The trial against Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, 31, was expected to begin Monday on charges of voluntary manslaughter for his involvement in a high-speed chase and shooting in November of 2012. A judge will have to decide if the force Brelo used in the shooting was justified.
Brelo, who was indicted on two counts of voluntary manslaughter on May 30, 2014, is the only police officer charged following a Nov. 29, 2012 shootout that resulted in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Russell, 43, and Williams, 30, led police on a wild chase that eventually involved more than 100 officers and 60 police cars and speeds of at least 100 mph. Prosecutor Timothy MgGinty said the chase had "escalated to Blues Brothers proportions."
Russell and Williams were each struck with more than 20 rounds, and nearly 100 gunshots hit their 1979 Chevy Malibu in the 22-minute car chase. Brelo fired a total of 49 rounds, but the case might rest on a judge's decision on whether his final 15 shots were justified.
Brelo stood on the hood of Russell's car and fired 15 shots after the shooting had stopped, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which the prosecutors argue was unjustifiable, saying the threat to the police officers' lives was over. The defense team has argued the threat was not over until Brelo later reached into the car and removed the keys. Following the shooting, investigators concluded neither Russell nor Williams had a gun.
Brelo's defense team decided to have a judge, not a jury, decide on the charges. Brelo could receive a maximum sentence of up to 25 years, according to NBC News, and the trial is expected to last for five to seven weeks.
Cleveland police have been under scrutiny, especially since the November 2014 shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. In December 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern of excessive use of deadly force. The Department of Justice began its investigation in response to the shooting and chase involving Russell and Williams.