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Ohio Cops Criminally Charged In Car Chase Shootout
Ohio grand jury indicts police officer and supervisors involved in firing 137 shots into an unarmed driver and passenger.

Timothy J. McGinty
A light blue 1979 Chevy Malibu SS was left wrecked, riddled with 137 bullets in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland, Ohio on the evening of November 29, 2012. Its unarmed driver, Timothy Russell, and passenger, Malissa William, died at the scene. The case takes on extraordinary significance as a Cuyahoga County grand jury on Friday indicted six of the police officers who were involved.

It all began when the thirty-three-year-old Malibu backfired as it drove past a police station. An officer assumed it was a gunshot and began to pursue. Russell, who had a criminal record, did not stop.

A total of 64 Cleveland police cars eventually enlisted in the chase, which lasted 27 minutes. Several officers visually confirmed during the chase that the Malibu's occupants were not armed, but instead had a can of soda. A few also reported to investigators that they saw the Malibu backfiring on Interstate 90, but they failed to report this during the pursuit.

The chase came to an end when Russell turned onto an access road near the school that dead-ended in the parking lot. He was trapped on a narrow, well-lit road with thirteen squad cars and twenty-three officers bearing down on him. Officer Wilfredo Diaz rammed the Malibu, using the PIT maneuver to send the vehicle spinning. Officer Diaz and his partner then bailed out of their squad car while it was still moving and fired two shots at Williams in the passenger seat. As the Malibu slowed, Officer Diaz fired two shots at Russell.

"Shots fired, shots fired," the police radio blared without identifying that it was the police doing the shooting.

A few of the officers continued firing at the Malibu long after it had come to a complete stop. The gunfire eventually stopped, and there was a distinct pause as officers reloaded. Officer Michael Brelo hopped onto the hood of the Malibu and emptied his third magazine, at least fifteen rounds, into Russell and Williams at close range. Sixty more shots rang out as others joined in a second volley.

Williams died with twenty-four gunshot wounds and Russell was hit twenty-three times. Officer Brelo will now stand trial for manslaughter for opening a second round of shooting.

"The driver was fully stopped," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty explained. "Escape was no longer even a remote possibility... The primary danger facing the police at this time was from themselves, if they continued to shoot at each other in the circular firing squad they had inadvertently formed."

The supervisors on duty, Lieutenant Paul Wilson, Sergeant Patricia Coleman, Sergeant Randolph Dailey, Sergeant Michael Donegan and Sergeant Jason Edens, were charged with dereliction of duty, a misdemeanor.

"The supervisors failed to do their duty to control and manage the chase, and thereby endangered both the public and the police officers they were supposed to be leading," McGinty said. "These supervisors allowed a disturbed, petty criminal to take charge and lead a large portion of the Cleveland Police force that was on duty that evening -- and to unnecessarily endanger motorists and citizens in two cities."

The families of the victims filed a federal lawsuit last year. A status conference on the case was held Wednesday.

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