Officer says passenger was holding pop can, not gun during chase and shooting

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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.

Continuing coverage on the Michael Brelo trial here.

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