The tragic killing of an unarmed Black couple Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, by Cleveland police officers has resulted in the termination of six of the officers involved. In 2012, the couple was killed after a high speed chase in which police fired 137 shots into the car. According to the officers on the scene, they felt that the unarmed Black couple was a threat and deadly force was justified. However, after an extensive Justice Department investigation it was determined that the Cleveland Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force and violating people’s civil rights.
The police mistook the backfire from the couple’s late model vehicle as gunshots and engaged in a chase that included 62 police cruisers and at least 100 officers. It was determined that one officer identified as Michael Brelo stood on top of the hood of stopped vehicle and fired 15 shots into the couple when they were no longer a threat. It was also determined that Brelo fired his gun 49 times, more than any other officer at the scene. He was the only officer who faced criminal charges of manslaughter but was acquitted in May 2015.
Police Union official Steve Loomis called the termination of the officers “Unbelievable, unprecedented and politically motivated.” Loomis stated that the police union would file a grievance over the termination and fight for the reinstatement of the officers involved. Loomis went on to state, “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… within our training.”
The city negotiated an agreement with the Justice Department to make changes overseen by an independent monitor and paid a $3 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by relatives of Russell and Williams. In addition to the firing of the police officers, another six officers face suspension ranging from 21 to 30 days.