It's day two for an officer on trial for shooting 49 of the 137 shots that killed two people after a police chase around Cleveland. Monday consisted of opening statements in Michael Brelo's case. Tuesday included testimony from
agents and an East Cleveland detective who interviewed officers who did not fire after the chase.
A mountain of crime scene photographs had to be entered into evidence at the trial Monday, which means investigators identified them one by one. While it was a tedious process, it provided the first up close look at the scene.
The day began with a diagram of the
parking lot. An earlier BCI rendering, gathered from vehicle locator data, showed the arrival of the chase, with the car driven by Timothy Russell first blocked. Then he drives over a median and sideswipes a police car, initiating the shooting. The defense made the point officers thought they were chasing armed suspects, who had fired a shot at an officer downtown.
East Cleveland Det. Reginald Holcomb was first to take the stand. He confirmed what Russell did would be a second-degree felony, not to mention, pose a direct danger to the community.
Holcomb interviewed officers who did not fire their weapons after the chase. He testified that none of the officers he interviewed said they saw anyone jump onto a car and fire a weapon.
A BCI investigator systematically went through more than 100 photographs of the school parking lot, where the shots were fired. The damage to the car Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were in is amazing, but so is the damage to police cars. A broken windshield shows a bullet came through the windshield and into the cruiser. There were also footprints on the hood, roof, and trunk of various vehicles. Prosecutors say those footprints were Officer Michael Brelo's.
Prosecutors, once again, hinted that there was a cone of silence among police officers almost immediately after the shooting of Williams and Russell.
Defense attorneys nudged Holcomb in a different direction, suggesting that even without a gun, Williams' car was a weapon.
Brelo is the only officer charged in this case.
"His intent by his actions was to kill Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. He's shooting point blank from just a few feet above them. He is shooting repeatedly. He is shooting excessively," said Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Rick Bell.
Prosecutors have not so subtly hinted that Brelo's career as a U.S. Marine worked into the way he handled things the night he fired 49 shots. He was in the Marine Corps from 2003-2010, serving in Iraq, where he never fired his weapon.
His attorneys dismiss the theory.
"When an officer, like Brelo, is saying it reminds him of Iraq, it's not like he was acting like he is in the military, it's because of the danger and the gunfire," explained Brelo's lead defense attorney, Patrick D'Angelo.
After the military, Brelo worked at the Bedford Heights Jail, went to the police academy, and was appointed to the Cleveland Police Department on Oct. 15, 2007. Brelo was trained by Cleveland in crisis intervention.
He was dragged by a suspect during a traffic stop in July 2011. Because his partner accidentally fired a round during that incident, both received retraining in felony stops, which is standard protocol.