A patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects during a 137-shot barrage of gunfire was acquitted Saturday in a case that helped prompt the U.S. Department of Justice determine the city police department had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.
Michael Brelo, 31, faced as many as 22 years in prison had the judge convicted him on two counts of voluntary manslaughter. Before issuing his verdict, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell said he would not “sacrifice” Brelo if the evidence did not merit a conviction.
Brelo put his head in his hands as O’Donnell finished a nearly hour-long summation of his conclusion, an involved explanation of the decision that involved mannequins marked with the gunshot wounds that the two motorists suffered.
Brelo is white, the two motorists were black. Community and city leaders braced for the possibility of unrest in response to the verdict, which came as investigators work toward making a decision on whether charges will be filed in the death of a black 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun who was shot by a white rookie officer late last year.