Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo has been found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the November 2012 shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell announced his decision in open court on Saturday.
Brelo was charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter. If convicted, he could have faced up to 22 years in prison.
O’Donnell could have brought lesser charges such as attempted voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault, but did not.
Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, led Cleveland Police on a 23-minute high-speed chase from downtown Cleveland to East Cleveland the evening of November 29, 2012.
The chase started when an officer thought he heard a gunshot come from Russell’s Chevy Malibu outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center. Investigators later determined the car backfired.
As officers around the city heard radio reports involving an officer being fired upon, they joined the chase.
By the end, 62 Cleveland patrol cars were involved in the chase. It ended when officers blocked Russell and Williams in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland and then opened fire.
13 Cleveland police officers, including Brelo, fired a total of 137 bullets. Brelo fired 49 of the shots.
Brelo told BCI Investigators he had no recollection of being on the hood of the Russell’s car, but that he had shot at Russell and Williams because they were still moving and he believed they were armed and dangerous.
Russell was shot 23 times. Williams was shot 24 times.
Investigators later discovered the two suspects were unarmed.
Prosecutors have been arguing in court since April 6 that Brelo is responsible for firing the fatal shots that ultimately killed Russell and Williams.
Along with Brelo, five supervisors were criminally charged with two counts each of dereliction of duty. They include Sgt. Patricia Coleman, Sgt. Randolph Daley, Sgt. Michael Donegan, Sgt. Jason Edens and Lt. Paul Wilson.
In court, all five supervisors were called to the stand. All the supervisors invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A sixth officer, Michael Demchake, immediately stated he was told not to answer questions based on advice from his attorneys when he took the stand.
His response triggered an angry outburst by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.
Ahead of the verdict, local leaders reached out to communities to urge peaceful protest no matter the outcome.
With recent police incidents sparking riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson laid out an anti-violence plan last week.