Expert says Cleveland officer charged in deadly shooting had appropriate response
CLEVELAND- The defense continued to present its case in the trial of Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo on Tuesday.
Brelo, 31, is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. The two lead police on a 22-minute chase before being shot and killed behind Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland on Nov. 29, 2012.
WARNING: Images and descriptions in the blog below may be considered graphic.
On Monday, attorneys for Brelo called an audio expert as well as an expert on human vision.
The defense used forensic scientist Lance Martini to argue Russell was already dead when Brelo fired 15 shots from the hood of the suspect’s car.
Brelo’s attorneys also called Dr. Ron Martinelli, CEO of Martinelli and Associates, and a forensic criminologist for 26 years. Martinelli said Brelo had an appropriate response to what he perceived as a threat to his life.
“Officers are actually firing and hitting the police vehicles, especially (Cleveland police car) 238,” Martinelli said. Brelo believed the shots were coming from inside the suspect’s car, according to Martinelli. He concluded that Brelo’s action were reasonable and he had probable cause.
During its case, prosecutors claimed Brelo acted beyond the scope of a police officer when he fired 49 shots into Russell’s Chevrolet Malibu. Defense attorneys argue Brelo believed he and his fellow officers were in danger, and was trying to stay alive.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell is hearing the case, instead of a jury. On Sunday, he rejected a motion by Brelo’s attorneys to dismiss the charges.
We’ll be starting in a few minutes. Forensic scientist Lance Martini will be back on the stand.
Judge O’Donnell has another case that needs attention so we’ll be back with Officer Brelo shortly.
Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo is handing the questioning on Lance Martini. Martini says shots passing through Cleveland police car 217 have an inside to outside directionality. He could not determine if any of the shots struck the Malibu and if they did, where the shots struck.
Martini reviewed the mannequins and autopsy reports from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. He says a number of shots have a downward trajectory and parallel paths.
Martini says Malissa Williams sustained seven or eight lethal gunshot wounds. These opinions are based on conversations with other medical examiners.
Martini says Officer Brelo fired four lethal shots that hit Malissa Williams, and that three or four other deadly shots hit Williams from other angles.
The judge is trying to understand the defense’s question, so he rewords it: Have you ever been to a scene where a body has moved on its own after it is dead? I’m paraphrasing, but you can understand the judge’s confusion.
Martini says there were 11 lethal wounds to Timothy Russell. Five of the gunshots wounds exhibit similar/parallel wound paths.
Officer Diaz would have been in close proximity to the Malibu at the time he discharged his weapon, Martini says. He adds that Diaz shot Timothy Russell.
Defense attorneys keep showing a photo from the scene that shows the bodies of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams deceased inside the Chevy Malibu. Martini says the photo shows the angle of Officer O’Donnell’s gunshots. She fired 12 times.
Martini says trajectory 75, which went through the driver’s side of Russell’s car, was fired by Officer Diaz. Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo is going through the BCI trajectories and asking Martini to speculate which officer fired those shots.
Martini says gunshot wounds 1 and 2, which were into the head of Russell, were fired at a ground level position. Prosecutors object to Martini speculation on which officers fired those shots.
Martini, reading from his report, says officers reported “glass exploding from the vehicle.” Those statements are consistent with the physical evidence, the forensic scientist says.
Martini says the two shots in Russell’s head and two shots to his chest were not fired by Officer Michael Brelo.
Officer Brelo could have observed glass spray, like other officers did, that he interpreted as gunfire coming from inside the Malibu, according to Martini.
15-minute break. Prosecutors will cross examine Martini when we’re back.
Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo has a few more questions for Martini before the prosecution takes over.
Assistant prosecuting attorney Erica Barnhill handling cross examination of forensic scientist Lance Martini. Martini agrees that Brelo was on the hood of the Malibu for the last 15 shots.
Martini says he has a working knowledge of wound ballistics, but is not a medical doctor. He consulted with medical examiner’s and reviewed the autopsy report from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office to draw conclusions in his scene reconstruction.
Martini says he did not speak with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office pathologist who completed the autopsy on one victim and supervised the autopsy of the other.
Martini says he can include or exclude certain officers from particular shots. But he cannot determine which shots taken from which direction came from which officer.
Assistant prosecuting attorney Barnhill is making the argument that Martini didn’t know what direction Russell’s head was facing when he was shot twice in the top of his head.
Barnhill asks about shot grouping. She shows a photo of a CPD car with four shots into the windshield. Martini agrees that as a general rule, the closer you are to a target, the easier it is to hit.
We’re breaking for lunch. Back on the record at 1:15 p.m.
We should resume in a few minutes.
Forensic scientist Lance Martini says he did not interview Michael Brelo, but based his reports on the officer’s statements to BCI.
Martini disagrees with other experts testimony that a Glock 17 often discharges cartridges to the right. BCI agents previously told us they go to the right.
Martini tells assistant prosecuting attorney Erica Barnhill that he did not fire a Glock 17 specifically for this case. He says he didn’t need to because of his personal experience and his time training officers.
Barnhill reads from Martini’s report and says he is only assuming what Brelo saw that night. “I am not assuming, this is based on physical evidence,” Martini says. But Barnhill makes the point that Martini never interviewed Brelo.
The number of cartridge cases found at the scene is less than the number of shots fired. Martini agrees that Brelo’s shots would have come from at least three different magazines. Brelo would also have reloaded prior to firing the final 15 shots from the hood of Russell’s Malibu.
Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo steps up for redirect.
D’Angelo’s questioning focuses on the shot grouping. Martini agrees that multiple shooters aiming at the same target would produce a similar effect.
Martini agrees with D’Angelo’s question that Officer Brelo fired fatal gunshots from an elevated position. He also agrees that he’s not trying to protect Officer Brelo.
D’Angelo asks if there were fatal gunshot wounds to Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell that did not come from an elevated position. Martini agrees.
There is no re-cross examination of forensic scientist Lance Martini.
A 15-minute break then we’ll have another witness.
Defense calls Dr. Ron Martinelli. We’re going to go through his qualifications as an expert, which could take a while. He owns Martinelli and Associates and has been a criminologist for 26 years.
Instead of typing out Dr. Martinelli’s resume, just check out the bio on his website. http://www.martinelliandassoc.com/founder_ceo_bio.html
Forensic scientist Lance Martini, who was on the stand previously, is listed as an employee of Martinelli and Associates. Though Martini also owns a separate lab, they often work together.
Martinelli says he was a consultant on the Rodney King case.
We’re still hearing about Martinelli’s qualifications. He’s certified “on pretty much everything police officers are allowed to use in the field.”
Defense questioning has moved on to Martinelli’s report on the Michael Brelo case.
In his report, Martinelli says Brelo’s use of force against Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell was necessary.
Martinelli says officers are taught that fleeing is an indicator of guilt or committing a crime. Brelo was justified in believing the suspects were engaged in criminal activity, Martinelli says while reading from his report.
Officers who heard a shot fired near the Justice Center would want to capture the suspects in the interest of public safety, Dr. Martinelli says. There has been no evidence presented that proves a shot was fired before the chase started on Nov. 29, 2012.
Dr. Martinelli also explains that there doesn’t have to be a proven threat to justify use of force. Officers just have to believe there is a threat, he adds. Brelo had the belief that the suspects were firing at police and ramming cars with their own vehicle.
“A human being takes a certain amount of time to recognize a life threat,” Martinelli says. There are five human reactions to a life threat: fight, flee, posture, hypervigilance or submit.
We’re taking a break until 4 p.m.
Defense attorney Pat D’Angelo begins his questioning again. Dr. Martinelli says it takes an officer .56 seconds to stop shooting. He’s now reading from his report again.
Numerous officers, including Officer Brelo, observed gunshots in their vehicles, leading them to believe they were being fired upon. The problem was the officers were in opposition to each other and in opposition to Officer Brelo, Martinelli says. “Officers are actually firing and hitting the police vehicles, especially 238,” he says.
Officer Moore had a Glock 17, which means there were 17 in the magazine and one in the chamber, Martinelli says. She fired 19 rounds, which is an indication that she felt threatened enough to reload.
Martinelli says Officer Moore felt she had probable cause to continue using deadly force. He also points out the Officer Moore is not criminally charged in the suspects’ deaths.
Officer Brelo moved from the trunk of 238 to the hood of the suspect vehicle while continuing to fire, Martinelli says. He says Brelo reverted to his military training and sought higher ground. Brelo was afraid of being shot and killed, and perceived the suspects as still moving. That speaks to the point the defense was trying to make yesterday about the strobing effect of police lights causing an person to perceive movement.
Every officer involved in an officer-involved shooting has different of what happened, according to Dr. Ron Martinelli, forensic criminologist. An officer’s emotional response to a perceived life threat can differ.
“I can’t would have, could have, should have things,” Martinelli says. We have forensic evidence that tells us how long this took place, he says. He discusses how long it takes to cease fire and to tell others to cease fire, as well as assessing the perceived threat. “Is it reasonable to do all those things?”
Martinelli says Brelo saw the suspects rammed one car, he feared he would be crushed by their vehicle and believed the suspects were pulling out weapons. “That does nothing to decrease the suspicions that he could be killed.”
Martinelli doesn’t know how Brelo would be able to stop and assess the situation while taking cover. His argument is the reaction time again.
Officer Brelo made an appropriate response to what he perceived to be a clear life threat to him, Officer Moore and other officers, Dr. Ron Martinelli says.
“That his belief, based on everything I reviewed, was reasonable,” Martinelli says. He says Brelo had probable cause.
Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell had no right to resist arrest, and increased the severity of the situation, Dr. Ron Martinelli says.
Dr. Ron Martinelli is speaking about tunnel vision and the dark conditions the officers experienced on Nov. 29, 2012. High-stress police-involved shootings can result in memory distortion, he says.
Martinelli says Officer Brelo was likely in a state of hypervigilance and his cognitive processes were impaired.
Judge O’Donnell wants to complete Matinelli’s testimony tonight. He has other hearings tomorrow morning and the expert witness has a flight home tomorrow evening. We’re taking a short break.
Assistant prosecutor James Gutierrez is handling the cross examination of Dr. Ron Martinelli. Apparently, one school Martinelli attended lost its accreditation and has been closed.
Martinelli charges $3,200 a day and is being paid by the Cleveland police union, he tells assistant prosecuting attorney Gutierrez.
The prosecution will continue questioning Dr. Martinelli. Proceedings will resume tomorrow afternoon.