Cleveland protesters appear in court
CLEVELAND, OH — Cleveland is catching its breath on Memorial Day after weekend protests. The demonstrations broke out Saturday as people reacted with anger to the acquittal of police Officer Michael Brelo, who had been accused of fatally shooting two unarmed African-Americans.
Sunday was calm. Protesters planned to march Monday afternoon on Cleveland’s east side, cleveland.com reported.
On Monday morning, 56 of the 71 people arrested over the weekend had their first court appearances.
CNN affiliate WOIO-TV reported one person pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served with no fine. Thirty-five pleaded no contest and were sentenced to time served with no fine. Twenty pleaded not guilty; a court date will be set later.
Those charged with felonies are expected in court Tuesday, WOIO said.
Police said they arrested 39 men and 16 women. Most of the others arrested were juveniles.
Demonstrators became “disruptive” at Tower City Center, resulting in arrests and businesses closing their doors, Police Chief Calvin Williams said.
A protester threw a restaurant sign at a bystander, and other demonstrators stepped in when police tried to arrest the sign thrower; protesters pepper-sprayed patrons dining on restaurant patios, Williams said.
“We allowed people to express their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We gave people the space and provided a safe environment for them.”
The charges included felonious assault, aggravated rioting, unlawful congregation and failure to disperse, he said.
CNN video showed police in riot gear moving down East Fourth Street, a strip of restaurants, and pushing back protesters. The officers yelled, “Move back!” in unison as they advanced.
A CNN crew saw at least 15 people being taken into custody by police in riot gear, accompanied by troopers.
Three people were arrested for aggravated riot, felonious assault and obstructing justice after an object was thrown through a restaurant window, injuring a patron, police said in in a tweet.
Multiple arrests were made on East Fourth Street because of “unlawful behavior by large crowd,” another tweet said. Police appeared to outnumber the protesters greatly.
The crowd assembled outside the judicial center in Cleveland for two hours following Saturday’s announcement of the verdict. Law enforcement officers formed a line and kept them from entering the center.
Some chanted “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter,” words heard in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, where sometimes-violent demonstrations occurred after African-Americans died at the hands of white police officers.
On Saturday morning, Judge John P. O’Donnell acquitted Brelo on charges of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.
Brelo, 31, was accused of firing the bullets that killed Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, on November 29, 2012, after a 22-mile police chase ended in a middle school parking lot. Brelo stood on the hood of the car Russell was driving and fired 15 shots through the windshield, authorities said.
About a dozen officers fired a total of 137 rounds at the car, but no other officers were charged with manslaughter.
In explaining his verdict, O’Donnell said it was reasonable for Brelo to think Russell and Williams still posed a threat to officers. The chase started after the car driven by Russell backfired — a noise officers mistakenly thought was caused by gunshots. The judge also said he couldn’t be sure Brelo fired the fatal rounds.
Relatives of Russell and Williams had harsh words for police and the court system Saturday.
“We were expecting him to be convicted of at least one of the charges,” said Jackie Russell, Russell’s sister-in-law, said on CNN. “We feel as though basically the judge gave him a pat on the back and said good job for shooting those people.”
The family later released a statement.
“The judge began the explanation of his ruling by pointing to the countless instances across the nation where racialized policing has occurred and resulted in the untimely deaths of Black and Brown women, men and children. Even as Judge O’Donnell acknowledged the disproportionate killing of people of color, he failed to hold Officer Michael Brelo accountable for his reckless and cruel actions,” it said.
Social media buzzed with reaction, mostly against the verdict.
@MichaelEDyson tweeted, “So because we can’t determine that this cop killed the victims in a hail of bullets, then none of them is therefore guilty? #BreloVerdict.”
Mayor Frank Jackson called for peaceful demonstrations Saturday. During a Sunday news conference, he applauded the majority of protesters, saying they provided the nation with an example of how Cleveland vented its frustration with peaceful demonstrations and dialogue.
Justice Department sees pattern of excessive force
Several incidents have raised concerns about excessive use of force by police. A 2014 Department of Justice report that found that Cleveland police had a pattern of using such force.
On Saturday, a protest was held to demand action in the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot in November by a Cleveland police officer, according to CNN affiliate WEWS-TV. The event had been scheduled before the Brelo verdict.
About 200 people carried a coffin from a park to the home of Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty, WEWS reported. No charges have been filed in that killing, though Sheriff Clifford Pinkney recently said the investigation of the case is almost finished.
By Ralph Ellis and Eliott C. McLaughlin
Nick Valencia, Ryan Young and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.