Attorney for Cleveland officer charged in 2012 chase, shooting move to acquit

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CLEVELAND-- Prosecutors are expected to call their last witness Wednesday in the trial of Cleveland Patrol Officer Michael Brelo.

Brelo is facing two counts of manslaughter for his role in the Nov. 29, 2012 chase and shooting that claimed the lives of two suspects, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Bureau of Criminal Investigations Special Agent John Saraya testified on Tuesday that he interviewed Brelo days after the shooting. He told the BCI agent he reloaded his gun twice and jumped onto a patrol car for protection.

Brelo, who cried during his interview with BCI, believed that he and his partner would be killed, Saraya said. When asked about jumping on the hood of the suspect's car, Brelo told Saraya it was possible because he was terrified he would be run over, but he had no recollection.

Williams' cousin, Trina Williams, took the stand Wednesday afternoon. The two were similar and age and spent a lot of time together while growing up.

“It may have seemed like since she was at a shelter that she didn’t have anyone in life,” Trina Williams said. “I was always in her life.” She said Malissa felt comfortable at the shelter because the people there were like her.

After the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office rested its case against Brelo, defense attorneys moved for acquittal. Judge John O'Donnell has yet to rule on it.

Prosecutors maintain Brelo did not act reasonably that night by getting on the hood of the suspects car and firing. Officials have said 13 officers fired 137 shots, and Brelo fired 49 of those shots.

The defense, however, said Brelo and the other officers feared for their lives that night and thought they were being shot at by the suspects. No gun was found in the suspect’s car.

Continuing coverage here.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:11 am

Defense attorney Patrick D’Angelo is cross examining BCI Special Agent John Saraya.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:15 am

D’Angelo is asking Saraya about the ejection patterns of casings from Glocks.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:21 am

Agent Saraya calls the chase on Nov. 29, 2012 “longer than most.” He says there were about 62 police vehicles involved.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:26 am

Saraya is reviewing the dispatch log from Nov. 29, 2012. It’s created and maintained by the Cleveland Division of Police.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:28 am

Saraya says Russell took evasive action and drove onto the sidewalk at a Happy’s Pizza. Zone cars were blocking a side street he tried to cut down. There were no traffic accidents during the chase.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:29 am

Saraya says some zone cars blocked off intersections along Euclid Avenue to help protect other drivers.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:31 am

Defense attorney D’Angelo’s line of questioning is pointing at how unfamiliar the second district officers were with the east side. They didn’t even know they were in East Cleveland and they thought the school was a water treatment plant.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:34 am

D’Angelo says Russell avoided police in the parking lot of Heritage Middle School and drove over a traffic island. Agent Saraya agrees.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:36 am

D’Angelo says most officers, including Officer Brelo, had incorrect estimates of how many shots they fired. Agent Saraya agrees and says that’s not unusual.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:39 am

There are distortions that officers can experience in these types of high-stress situation, like tunnel vision, time slowing or speeding up, Saraya says. He defines tunnel vision as when the fight or flight instinct kicks in and the eye muscles focus on the object in front of him. Saraya says in firearms training, officers are told to scan to each side to break the tunnel vision.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:41 am

Saraya says many of the Cleveland police officers involved in the shooting were emotional when he interviewed them days after the incident. A few cried.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:43 am

Saraya says Officer Brelo was crying during his interview. He asked him a few times if he was alright and told him to calm down. D’Angelo says Brelo drank three bottles of water during the interview.

Jen Steer April 22, 20159:57 am

Defense attorney D’Angelo is asking BCI Agent Saraya about the location of shell casings again. This was a lot of Saraya’s testimony from yesterday. He placed little blue figures on the model to represent where each officer was likely standing based on the cartridge casings.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:05 am

Saraya says Officer Box used his shotgun from his car and kept his pistol holstered during the shooting. One shotgun shell was found at the scene.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:09 am

Short break.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:26 am

We’re back on the record with BCI Special Agent John Saraya.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:31 am

The search for weapons along the chase route, particularly near Dead Man’s Curve along I-90 and the traffic circle on Quigley, happened days after the shooting. D’Angelo asks if it’s possible a weapon tossed out of the suspect’s car was picked up. Saraya agrees.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:34 am

A dive team searched for a possible weapon on Dec. 28, 2012 in the Cuyahoga River. The shooting happened on Nov. 29, 2012. Saraya says at times there was very low visibility.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:41 am

BCI Agent Saraya says he would meet with Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty and assistant prosecutor Rick Bell during his investigation.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:47 am

A report was generated by Ohio BCI from the dash cam video recorded on a Bratenahl police cruiser.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:54 am

Defense attorney Patrick D’Angelo is asking Agent Saraya about the audio analysis of the audio from the dash cam. Most of this information was discussed during week one of the trial.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:57 am

D’Angelo asks to play Saraya’s entire interview with Michael Brelo.

Jen Steer April 22, 201510:59 am

Judge John O’Donnell says the interview should not be play in its entirety. He says they could play short portions and ask for Saraya’s observations.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:03 am

D’Angelo is reviewing portions of Saraya’s interview with Officer Brelo. He makes a statement and asks it that’s correct. Brelo was in Iraq in 2005. Saraya agrees. Brelo never fired his weapon in Iraq. Saraya agrees.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:06 am

Officer Brelo recalled the streets he was on during the November 2012 chase, Saraya says. Brelo spoke about the lack of visibility because of the dust along the drive into Heritage Middle School.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:10 am

Officer Brelo and Officer Moore fired through the windshield of their cruiser, Saraya says. He says it would be pretty loud to fire a Glock 17 in the passenger compartment of any car. He agrees it would be intense. Brelo told Agent Saraya he had trouble earring out of his one ear after the gunfire.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:11 am

Brelo told Saraya that he believed he and his partner, Officer Moore, would be killed. Brelo said he fired shots and believed his gun jammed so he reloaded. The two officers got out of the cruiser because their training indicates the car is a coffin, they don’t want to be trapped inside.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:14 am

Saraya says Brelo fired as he moved to behind Cleveland Police zone car 238. Brelo said he was terrified.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:16 am

Brelo said he thought the Malibu could still accelerate and he didn’t want to be trapped between it and zone car 238. That’s when he jumped onto the hood of the zone car, Saraya says.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:18 am

Brelo said he jumped on the car because he wanted a better angle of attack, he was afraid of getting hit by the crossfire and he wanted to use the engine block to protect him, Saraya says. Defense attorney D’Angelo asks if Brelo was trying to neutralize the threat.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:20 am

D’Angelo is reading portions of the transcript from Brelo’s interview with BCI agents. Saraya says Brelo was offered a break and he told him to take his time. Brelo was crying as he described his shooting.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:22 am

Brelo told Saraya he had no idea how he got to the driver’s side of the patrol car. At 27 minutes into the interview, Saraya told Brelo to take a deep breath. Please note that D’Angelo was an attorney for the police union at that time and was present for the interview. His questions are taking a first-person approach that is a bit unusual.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:26 am

Brelo reloaded twice, three magazines. Brelo told Saraya he couldn’t believe the suspects were still moving.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:27 am

When asked about the shoe prints on the hood of the suspect’s car, Brelo told Saraya it was possible, but he didn’t recall being there.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:32 am

Brelo told Saraya that even after being in Iraq, he had never been more afraid for his life as he was the night of the shooting. He said he believed he followed his training.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:37 am

Saraya says the effect of all those police lights on behind Heritage Middle School would be disorienting and distracting.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:41 am

Judge O’Donnell has a few questions. He asked Saraya if it’s reasonable for an officer to be unable to tell which direction fire was coming from with multiple guns are going off. Saraya says you might not know exactly where it was coming from. O’Donnell asks about a detective who attempted a rolling stop, using their car to block the suspect vehicle, twice. Saraya says that is a practice.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:42 am

Judge O’Donnell asks if, hypothetically, the suspect was crossing the Detroit Superior Bridge, would it be practical to line up police cars at the end of the bridge to block the suspect’s car. “Only in movies,” Saraya says.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:44 am

Another break. Judge hopes to wrap up this witness before lunch.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:52 am

Redirect examination of BCI Special Agent John Saraya. Assistant prosecutor Jim Gutierrez is doing the questioning.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:53 am

Gutierrez: “By the grace of God no civilians got hurt.” Saraya: “Yes, sir.”

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:54 am

Gutierrez asks if any officers apologized for their actions or offer their condolences. Saraya says no.

Jen Steer April 22, 201511:56 am

Union officials told Saraya there was a cartoon showing Officer Brelo with a Marine flag and gun on top of a car, yelling “Semper Fi.”

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:05 pm

Prosecutors show Agent Saraya this cartoon, which appears to be different from the one addressed earlier. Saraya had never seen the illustration. Defense objects to it and that is sustained.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:07 pm

Saraya says Officer Brelo had time to make observations during the shooting. He told Saraya he saw officers to the right of him and movement coming from Timothy Russell’s Chevrolet Malibu.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:12 pm

Saraya agrees that Officer Brelo put himself in the path of gunfire by getting onto the trunk of the zone car. Assistant prosecutor Gutierrez asks how it would have affected the situation if Officer Brelo would have been shot due to his actions. Saraya says that would have increased emotions.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:13 pm

Gutierrez finishes his questioning of Saraya. Defense attorney Patrick D’Angelo now starts his recross examination.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:18 pm

Recross was short. BCI Special Agent John Saraya is excused.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:20 pm

Judge says we’ll take a one-minute break in the courtroom. He lowers his head. Next up will be a cousin of Malissa Williams.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:22 pm

Because of audio issue in the courtroom, we missed this witness’ name. She is a cousin of Malissa Williams. Her grandmother took in the witness and Malissa. They were born the same year, just months apart.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:24 pm

When her grandmother passed away, there were 13 children that had to be placed in other houses. That’s when the witness and Malissa were separated. The witness would help Malissa with schoolwork and sometimes do it for her because Malissa couldn’t understand it.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:24 pm

Court officials informed us the witness is named Trina Williams.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:28 pm

Both Trina and Malissa ended up at a shelter. She says her cousin would babble, but she knew what Malissa was trying to say because of their close bond. Trina says Malissa turned to drugs after she was the victim of sexual assault. “Being around family, that was over. Everything was over,” Trina Williams says of the changes in Malissa.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:29 pm

Trina Williams says her cousin was mostly comfortable with the street life after the assault. “It may have seemed like since she was at a shelter that she didn’t have anyone in life,” Trina says. “I was always in her life.”

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:33 pm

Trina Williams says Malissa always had trouble understanding things. Trina is in tears. She says she loved Malissa with all her heart.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:34 pm

During cross examination, defense attorney Fernando Mack asks about Trina Williams’ statements in 2013. At the time, Williams said Malissa would become violent.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:35 pm

Trina Williams says Malissa would blurt out violent things. Trina said she previously said police would harass Malissa at the shelter. She felt threatened by police.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:38 pm

Mack says Trina Williams made statements that Malissa would make threatening statements about police. Trina says she doesn’t recall those statements.

Jen Steer April 22, 201512:40 pm

Lunch break until 2:15 p.m. We’ll review exhibits when we resume.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:17 pm

We’re back on the record. Prosecutors are submitting items into evidence.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:25 pm

Defense does not object to any of the BCI reports.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:41 pm

Assistant prosecutor Rick Bell says the state of Ohio rests. The defense team motions for rule 29 to dismiss.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:42 pm

Defense says this boils down to two things: causation and justification.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:43 pm

Defense says prosecutors can’t prove the order and location of the shots. Number of defects in the Malibu don’t match the amount of shots fired.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:49 pm

Defense says this case is a Fourth Amendment issue. Police had probable cause to pursue Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.

Jen Steer April 22, 20152:57 pm

“How can I grant this motion?” Judge John O’Donnell asks the defense. “Is it the state’s burden in this case… Is it the state’s duty to negate justification?”

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:02 pm

Judge John O’Donnell says police have certain privileges, including the privilege to kill, which is not given to a regular citizen except in times of self defense.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:11 pm

Defense is still arguing the rule 29. Judge O’Donnell has yet to rule.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:16 pm

Assistant prosecutor Rick Bell is arguing against the rule 29.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:21 pm

My apologies for the lack of updates. A lot of court cases and various witness testimony are being brought up, and I’m no expert.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:25 pm

Bell says 27 of Officer Brelo’s casings can be found from a simple count on the BCI diagrams. There’s a common sense element about where Brelo was standing during the shootings, he adds.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:33 pm

Bell says Officer Brelo was at point-blank range, firing a grouping of shots.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:43 pm

Bell says Officer Brelo committed a crime and when he did so he was not acting like a police officer.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:47 pm

Judge O’Donnell says he needs some time to consider the motions. He asks the defense be ready to present at 9 a.m. on Friday, in case the motions are denied.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:49 pm

If the motion to dismiss is not granted, defense will begin calling witnesses on Monday.

Jen Steer April 22, 20153:54 pm

Defense says Officer Brelo still had probable cause to believe he was in danger, other officers were in danger and the public was in danger. Police chase policy procedures do not negate the Fourth Amendment, defense argues.

Jen Steer April 22, 20154:06 pm

The judge and attorneys are discussing scheduling. We’ll be off Thursday and Friday.

Jen Steer April 22, 20154:08 pm

The trial will resume on Monday.