael Brelo, a former U.S. Marine who reportedly served in Iraq, jumped up onto the hood of the Malibu and began firing into it. Officer Brelo told investigators that he saw the suspects vehicle smash into Officer Sistek’s cruiser and believed that the shots were coming from it.
However, the shots Brelo reportedly heard were being fired by other officers. According to Newsnet5.com, Officer Brelo fired as many as 49 rounds at the suspects while on the hood of the Malibu, far more than any of the other 12 officers who were on the scene.
Officer Brelo told investigators (he saw) “the suspects moving and I could not understand why they are still moving, shooting at us. Even through Iraq, I never fired my weapon. I never have been so afraid in my life.” (while facing the suspects).
Officer Cynthia Moore, who reportedly could see inside of the Malibu reported seeing the suspects with a weapon.
A toxicology report showed the presence of cocaine in the systems of both Russell and Williams, but no evidence of gun shot residue on either of them, indicating that they had not fired a weapon. A search of the Malibu, the scene, the route of the pursuit, and even storm drains turned up no gun.
Families of both Russel and Williams are outraged at the discovery of one officer firing as many times as he did. “He (Brelo) needs to be fired, punished for what he’s done,” said Dorthy Sigelmier, a family friend who helped raise Williams. Both families have reportedly filed civil proceedings.
“When an officer unloads his weapon 49 times, on its face, that’s unreasonable,” said Williams’ family attorney David Malik.
“It’s like the wild, wild west,” explained Tyrone Reed, another family lawyer.
Russell’s family attorney, Terry Gilbert, thought the report was disturbing.
“A complete lack of control. It was a real bombshell,” added Paul Cristallo, the Russells’ other attorney.
Lawyers for both families said if an agreement can’t be reached with the city, civil lawsuits will likely be filed.
A Retired Cleveland police officer weighed in on the police involved shooting. According to Newsnet5.com, not many people other than police officers understand the dangers that they face on a daily basis. Retired Officer Jim Simone said that he has been in some of life-and-death situations.
“Hundreds of times, it didn’t end up in deadly force all of the time. But, I killed five suspects in my 38 years,” said Simone.
During his career, Simone was shot twice — once in the head. He knows the officers involved in this shooting.
“I talked to them, the thing you have to remember is it’s the perception. What they see at that moment in time, if they believe they are drawing real fire. As long as they believe they are in jeopardy, they have the right to fire their weapon,” said Simone.
Police academy Commander Jamie Travano, who also serves as a police officer says that the goal for an officer is to go home at the end of the shift. No officer comes to work wanting to hurt someone.
“We have a nano second to make a decision. The administration, law department have days, weeks and months to scrutinize what we’ve done, ” said Travano.
The Cleveland police department is taking issue with the attorney general’s findings, especially with the accuracy of the details.
But Police Chief Michael McGrath said those findings were not accurate.
“Systematic, no. There are policies and procedures and training in place,” said McGrath in a news conference following DeWine’s announcement.
The findings of the attorney general were passed on to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who said he plans to bring the case before a grand jury to see if any of the officers should face charges.
McGrath said the city’s internal investigation into the matter is continuing. He said that will determine whether officers involved with the incident complied with department policies and procedures.