CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association is defending the actions of the officers in Thursday night's deadly police chase, saying the two killed "are dead as a result of their own actions."
The chase started in downtown Cleveland just after 10:30 p.m. Thursday when an officer was working on his vehicle near the Justice Center. Police heard a car rev up nearby and what they thought was a gunshot.
The chase ensued, lasting about an hour and spanning through three cities. It ended in a school parking lot in East Cleveland when 13 officers fired 137 rounds at the vehicle. Killed were Timothy Ray Russell, 43, of Maple Heights, and Malissa Williams, 30, who has no listed address.
Police Chief Michael McGrath said at a press conference Friday there was no gun found in the two suspects' cars and that he was "troubled" in the deaths of the two.
“Why did we get involved in a chase for over 20 minutes? Why did we have 13 officers involved, shooting their weapons, firing 137 rounds? Those questions, why, why, why have been floating through my head all last night, all today and I don’t have answers for you right now,” said McGrath during that press conference.
CPPA President Jeff Follmer at the Saturday press conference came to the officers' defense. He said the officers involved followed protocol and "thought they saw a gun."
Follmer said the officers responded as they were trained and are "experienced and professional police officers."
"There was a shot heard downtown," he said, adding the two "violently rammed a police car and almost struck an officer. The vehicle didn't stop there. The vehicle kept going and almost struck another office The officers at that point used deadly force."
Follmer said the officers believed a gun was being pointed at them.
"They were in fear for their lives," he said. "The suspects could have stopped. They wanted to get out of that parking lot."
"Our members responded as they were trained in a rapidly evolving situation that started when two suspects fired a gun," said Follmer. "These officers were courageous and should not be looked at like they were hurting the Division of Police."
In response to the number of shots fired -- 137 -- Follmer said "officers, until there is no more threat, keep shooting."
Follmer also responded to Friday's press conference and comments made by the police chief and other city officials.
"Nothing should have been brought out about this incident until they had their facts," said Follmer. "There was no reason to go on camera and say what they said yesterday when they didn't know all the facts."
He said to judge the situation before the investigation is over is inappropriate.
"Anyone who was not there -- to judge without knowing all the facts or to blame anyone else but the two occupants of that car for their own death is ignorant and self-serving," said Follmer.
Follmer said the 13 officers involved have administrative days off and are getting counseling.
An administrative review on the matter is underway, and the city plans to ask the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI for assistance.
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