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Cleveland officers’ indictment spurs wider study

– A police car chase that ended in a schoolyard with two unarmed suspects dying in a hail of 137 bullets is part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into the Cleveland Police Department’s use of deadly force and its pursuit policies.

Six officers in the police department were indicted Friday on charges related to the chase, Cuyohoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said. Patrol officer Michael Brelo, who the prosecutor said stood on the hood of the suspects’ car and fired at least 15 shots through the windshield, has been charged with two counts of manslaughter. Five supervisors have been charged with dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase.

McGinty cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week that said police can’t fire on suspects after a public safety threat has ended. He said the other officers on the scene had stopped firing after the November 2012 chase ended.

“This was now a stop-and-shoot – no longer a chase-and-shoot,” McGinty said. “The law does not allow for a stop-and-shoot.”

Driver Timothy Russell was shot 23 times. Passenger Malissa Williams was shot 24 times. No gun was found on them or in their vehicle. The chase began when an officer thought he heard a gunshot from a car speeding by the police and courts complex, jumped into his patrol car and radioed for help. Police don’t know why Russell didn’t stop.

Brelo fired 49 shots. None of the other 12 officers who fired shots was indicted, McGinty said Friday.

The killings have been decried as a racially motivated execution – both victims were black – and are part of a larger federal investigation into the troubled police department.

The chase involved five dozen cruisers and wove through residential neighborhoods, onto Interstate 90 and eventually ended in East Cleveland. McGinty said the chase covered 20 miles over 23 minutes and reached speeds of 110 mph.

Safety director Michael McGrath said 104 of the 277 Cleveland officers on duty that night were involved.

The police union has defended the officers’ actions and said the driver was trying to ram them. Capt. Brian Betley, the leader of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police supervisors, told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that he was disappointed in the grand jury’s findings.

In a statement Friday, Williams’ family told the Plain Dealer they were grateful for prosecutors’ work and stressed that now is the time for the community to heal.

“Now is the time for us to join and have positive dialogue about solutions,” the family said. “We need to figure out how the police department can work better with the community and not against them.”

The police department has been dealing with the fallout from the chase.

Police officials announced in March that the department will limit when and how long squad cars can chase suspects. The revamped policy was in the works before the deadly chase, but what happened did influence the new guidelines, Police Chief Calvin Williams said.

A review of the chase led to the discipline of 64 of the 104 officers involved in the chase for violations of department rules, McGrath said. Twelve supervisors were disciplined, including one who was fired and two who were demoted, McGrath said.

An investigation by the Ohio attorney general blamed police leadership and communications failures during the chase.

McGinty said investigating the chase was complicated by the fact that Cleveland cruisers don’t have video cameras.

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