137 shots: Cleveland killer cop acquitted in murder of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams

Official statement of Timothy Ray Russell’s family

Cleveland – On May 23, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell found Officer Michael Brelo not guilty of felony involuntary manslaughter in the killing deaths of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell. Williams and Russell were killed in November 2012 after Cleveland police officers unleashed 137 gunshots into the couple’s car following a police pursuit. The family of Timothy Ray Russell released the following statement in response:

This is the car where Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams died in a hail of 137 Cleveland police bullets on Nov. 29, 2012. – Photo: Ohio Attorney General’s Office
This is the car where Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams died in a hail of 137 Cleveland police bullets on Nov. 29, 2012. – Photo: Ohio Attorney General’s Office

We are deeply disappointed in Judge John P. O’Donnell’s ruling, which failed to administer justice on behalf of our beloved Tim and his friend, Malissa Williams. The judge began the explanation of his ruling by pointing to the countless instances across the nation where racialized policing has occurred and resulted in the untimely deaths of Black and Brown women, men and children.

Even as Judge O’Donnell acknowledged the disproportionate killing of people of color, he failed to hold Officer Michael Brelo accountable for his reckless and cruel actions. Across this nation, we have witnessed countless acquittals and non-indictments where officers have walked free in the face of overwhelming evidence attesting to a disregard for human life, violations of police codes of conduct, racial profiling, excessive behavior and lethal force. Our hearts are heavy to see this all too familiar scene playing out once again.

A hailstorm of more than 137 shots rained down on Tim and Malissa on Nov. 29, 2012. No one deserves such a fate. Fleeing is not grounds for death. The exoneration of Officer Brelo speaks to a complete disregard for the extreme and unnecessary force meted out against some American citizens who happen to be Black and Brown. It also speaks to the refusal of some to acknowledge the dignity and value of these human lives. This issue was underlined in a December 2014 Department of Justice report on the Cleveland Police Department.

Even as Judge O’Donnell acknowledged the disproportionate killing of people of color, he failed to hold Officer Michael Brelo accountable for his reckless and cruel actions.

Tim and Malissa were unarmed and they were afraid for their lives. Given the realities of racial profiling and prejudiced policing, they were fleeing to escape the very fate imposed upon them. Their tragic death serves as a painful reminder of a systemic culture of violence that we cannot, and should not, ignore.

While Officer Brelo goes on vacation with his family, Tim and Malissa will never come home. We will never look at his face and behold his infectious smile. We no longer have the privilege of sharing with our brother the celebrations that come with summer, the delight in Memorial Weekend excursions. We cannot escape the tragedy of our loss even as we remain steadfast in a spirit of love and faith that God will see us through this painful moment.

Outraged people have been taking to the streets in protest daily – with dozens arrested – since a judge on May 23 found Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo not guilty of manslaughter charges in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November 2012. – Photo: AFP
Outraged people have been taking to the streets in protest daily – with dozens arrested – since a judge on May 23 found Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo not guilty of manslaughter charges in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November 2012. – Photo: AFP

Tim was a beautiful human being with a deep love for others. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He was an evangelist who carried his bible everywhere and enjoyed sharing his faith with others. The mischaracterization of Tim is also grievous as he was working diligently to overcome depression and addiction, struggles that have impacted millions of Americans. These realities didn’t mean that Tim was a criminal or complicit in his own death. His personal, and very human, struggles didn’t justify the execution that occurred that night.

If Tim were alive, he would push for justice and accountability. He would urge us to remain vigilant and advocate on behalf of those who are unfairly criminalized because of the color of their skin or socio-economic status.

In Tim’s honor, our family will continue pushing for justice even as we begin our journey of putting our lives back together. As we move forward, we know that we are not the only ones that need to progress. The City of Cleveland has a moral responsibility to improve as well. To that end, we call on Mayor Jackson and the City to:

  • Mandate cultural and racial sensitivity training and education for all officers,
  • Improve hiring standards for Cleveland Police officers. Utilize a vetting system that includes police employment background, mental health and stability checks,
  • Mandate officers live in the city where they serve,
  • Ensure legislation is passed to hold accountable officers who indiscriminately discharge their weapons without any measure to avoid murder,
  • Train officers to use alternative measures to prevent excessive and lethal force,
  • Work collaboratively with the Department of Justice and ensure their December 2014 report is followed by action and real change, and
  • Ensure peaceful policing and improved community relations.

While our family calls for peace, it does not mean we cease calls for reform. We encourage everyone who values justice to stand up, speak out and demand change. Write or call your local councilperson, Police Chief Calvin D. Williams and Mayor Frank Jackson’s offices. Send letters to media affiliates, post blogs, attend rallies, marches and vigils.

While our family calls for peace, it does not mean we cease calls for reform. We encourage everyone who values justice to stand up, speak out and demand change.

Whether you are Black or White, rich or poor, this is a human rights issue as much as it is a civil rights issue. Collectively, we can make a difference and turn this senseless tragedy into an opportunity for reform and improved relationships between police and communities of color.

To contact the family, email Rev. Waltrina Middleton at clevelandaction@gmail.com.

Justice for Tim and Malissa

by Minister Abdullah, Justice Committee, Task Force for Community Mobilization

Cleveland – In November of 2012, 119 police officers chased two unarmed civilians for almost a half an hour and 13 of them fired 137 shots into a car with two unarmed civilians who were pinned in like animals in a slaughter house. The officers claimed that they were in fear for their lives.

The chase began when an officer mistakenly believed someone in the car had shot at him. There were more inconsistencies broadcast until the fiasco that left two innocent people dead.

Aretha Russell, right, first cousin of Malissa Williams, her children, LeVatruis Bridges, 10, Dalyla Bridges, 8, holding the sign, and cousin Gabrylle Jeffries protest at the Dec. 3 rally. – Photo: Lynn Ischay, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Aretha Russell, right, first cousin of Malissa Williams, her children, LeVatruis Bridges, 10, Dalyla Bridges, 8, holding the sign, and cousin Gabrylle Jeffries protest at the Dec. 3 rally. – Photo: Lynn Ischay, Cleveland Plain Dealer

These officers violated their training and their sworn oath to protect and serve the community and murdered two individuals. They violated the civil and human rights of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell.

The Task Force for Community Mobilization was the first organization to contact the United States Department of Justice to ask for an investigation into this atrocity. We also contacted Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine.

Our coalition demonstrated on public square. Other organizations held monthly demonstrations at Heritage Middle School where the two murders took place. Public hearings were held where people came to vent their anger.

At one time, all but two of the officers were back on the streets patrolling with their service weapons. Thanks to a local investigative reporter, they were taken back off of the streets. We were hoping against hope for justice for the murders of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell.

The Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the Cleveland Police Department concerning the use of deadly force and found that there was indeed a pattern and practice of use of excessive force. Departmental hearings were held and some officers were demoted, some were suspended and some faced other actions. Of the 13 officers who fired the shots, only one, Michael Brelo, was indicted and stood trial.

That hope for justice was in vain. None of the other 12 officers were indicted and Officer Brelo was acquitted. He fired over 40 rounds into the two innocent victims, including some from the hood of the car.

Aretha Russell, first cousin of Malissa Williams, attends a rally Monday, Dec. 3, to protest the police killing of Williams and Timothy Russell in East Cleveland. More than 60 people marched up the hill to Heritage Middle School on Monday evening, where they died in a hail of bullets. With each step, the protesters counted, starting at 1 and ending at the top of the hill with 137, the number of shots fired at the pair. – Photo: Lynn Ischay, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Aretha Russell, first cousin of Malissa Williams, attends a rally Monday, Dec. 3, to protest the police killing of Williams and Timothy Russell in East Cleveland. More than 60 people marched up the hill to Heritage Middle School on Monday evening, where they died in a hail of bullets. With each step, the protesters counted, starting at 1 and ending at the top of the hill with 137, the number of shots fired at the pair. – Photo: Lynn Ischay, Cleveland Plain Dealer

The judge would have people believe that the officer feared for his life. Most people who fear for their life do not jump on the hood of a car, just a few feet from two people they believe to be armed. No one with an ounce of common sense, much less a highly trained law enforcement officer, would do that.

Officials in Cuyahoga County have failed the citizens of Cleveland. The court system failed the citizens of Cleveland. The police department failed the citizens of Cleveland.

They allowed and excused a Rambo style mob of individuals who perpetrated the worst mass police killing in the history of the United States. The officers involved literally got away with murder.

The verdict was a clear message to the people of the United States and to the world that Black Lives Do Not Matter. In the past year, we have seen the murder of people of color throughout the United States: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott, just to name a few.

Black men are being legally murdered at an alarming rate. Every 28 hours a Black person is murdered by police.

Our local justice system has failed us and failed Tim and Malissa. We have been left with no recourse, but to ask for the United States Justice Department to come back to Cleveland and investigate this case as a violation of civil and human rights.

The police are sworn to protect and serve the people. Instead, they left the Second District largely unprotected, engaged in a chase that put the citizens of three municipalities at risk. At Heritage Middle School, their actions put every officer there at risk.

Officials in Cuyahoga County have failed the citizens of Cleveland. The court system failed the citizens of Cleveland. The police department failed the citizens of Cleveland.

ORC 2921.331 states that failure to comply with an order or signal of police offers can range from a first degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony. Nowhere in there does it mention the death penalty.

Police officers cannot be allowed to routinely be judge, juror and executioner. They are given a great responsibility to enforce the laws of this country. With great responsibility comes great accountability.

We are not against the police. We are against those that dishonor their badge by murdering innocent people. We pray that the Department of Justice will stand up and assure justice for Tim and Malissa.

The Task Force for Community Mobilization, a collaboration of over 35 grassroots and community groups, is dedicated to self-determination, transformation and community empowerment. They can be reached at coalitionforabetterlife@gmail.com.