Woman and her friend were shot dead after police stopped car
contributions by – June 2017
submitted by – Danielle Roberts
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
On 29 November 2012, 30 year-old Malissa Williams and her friend Timothy Russell were killed by Cleveland police following a high speed car chase. Malissa was homeless and had met her friend Timothy at a shelter where they would often get meals together. Dozens of peaceful protesters were arrested after one of the officers involved was subsequently cleared in shooting the unarmed couple through their windshield in a 137-bullet barrage.
Protesters had climbed the steps of the city’s Justice Center Complex, expressing their dismay at what they believed was a broken system. At a press conference shortly after the trial was concluded, the families of the victims called for peace.
On the night that Malissa tragically lost her life she was driving around in Timothy’s 1979 light blue Malibu chevy. Those who knew both Malissa and Timothy said that they were probably out looking for drugs to buy.
Shortly before 10.30pm a plain clothed officer made a call to run Timothy Russell’s licence plate as he was spotted in an area known as ‘the wall’ where drug deals are often carried out. Despite the licence plate coming back clean, the officer attempted to pull the couple over for a turn signal violation. Instead of Russell pulling over he sped away and during this time they had passed two other officers who later claimed of hearing gunshots being fired.
When investigators looked into the case, they discovered and concluded that the car had just backfired and been mistaken for gunshots.
During the car chase it has been reported that speeds of 100mph were achieved. In addition to this, investigators also found that at some points during the chase there were 62 police cars involved, including officers from Cleveland, East Cleveland, Bratenahl, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and RTA.
The chase came to an end when Malissa and Timothy turned into Heritage Middle School in East Cleveland. Police cars fully surrounded the vehicle, leaving Malissa and Timothy no option but to comply. However, some police officers reporting seeing a gun in the car and also feared that Timothy was going to drive at them. Therefore, an officer fired a shot and then all of the officers began shooting at the vehicle.
In all a total of 137 shots were fired at the couple by 13 officers, and it was later confirmed they were unarmed. both Malissa and Timothy were declared dead at 11:24pm. Malissa was hit 24 times and Timothy was hit 23 times.
As a result of the car case and the tragic and unnecessary death of the couple, six police officers were fired and another six were put on suspension for 21 to 30 days, as well as another officer who retired. One officer Michael Brelo faced trial for 2 counts of manslaughter.
Why would only one police officer face trial when there were 13 officers firing shots some might ask. Brelo, who was an officer for 5 years before the incident, continued to fire even after all of the other officers had ceased shooting. During the shootout he also climbed on top of the hood of the car and continued shooting. In total, 49 of the 137 shots came from Michael Brelo’s gun, the final 15 of which were delivered standing on the bonnet of the car.
Brelo was indicted on two counts of manslaughter and was fired from the police for his behaviour. Brelo waived his right to a jury based trial and asked for a judge. He was found not guilty on the charges of manslaughter by the judge as he stated that there was no way that any expert in the field could determine that the shots fired by him were the fatal ones.
The state agreed a settlement with families of Malissa and Timothy. Malissa’s family was awarded $869,315 for the damages caused by the police. Her mother was awarded 47.5% of this sum, and the rest split between five uncles and aunts.
In court documents Malissa was described as a troubled drug addict living on the streets of Cleveland. she had been living at the Norma Herr Women’s Center on the North side prior to her death. records showed that her longstanding mental health and drug issues had led to around 33 run-ins with the law over the past decade and a half.