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Cleveland Cop Found Not Guilty Of Manslaughter After Firing 49 Shots At Unarmed Black Couple

Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams died on Nov. 29, 2012 following a high-speed police chase and 137 shots fired -- 49 of which came from Officer Michael Brelo's gun.

Last updated on May 23, 2015, at 11:58 a.m. ET

Posted on May 23, 2015, at 11:16 a.m. ET

Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of all charges on Saturday in the deaths of two unarmed suspects in a 2012 police shootout.

Mark Duncan / AP

Cuyahoga Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell said the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the two counts of voluntary manslaughter against Brelo in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Russell and Williams died on Nov. 29, 2012 following a high-speed police chase and 137 shots fired -- 49 of which came from Brelo's gun.

Authorities did not find a weapon inside Russell's Chevy Malibu, and every shot fired was from a Cleveland Police Officer's gun.

The incident began when a different police officer, John Jordan, pulled the duo over for a signal violation. Jordan also suspected them of drug activity.

Russell then took off, and another officer, Vasile Nan, mistook his car backfiring for a gunshot. Russell led officers on a 22-minute, high-speed chase that eventually involved 62 police cars and more than 100 officers.

Russell and Williams were each shot more than 20 times. Investigators found that police fired in two separate waves. The first hail of gunfire lasted about 17 seconds and the seconds was about 5 seconds.

Michelle Russell

Timothy Russell

Brelo was indicted after investigators found that the second wave of gunfire, nearly 50 shots, came entirely from his gun.

Investigators said Brelo had jumped on the hood of Russell's car and fired shots through the windshield.

Judge O'Donnell said he could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo fired at least one shot that could have caused their deaths of both victims.

Other officers, he said, also fired shots that were fatal.

However, Judge O'Donnell said he could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo's shots alone caused their deaths, finding him not guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation

O'Donnell added that prosecutors did prove the element of felonious assault charges against Brelo.

However, he found that Brelo was legally excused of these charges because he believed at the time that Russell and Williams posed a reasonable threat to the officers.

Brelo did take actions, O'Donnell said, that were "not trained, not recognized, not safe" and put the other officers at risk by jumping on the hood of the car and putting his own life in danger.

cleveland.com

Judge John P. O'Donnell demonstrates while delivering the verdict in the case against Michael Brelo.

Before delivering the verdict, O'Donnell discussed at length the recent police shootings that have sparked riots and protests across the nation, including the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year in Cleveland.

O'Donnell said he was determined to deliver his verdict based on the evidence, and not "sacrifice" Belo for the sins of others if he truly was not guilty.

One of Belo's attorneys, Patrick D'Angelo, said in a press conference that he felt like his client was David battling the Goliath of a "ruthless" court system.

"We fought tooth and nail, as you saw in this courtroom," he said.

D'Angelo said that his team regrets and remembers that two people died in the incident, calling it a tragedy.

"But at the end of the day, that tragedy was brought about by conscious decision-making and lifestyles that those two individuals, irrespective of their mental states, voluntarily took throughout their adult lives," he said.

Peaceful protesters gathered outside the courtroom before the verdict was read, and more protests were expected later Saturday.

Demonstrators chanting "black lives matter" on courthouse steps

In court, O'Donnell asked demonstrators to remain peaceful.

"Guilty or not guilty this case should be no reason for a civilized society to celebrate or riot," O'Donnell said.

Russell's brother Alfredo, who was not allowed in the courtroom after being acquitted of making threats against Brelo, stood outside with protestors Saturday. He said the cop's actions were murder.

"I will never trust Cleveland police again," he told Cleveland.com.

Cleveland's Mayor Frank Jackson said at a press conference following the verdict that "peaceful demonstration and dialogue is the right direction as we move forward as one Cleveland."

cbsnews.com

Jackson said he encourages and supports peaceful protests, but if citizens or police officers "cross the line" he won't tolerate it.

He added that the city will continue to investigate the incident, and is also awaiting the results of the investigation into the Tamir Rice shooting.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said in the press conference that the police department has changed since the 2012 incident, and is still working to improve its practices.

In particular, Williams said the department no longer treats car chases the same way as they did in the case of Williams and Russell.

β€œWe don’t conduct pursuits in that manner anymore and we haven’t since that day," he said.

However, the ACLU of Ohio said in a statement the Cleveland Police Department is in need of "meaningful systemic reforms" to ensure something like this never happens again.

"Unfortunately, troubled police-community relations has plagued Cleveland for decades as a result of the excessive use of force by law enforcement, particularly against people of color," Christine Link, the executive director of the ACLU, said.

She continued in the statement, "We urge the city of Cleveland to diligently work to create a police department that its citizens can trust. This will only happen if its officers are properly trained and supervised to keep everyone safe."

In addition to the charges against Brelo, 63 Cleveland officers were suspended, a supervisor was fired, and two supervisors were demoted because of the fatal shooting.

The families of the Williams and Russell have received $15 million settlements from the city.

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