A Cleveland police officer refused to testify Wednesday during the trial of a colleague, Officer Michael Brelo, who faces two counts of manslaughter in a case that involved a wild high-speed chase. Officer Michael Demchak invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on the witness stand after answering just a few basic questions about his identity and work history, citing advice from an attorney to not testify unless granted immunity, Cleveland.com reported.
Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty wasn't pleased with the officer's refusal to answer questions. "We need his testimony in this trial. We're asking for his testimony," McGinty said, as WEWS-TV reported. "We're asking for the truth. That is his duty as a police officer."
Brelo, who was indicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter May 30, 2014, is on trial in connection with the Nov. 29, 2012, deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, both unarmed, led police on a wild car chase that involved more than 100 officers and 60 police cars. Russell and Williams were each struck with more than 20 rounds after police fired nearly 100 shots at the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu in which the pair had been traveling.
Brelo, 31, fired 49 rounds and reportedly jumped on the hood of the car and fired about 15 rounds after the chase had concluded, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. Prosecutors argue the action was unjustifiable since the chase was over.
Investigators said Demchak fired his gun four times during the incident and prosecutors filed motions before the trial opposing police officers who might invoke the Fifth Amendment, Cleveland.com reported. McGinty reportedly told the court that police officers knew one of the fellow officers had done something wrong that night but were refusing to come forward.
The judge in the case decided to allow police officers to invoke the Fifth Amendment just as any other citizen would be allowed to do. "You're asking a witness to rely on your word that you won't charge him, but that's just not the standard," said Judge John P. O'Donnell, as Cleveland.com reported.
Prosecutors expressed frustration that Demchak's refusal to testify had set a precedent. "It won't end with this," McGinty told the court, Cleveland.com reported. "I am reluctant to start doing it here and now for fear of the future result."
Two other police officers -- the first to say he saw Brelo on the hood of the car and that officer's partner -- have been granted immunity in the case thus far. Two more police officers are expected to invoke the Fifth Amendment in the trial, Cleveland.com reported.
The trial began Monday and is expected to last five to seven weeks. In December 2014, following an investigation that began in response to the shooting of Russell and Williams, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder found that the Cleveland Division of Police engaged in a pattern of excessive use of deadly force.