Five Cleveland police officers to face charges in deadly 2012 pursuit

Five Cleveland police officers who supervised a wild 2012 pursuit that left two people dead will face dereliction-of-duty charges in the suburb where the chase came to its deadly end, prosecutors said Thursday.

Lt. Paul Wilson, Sgt. Patricia Coleman, Sgt. Randolph Dailey, Sgt. Michael Donegan and Sgt. Jason Edens "failed to do to their duty to limit and manage the chase" that left Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell dead on Nov. 29, 2012, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in a statement.

The five officers were indicted in May 2014, but they will now be prosecuted in East Cleveland rather than Cuyahoga County Superior Court. Joe Frolik, a spokesman for McGinty's office, said the prosecutors from Cuyahoga County would still serve as lead counsel on the case, even after East Cleveland's prosecutor filed charges in her own jurisdiction.

"East Cleveland has long wanted to have some say in how this matter was adjudicated because it culminated in their community," he said.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Assn. President Steve Loomis, who has repeatedly clashed with McGinty in recent months, described the move as "jury shopping,” but Frolik dismissed those claims.

Russell led police on a 20-mile pursuit after, police claimed, a gun was fired at officers near the city's downtown justice center. The chase, which involved more than 100 officers who combined fired their guns 137 times, came to an end in East Cleveland.

At the end of the chase, prosecutors said, Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo jumped onto the hood of Russell's car after it was trapped by law enforcement vehicles. He fired 15 times at point-blank range, killing both Russell and Williams, prosecutors said.

No gun was never recovered from Russell's car, and prosecutors said the sound that police believed was a gunshot was actually a car backfiring.

Brelo, who fired 49 times during the chase, was acquitted of manslaughter this year, sparking protests in a city already fraught with tension over the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and a federal investigation of misconduct by the city's Police Department.

The federal review was largely promoted by the car chase that left Williams and Russell dead.

The reason charges against the five officers were filed in East Cleveland was not immediately clear. Last year, the five were indicted on dereliction-of-duty charges by a Cuyahoga County grand jury. McGinty has said he wanted to try the officers with Brelo, but the officers' attorney argued against that.

"Now the supervisors can be tried in a misdemeanor court for these misdemeanor offenses in the city where their misconduct reached its tragic culmination in the deaths of Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams," McGinty said in a statement Thursday.

Frolik said the prosecutor was not trying to benefit in any way from the change of venue, though any jury convened in East Cleveland is likely to have a majority of black citizens. According to U.S. census data, 93% of East Cleveland's population identifies as black, and East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson is black.

The racial makeup of a jury was a key argument in pretrial motions before Brelo's prosecution. Brelo requested, and was granted, a bench trial over the objections of prosecutors, who contended that he was trying to avoid facing a jury that almost certainly would have had black members.

Brelo is white. Both Williams and Russell were black. 

Loomis, the union president, told the Los Angeles Times that he believes McGinty did not want to try the supervisors in front of Judge John P. O'Donnell, who acquitted Brelo in May.

“He needs to let this go," Loomis said. "He is absolutely desperate for a win.”

The five officers were offered a plea deal this week, under which they would have received no jail time or fines as long as they admitted guilt on the dereliction-of-duty charge, Loomis said. All five immediately rejected the offer, Loomis said.

Frolik said the prosecutor’s office does not comment on plea deal negotiations.

“You’re not going to admit guilt if you’re not guilty of anything,” Loomis said.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


5:10 p.m.: The story was updated with additional comments from the president of a Cleveland police union and a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office.

The story was first published at 1:34 p.m.