A wild car chase, 137 shots and Malissa Williams' death
To hear police tell it, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were a modern day Bonnie and Clyde -- at least that night.
November 29, 2012 would turn out to be a fateful day not only for two homeless people in Cleveland, Ohio, but also for their families, the city's police force and residents.
Williams and Russell were traveling in a vehicle when the car's motor backfired, sounding off like a gun.
Officers quickly gave chase under the presumption, which their lawyers claimed in court, that the two occupants of the car had rang out gunshots, according to Cleveland.com, which covered the case thoroughly.
This was not your typical car chase: More than 62 police vehicles -- from East Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and Ohio State Patrol, and other law enforcement forces -- were involved at different points of the chase. Williams and Russell's car reached 100 mph, according to reports. The chase reached speeds of 100 mph.
Russell eventually turned on a street in East Cleveland and found himself headed off. This is when things get a bit murky: More than one officer said they saw a firearm in the car. When one cop opened fire, others joined in instantly, creating a storm of flying bullets and shrapnel.
Williams, shot 24 times, and Russell, hit 23 times, never had a chance. Their bodies were pulled from the vehicles soaked in blood, mortally wounded. They both were declared dead around 11:30 p.m. that night. In all, investigators found that officers fired 137 shots.
According to investigators, officers said that in the confusion they though the suspects were returning fire. Investigators found those allegations to be baseless.
In fact, no weapon was found in the vehicle, which was a crushing blow to the officers' case.
Six police officers were fired from the police force eventually and six more were suspended without pay for up to a month. But the victims' families -- and the community -- continue to grieve to this day.
The words spoken by police officials have done little to heal the collective wounds of Cleveland residents.
“Those folks [police officers involved in the shooting] had a choice to make and they didn’t make it,” Steve Loomis, head of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said, according to Cleveland.com. “They made the wrong choices.”
Even the Justice Department got involved, releasing a damning report against the officers.
“The officers, who were firing on the car from all sides, reported believing that they were being fired at by the suspects,” the Justice Department report, quoted in The Washington Post, said. “It now appears that those shots were being fired by fellow officers.”
Particular public outrage centered on Officer Michael Brelo, a former Marine. He was found to have fired 15 shots at the unarmed couple, even going so far as to climb atop the hood of their car and shoot into the windshield.
"I've never been so afraid in my life," Brelo reportedly said to investigators. "I thought my partner and I ... would be killed."
Brelo was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault in the barrage.
"This verdict isn't real. This verdict is fake," Malissa Williams sister said, according to CNN.
"To be quite frank ... I did not believe that Brelo was going to be [found guilty] of manslaughter," said Russell's sister Michelle. "But I did expect that he would held accountable to some level — there was even some testimony from other officers that felt that [what he did] was wrong." She added that it was "outside of her brother's character" to be a violent person and that she had hoped the police would have taken that into consideration.
While there were protests outside the courthouse when the judge's verdict came down, things were relatively peaceful. Russell's sister said that she wanted it that way.
"I don't want people to be burning down buildings, or rioting, or hurting anybody," she said to media outside the courthouse, according to Bustle.com. "As a community, we have to come together and use wisdom and knowledge — we have to organize to try and come up with a way to stop this from ever happening again."