US judge acquits white officer of killing black couple | News | DW | 24.05.2015
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US judge acquits white officer of killing black couple

A US police officer who stood on the hood of a car and fired into the windshield, killing two unarmed black people, has been acquitted. A judge said he could not determine that the officer alone was responsible.

A Cleveland officer will go free after firing dozens of rounds at an unarmed couple in 2012. Thirty-one-year-old Michael Brelo could have received 22 years in person on two counts of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.

Brelo had requested that a judge hear his case rather than a jury of his peers. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell acknowledged unrest following deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of white police officers.

"Citizens think the men and women sworn to protect and serve have violated that oath or never meant it in the first place," O'Donnell said Saturday. The judge added, however, that he wouldn't "sacrifice" Brelo if the evidence did not merit a conviction.

Outside, deputies carried shields as protesters chanted "Hands up! Don't shoot!" - a rallying cry since the death of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. Demonstrators later marched through the streets toward the recreation center where Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy playing with a nonlethal pellet gun in a park, was shot and killed by a white officer in November.

Some carried signs saying "I Can't Breathe" and "Freddie Gray Lynched," references to another pair of recent deadly police encounters with unarmed black men. As awareness has grown over police killings, enterprising techies have developed an app to document official abuse.

'No credible threat'

When Timothy Russell's Chevy backfired outside police headquarters in 2012, Brelo's fellow officers claimed they had heard a gunshot. After a 22-mile (35-kilometer) chase that reached speeds of 90 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour), 13 officers began firing at the car carrying the 43-year-old Russell and 30-year-old Malissa Williams.

With their car immobilized and surrounded, prosecutors said, the pair posed no credible threat when Brelo climbed on the hood and fired the final 15 of 49 rounds into their windshield.

The US Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the US Attorney's Office and the FBI will now consider action. In December, the Justice Department found that Cleveland police have a history of systematically using excessive force and violating civil rights, which higher-ups have reportedly condoned.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said Brelo would remain on unpaid leave during disciplinary reviews for him and 12 other officers involved in the killings. A grand jury charged five police supervisors with misdemeanor dereliction of duty for failing to control the chase that led to the fatal shooting of the unarmed black couple. All five have pleaded not guilty.

mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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