December 4, 2012
Police in Cleveland and East Cleveland are facing a barrage of criticism after a chase last week ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds into a vehicle they believed contained armed suspects; however, once the smoke cleared and they were able to investigate the bullet-riddled ride, police found no gun.
The onslaught of police gunfire last Thursday left two unarmed civilians, Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, dead at the scene.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who has been following the case exhaustively, “The chase began about 10:30 p.m. Thursday outside the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland. In a news conference Saturday, [Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Jeffery] Follmer said two Cleveland officers heard a gunshot and believed it came from a 1979 Chevrolet Malibu belonging to Timothy Russell.”
Reportedly, Russell and Williams fled through Cleveland and into East Cleveland, hitting a police car before exiting the freeway and heading into East Cleveland where they were cornered on a dead end access road near a middle school. It was then police say the driver of the vehicle attempted to ram into police cars, at which point police gang-sprayed the car mercilessly.
Describing the incident as “very regrettable,” Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said he would ask for federal assistance in ensuring that a complete and careful investigation is conducted into why the department was involved in a 20-minute chase and how the situation escalated so rapidly.
“It’s really with a heavy heart. I can’t tell you how much this hurts the Cleveland Division of Police,” McGrath reportedly said, according to the Plain Dealer. “We work so hard. We worked so hard to make things good. Something like this, I’m not saying it makes us look bad because the investigation isn’t completed yet, but it’s a real challenge for us.”
However, Jeffery Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, finds no fault with police and believes they acted appropriately. “I don’t understand where the bad guys aren’t still bad, and now it’s the police officers,” Follmer told the media.
“The officers involved are experienced and professional police officers,” Follmer continued. “For anyone who was not there to judge them without knowing all the facts, or to blame anyone else but the two occupants of that car for their own death, is ignorant and self-serving. Our officers did a great job.”
The two vehicle occupants both had lengthy criminal histories, however, Follmer noted at a press conference Saturday that officers had no idea who was driving the vehicle, contrary to East Cleveland Sgt. Scott Gardner’s statement that the victim’s plates were ran during the pursuit.
Cleveland Safety Director Martin Flask issued a list of various questions the investigation will seek to answer, such as: Was the pursuit properly supervised as required by the policies of the Division of Police?Was the number of officers involved in the pursuit limited as required? and Was the use of force by the officers necessary to protect the lives and safety of the officers?
According to one witness, about 50 police cars were involved in the chase.
ACLU legal director James Hardiman told the Plain Dealer he’s thoroughly baffled that police were even involved in the chase, as Cleveland’s pursuit policy has been reworked since 2007 to reduce the number of chase-related deaths.
“Sure, we don’t know all the facts yet, but we were told Cleveland police were not going to be involved in any more high-speed chases,” Hardiman reportedly said. “These obviously have risks, not only to the suspects and police themselves, but potential injuries to innocent pedestrians. In this case, it seems like overreaction by police right from the start.
“And then to fire over 100 shots is not reasonable. No shots should have been fired. Police would have arrested these suspects without a high-speed chase or firing shots. A thorough investigation should be conducted . . . at least we can hope it will.”
Now the search for a gun and justifiable evidence linking the two deceased victims to the alleged crime will have to be coughed up to justify the firing-squad-like executions. Reportedly, no shell casings were found in Russell’s vehicle or along the chase route. Similarly, no bullets were found outside the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland where police say they first heard gunfire.
“The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office is running gunshot-residue tests on Russell’s and Williams’ hands to determine if either fired a gun. The results should be in before week’s end,” noted the Plain Dealer.
A group of concerned citizens held a protest and a march yesterday led by an organization called “Black on Black Crime” to call public attention to the gross misuse of lethal force being referred to as “lynchings.”
The group compared the tragic events to Bonnie & Clyde’s predicament in a press release, saying:
“Bonnie & Clyde, the notorious bank robbers, were shot 30 to 50 times when their vehicle was surrounded by the posse of Texas and Louisiana officers…We know why they were chasing Bonnie and Clyde, but we are not clear why they were chasing Malissa and Timothy.
“It appears that these two victims were unarmed and no gun casings were found in the vehicle to show that they had been shooting at anyone. So, it appears that two unarmed people were gunned down in what the police union official calls a “good shooting.” We do know that the Cleveland police violated many rules and regulations in the case and the shooting.
“The community and family have questions.”