CLEVELAND- The trial of a Cleveland police officer charged with manslaughter continued Friday morning.
Michael Brelo, 31, is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. They were killed following a 22-minute chase through Cleveland that ended with gunfire behind Heritage Middle School.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O'Donnell is hearing the case, instead of a jury. Five other officers are charged with dereliction of duty and will go to trial at a later date.
Prosecutors called BCI forensic scientist Ted Manasian to the stand first Friday morning. But before he testified, defense attorneys objected to part of his report. That's when Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty accused several Cleveland officers of hiding the truth.
"Those 20 officers knew what happened and wouldn't tell (East Cleveland Police ) Det. Holcomb," McGinty said, raising his voice. Judge O'Donnell allowed Manasian to present most of his findings.
He said he examined the footprints taken from Russell's Malibu and impressions made by Officer Brelo. Manasian said they were a match to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.
BCI ballistics expert Michael Roberts testified that Brelo fired his Glock 49 times at the crime scene behind Heritage Middle School. He added he was unable to identify any bullets to any of the guns. The firearms used that night left markings on the shell casings, but not on the bullets. That's common based on the barrel type on Glocks.
Prosecutors also called Det. Kevin Fairchild, who joined the Nov. 29, 2012 chase in an unmarked car. Fairchild said his car was clipped by Russell's Malibu, but he rejoined the pursuit when there were 10 to 15 other police cars.
At one point, Fairchild noticed the passenger was wearing black gloves and holding a red pop can. He broadcasted that information over police radio. Fairchild said he did not see a gun and the passenger, later identified as Williams, was pushing on the driver to get his attention.
Fairchild said he was ducked down by a police car when the shooting began.
"It sounded like an automatic gun going off the whole time," Fairchild said.
On Thursday, the judge heard from chief toxicologist Dr. Harold Shueler and forensic pathologist Dr. Joseph Felo, both of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office.
At the time of the Nov. 29, 2012 shooting, Russell had alcohol and cocaine in his system. Williams tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.
Before the prosecution wraps up its case, we'll hear from Williams' family and more police officers.
Prosecutors call Ted Manasian.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are arguing over a few shoe prints before Ted Manasian testifies.
Manasian is a forensic scientist with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Prosecutors say they found another shoe print during the course of the trial and Ted Manasian was asked to prepare another report on it. Defense objects. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty, who has been in the courtroom, but not questioning witnesses, speaks out again against Cleveland police officers who won’t testify, saying they wouldn’t need this witness. “These 20 officers knew what happened and wouldn’t tell Det. Holcomb.” Holcomb is with East Cleveland police and was called to the scene on Nov. 29, 2012.
McGinty says if the officers would have just told the truth, there wouldn’t be a need for many of these witnesses. Instead, several officers pleaded the fifth. He accuses the officers who were in the gym at Heritage Middle School the night of the shooting of discussing what happened, but not testifying in court.
Judge John O’Donnell thanks the attorneys for being civil throughout the trial and advises them to keep it that way.
Back to the testimony of Ted Manasian. He’s worked with BCI for about 22 years and created a report based on trace evidence collecting in the shooting.
Assistant prosecutor Sherrie Royster opens an envelope and hands it to Ted Manasian. It contains footwear impressions
There were 18 photos of the impressions left on Timothy Russell’s Malibu that night. Manasian used the photos and the impressions to prepare his report.
Manasian says he adjusts the footwear images in Photoshop and prints them to scale so he has another copy to work with.
Manasian concludes impressions taken from Timothy Russell’s Malibu match the known footwear impressions taken from Officer Brelo. The test was limited because they did not have the shoe to examine.
Tread design and size are a match. Forensic scientist Manasian says he would need the shoes for better testing. He made a request to get the actual shoes, but they were unable to get them.
Assistant prosecutor Sherrie Royster shows Manasian photos of the hood of Russell’s Malibu. He says he received these photos on April 13, just days ago, to generate a report. These are the photos attorneys were arguing about to start the morning. Defense objects and it is sustain. Royster shifts her questioning.
Defense moves to strike forensic scientist Ted Manasian’s testimony, saying it does not adhere to the legal standard.
Judge O’Donnell: “Out of all the shoes in the world, the defendant’s could have made this?” Manasian agrees. He is excused.
Judge O’Donnell overruled the move to strike Manasian’s testimony. The report based on the photos Manasian just recently received was sustained.
We’re on a short break, but we should hear from a ballistics expert soon.
Prosecutors call Michael Roberts, a forensic scientist with Ohio BCI and an expert in ballistics.
Roberts says he compares known casings, collected from a test fire, to those taken from the scene. The test shots are fired into a water tank and they recover bullets from the water, Roberts says.
There were five model 17 Glocks and one model 26 Glock, Roberts says. All of them were 9 mm. There are differences in magazine size: model 17 holds 17, model 19 holds 15.
Rifling is interior surface of the barrel. These guns have polygonal rifling, Roberts says. The purpose of rifling is to make sure the bullet is spinning. He compares it to a quarterback throwing a spiral.
Side-by-side comparison of two cartridge cases. Roberts says within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that they came from the same gun. He went through 121 casings and one shotgun shell.
Roberts matched 49 casings to Officer Brelo’s gun.
Roberts’ report says Officer Wilfredo Diaz fired 3 shots. The placard numbers from the crime scene are also listed in the report. Roberts never went to the scene and is relying on information from fellow BCI agent Winterich, who testified last week. Officer Cynthia Moore fired 14, Officer Michael Farley fired 4, Officer Brian Sabolik fired 4, Officer Paul Box fired 1, Officer Randy Patrick fired 9, the report continues.
Casings on the Glock are designed to eject to the right, depending on the position of the gun, BCI ballistics expert Roberts says.
Roberts also examined bullets from the scene and created a report from that. He attempted to compare the bullets. There was insufficient detail scratched into the bullets. He says polygonal barrels, the type on the Glocks used, leave very little detail.
All Glocks have polygonal barrels. He says you can request a different type of rifling or buy an after-market one, but that’s not the case with the weapons collected in this case. Roberts says he still tried to compare the bullets. When asked about the results, he says they were quite the opposite of examining the casings.
Each bullet removed from a bullet is bleached. Roberts says it doesn’t have any effect on the bullet, unless you left it in for a long period of time.
There were three bullets Roberts examined that were not fired from any of the handguns. They were from a shotgun. He was not able to identify any of the bullets to any of the firearms.
Assistant prosecutor Barnhill concludes her questioning.
During most of this morning’s testimony, Michael Brelo has been writing on a legal pad. He’s seated in between two of his attorney.
Ballistics expert Roberts examined 113 bullets and bullet fragments from the scene behind Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland.
BCI ballistics expert Michael Roberts says he was not told how many shots each officer was alleged to have fired. The shotgun shell was from Officer Paul Box, according to the report.
One shell casings submitted to Roberts did not match any of the Glocks for comparison.
On redirect examination, assistant prosecutor Barnhill asks about the direction shell casings are ejected. Roberts, again, says they go to the right.
Barnhill shows Roberts state’s exhibit1205. It’s a photo of a shotgun shell. She now shows him state’s exhibit 1206. It’s one of the cartridge casings he examined and was unable to match it to any of the police officers’ gun.
Roberts was not asked to fire each gun and document how each Glock ejected its casings, he says under recross-examination.
We’re on a lunch break and the judge has another hearing so we’ll be back at 1:45 p.m.
Turns out, we’ll be back at 2 p.m.
The judge had another hearing, which is delaying things restarting in the Michael Brelo trial.
Prosecutors call Martin Lewis of Ohio BCI. He does gunshot residue testing.
Assistant prosecutor Sarah Denney is questioning Lewis, who has testify 180 times. She hands him a report. Four items were submitted for testing, two samples from the rear compartment, two samples from the headliner, and samples from the hands of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
If an individual tests positive for gunshot residue, one of three things occurred: discharged a firearm, within area when firearms is discharged or handling of any surface that has gunshot residue on it. Some break linings, passenger airbags and fireworks can leave similar traces, but Lewis says you can distinguish.
Lewis says once all those shots are fired into the car, it’s very likely gunshot primer residue would be inside the vehicle. He says studies have found trace of primer residue 50 feet away.
Lewis was not given firearms to test and he is not routinely given guns to test. He says you would have to recreate the number of shots and the environmental conditions, if you were going to test how far gunshot residue goes from the point it’s fired.
The clothing removed from Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams was not tested for gunshot residue.
The hands of Russell and Williams tested positive for primer residue, as did the headliner of Russell’s Malibu. Multiple shots mean more residue, increasing the likelihood of testing positive, Lewis says. The judge asks if you can determine an amount of gunshot residue. Lewis says yes, but he can’t draw any conclusions based on that.
Judge instructs the photographer not to show this witness’ face or upper body. Det. Kevin Fairchild is called to the stand. He works in the second district vice unit and has been an officer for 17 years.
Assistant prosecutor James Gutierrez presents Fairchild with a series of letters that applaud his police work. Fairchild says he hasn’t seen most of these before or his personnel file.
Gutierrez is attempting to prove to the judge that the officers did not cooperate with prosecutors in preparation for this case.
Assistant prosecutor Gutierrez asks if Fairchild told another assistant prosecutor that the police union instructed him not to talk to the prosecutors.
Det. Fairchild was in his office when he learned about the chase on Nov. 29, 2012. He says his Sgt. told gunfire came from a car at Officer Nan. Fairchild put on his tactical vest and drove by himself to join the chase. He caught up around West 44th Street and Clark.
Det. Fairchild says he jumped behind another patrol car in the chase and was second in the pursuit of Timothy Russell’s Malibu. At one point on the east side, the Malibu collides with Fairchild’s car as it cuts down a side street. He says he was driving an unmarked car.
When Fairchild rejoins the chase after being clipped by the Malibu, there about 10 to 15 police cars ahead of him, he says. He got closer to the front of the pursuit on Euclid, while others were broadcasting observations. He says he doesn’t get in a lot of chase in his undercover vehicle, which is different from this unmarked car.
Fairchild says he observed the passenger wearing a black pair of gloves and holding a red pop can, he did not see a gun. He broadcasted that information immediately. He says the passenger was moving constantly and pulling at the door, like it might have popped open a bit. The passenger was turning around and tapping, trying to get the attention of the driver.
Fairchild says the passenger was pushing on the driver and trying to get his attention. The driver was looking straightforward, according to the detective. The pop can was in her right hand and she was pointing back.
Det. Kevin Fairchild says he heard a loud bang and saw a flash from the car near Dead Man’s Curve. He thought it was a blown tire, but noticed that wasn’t true because the tires were still there. He broadcasted that information as well.
When Gutierrez asks what Fairchild said over the radio, he then plays the audio. This is the third section of chase audio that we’ve heard during the detective’s testimony. Assistant prosecutor Gutierrez asks Fairchild to identify his voice.
We’re taking a break until 3:30 p.m. Judge says there’s more to this witness than he thought.
Det. Kevin Fairchild got to Heritage Middle School and got out of the car, just as Timothy Russell’s Malibu sped by. He says he didn’t hear the shots being fired, but heard the call over the radio. He knew the Malibu was trapped in the parking lot because he saw the narrow drive at the other end. Fairchild says he did not see a gun in the Malibu at this point either.
Fairchild says he and the other officer were on the ground when the shots were fired. Fairchild says he didn’t fire at the car when it passed him because there were other officers on the other side.
The shots seemed like they lasted a while, but Fairchild says he knew it was just seconds. He never heard anyone yell cease fire.
“It sounded like an automatic gun going off the whole time,” Fairchild says. “I don’t think I even got 10 feet away from my car.” He was far back from the Malibu. He says people starting asking who shot and who didn’t. Since he was within the crime scene, he was asked to go inside Heritage Middle School and was there until 7 a.m.
“It was an intense chase the whole time. A little adrenaline was going,” Fairchild says. He didn’t take any pictures of the scene or text anyone, except his wife to say he would be late.
Fairchild says he knew Officer Brelo had a fundraiser to pay for his legal expenses, but he did not attend or contribute. He briefly discussed his testimony with his union president. Fairchild also appeared before the grand jury.
Fairchild says it’s his understanding that anyone could off a chase, but he didn’t feel that was necessary. He says civilian traffic and pedestrian traffic was very light, and he did not believe the chase posed a danger to civilians.
Officers have to ask permission to join a chase, according to Fairchild, but he did not. The circumstances outweighed that, he says.
Defense attorney Fernando Mack handling cross examination of Det. Kevin Fairchild. The detective says he would not call off a chase if a suspect fired shots at a fellow officer. Regardless of the number of police cars, the two suspects that night did not stop.
Mack asks if different parties asked Fairchild to lie about this case. Did defense attorney Patrick D’Angelo? No. Did the police union? No.
The first communication Fairchild received about the chase was from his Sgt. that someone had shot at Officer Nan. He did not hear the initial radio broadcast. He later heard that a gun was being pointed out the window and that it looked like they were reloading a weapon. Even after Fairchild broadcasted about the pop can, he heard further broadcasts about a gun.
Fairchild says be believes he was going 100 mph at some point during the chase.
“I was confused as to why a pop can would be in a person’s hand during a car chase,” Fairchild says. “It was a very confusing chase.” At the time, he did not know the passenger was a woman.
Fairchild says he saw the suspect vehicle accelerating towards where a police officer standing so he pulled him out of the way. That’s when they hit the ground in front of the car. Then he hears shots fired.
A reminder, since we’ve been asked not to show Det. Kevin Fairchild and I’m watching in the media room, the camera switches from the defense attorney, to the crime scene model to Officer Brelo. I have not seen the witness.
Despite the lighting, it was difficult to see into the suspect’s car behind Heritage Middle School, Fairchild says.
Fairchild agrees this chase was large, extensive. He says he never thought the car backfired, just the tire blew. He also knew the suspect’s car was trapped in the middle school parking lot because of the driveway.
“All in all, this chase was just fine,” Fairchild says. Adds no police officers were hurt, no civilians hurt, no property damage until the end.
Defense attorney Mack asks if the suspects had plenty of opportunities to pull over, Fairchild agrees.
Det. Kevin Fairchild is excused. Assistant prosecutor Rick Bell says the next witness will be short. Break first.
Prosecutors call Cleveland Police Lt. Mark Ketterer, shift commander second district, to the stand.
Lt. Ketterer was not working the night of Nov. 29, 2012. He was on medical leave. He heard about the chase on the news or received a phone call.
Lt. Ketterer contacted the officer in charge and learned that many officers from his his shift at the second district were involved in the shooting. Later that afternoon, Ketterer says he was contacted by Officer Michael Brelo.
Phone records indicate Brelo and Ketterer spoke on Nov. 30, 2012 at 4:03 p.m. for 9 minutes. Ketterer says Brelo said he couldn’t understand why these people continued to fire at him. Brelo also told the Lt. that he was on the hood of a car.
Ketterer says he spoke about work-related things with Officer Brelo. He says he makes sure his employees have his cell phone number so they could call when they have an issue.
Ketterer says Brelo told him it felt like being back in the war, whether that was Iraq or Afghanistan he can’t remember.
Ketterer describes Brelo as a hard worker, respectful, multi-tasker, who had no trouble finding other officers to train him.
Ketterer says he was interviewed by prosecution investigators then immediately asked to appear before the grand jury. He says he was reluctant since he wasn’t subpoenaed and assistant prosecutor Rick Bell pulled out a piece of paper. Ketterer asked to speak with his attorney before agreeing to speak to the grand jury.
Prosecuting attorney Bell told Ketterer he was not the target of the investigation. He then complied with the subpoena and testified before a grand jury.
Ketterer is dismissed. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty says they plan to call a use of force expert on Monday.