Local prosecutors have offered a plea deal to Cleveland police officers involved in a high-speed car chase that ended in the shooting of two unarmed Black people. The 22-mile chase involved more than 60 cars and 100 officers.
The Associated Press reported prosecutors offered to drop charges against five white police supervisors if they admitted they endangered public safety and met other conditions. Prosecutors had accused the supervisors of dereliction of duty. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said the two occupants of the car, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, would be alive if the supervisors had done their job. The city of Cleveland later settled lawsuits with Russell and Williams’ families for $1.5 million each, according to CNN.
However, defense attorneys said they were not satisfied with the terms of the plea deal and indicated they wanted to go to trial.
“Attorney Kevin Spellacy said his client, Sgt. Patricia Coleman, won’t admit doing anything wrong. ‘She maintains her innocence and looks forward to being vindicated,’ Spellacy said. ‘I’m not interested in negotiations,’” according to The Associated Press. “Attorney Susan Gragel, representing Sgt. Michael Donegan, said he can’t admit wrongdoing because he’s fighting the city in court over the reversal of his firing by an arbitrator. She said Donegan has gone without pay for more than two years, while the other supervisors are on restricted duty.”
Cleveland has already undergone one trial involving Officer Michael Brelo who was involved with the chase. Although Brelo fired 15 shots through the windshield, killing the car’s unarmed occupants, he was later acquitted. Brelo’s acquittal was followed by protests that were largely peaceful.
“While a judge did believe Brelo stood on the hood and shot the couple at such a close range, he refused to charge the officer with manslaughter because he said the officer genuinely believed he was in danger. More than 100 shots had already been fired at the couple from other officers,” according to Atlanta Blackstar.
CNN reported the victims’ families were incensed with the judge’s decision.
“We feel as though basically the judge gave him a pat on the back and said good job for shooting those people,” said Jackie Russell, Russell’s sister-in-law.
The AP also reported McGinty planned to move the location of the trial to East Cleveland, where the jury pool will be 93 percent Black, in the hopes of improving chances of a conviction. About 53 percent of Cleveland’s population is Black. The Brelo verdict was made by a lone judge, John P. O’Donnell. Any future trial will likely be decided by a jury.
The trial of the supervisors is just the latest in a series of questionable police shootings involving Cleveland officers. Police officer Timothy Loehmann is facing charges for fatally shooting Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, who flashed a toy gun in a park. Loehmann claims he told Tamir to drop the weapon, but video shows Tamir was shot within seconds of police arriving on the scene. The Justice Department has also issued a report condemning the Cleveland police’s history of abusive treatment of Black residents.
“A two-year Justice Department investigation of the CPD stated the department had a pattern of using unnecessary force and engaging in reckless behavior,” said an Atlanta Blackstar report. “Speaking in The New York Times, former Attorney General Eric Holder said Cleveland’s police problems were caused by ‘systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies and inadequate engagement with the community.’”