On November 29, 2012, a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer attempted to stop a vehicle whose occupants were believed to be involved in drug activity. Before he was able to approach the car, it sped away. He put out a radio alert and a few minutes later the same car drove past a municipal building at a high rate of speed, witnessed by two different officers who also heard loud bangs come from the car and believed they were gunshots. Others in the area also had reported hearing gunshots.
A long and dangerous late-night pursuit began, ultimately involving speeds over 100 miles an hour, dozens of law enforcement officers and police vehicles, covering many miles over almost a half-hour period. During the chase, several officers reported hearing gunshots and car backfiring. Some also reported that the passenger of the suspect car had a gun.
The chase ended up in the city of East Cleveland, in a middle school parking lot, where the driver circled back against the pursuing line of police vehicles.
The driver of the fleeing car made a number of evasive maneuvers inside the lot, causing collisions with police cruisers. Turning back toward the entrance, his car jumped a curb trying to avoid the oncoming police. One officer exited his cruiser, fearing for his safety, and commanded the driver to stop as he saw the passenger produce a dark object. He fired at the passenger as the vehicle accelerated toward him, firing additional rounds as he feared being pinned between his car and the subjects’. Police radio traffic again exclaimed, “Shots fired.”
In the ensuing seconds, as the fleeing car rolled toward additional pursuers, a total of 13 officers, each in fear for their own lives and for each other’s, would fire their weapons at the two subjects. The gunfire would last less than 18 seconds, leaving both subjects fatally wounded.
An exhaustive investigation was conducted by the Ohio Attorney General’s office. That review would find no weapon in the subjects’ vehicle or along the miles long chase route.
The investigation did find that both subjects had lengthy criminal histories (including aggravated robbery, DUI, fleeing and eluding, reckless operation, failure to comply with police and resisting arrest for the driver, and kidnapping, attempted abduction, rape, receiving stolen property, assault, and criminal trespassing for the passenger). Both had cocaine and other substances in their bloodstream.
Despite every officer on scene – even those not firing their weapon – stating that deadly force was necessary, a lone Cleveland patrolman, Officer Michael Brelo, was indicted in May 2014 on two counts of Voluntary Manslaughter. Five police supervisors were also criminally charged for failing to properly execute their roles during the pursuit.
The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund supports Officer Mike Brelo. An Iraq War veteran, Mike served his nation proudly as a U.S. Marine, enduring weeks of insurgent attacks that took the lives of 26 fellow Marines and two Navy sailors in his unit. He returned home to the Cleveland area and became a corrections officer in the Bedford Heights jail before going on to serve on the Cleveland Police Department.
Mike is a respected patrol officer who had never before fired his weapon in the line of duty. On prior occasions, Mike opted against using deadly force when facing knife-wielding subjects, valiantly wrestling away the weapons and subduing the subjects. In this case, the District Attorney’s office needed a fall guy for the death of two drug-addled suspects who led police on a long pursuit where they endangered anyone nearby. Despite Mike Brelo’s fear and actions being similar to other police officers who fired that night, he was singled out for prosecution and now faces years in prison, separation from his family, and financial disaster for doing what he thought necessary to stay alive and keep his fellow officers from harm.
The LELDF will stand firmly with Mike, his fiancé Andrea, and young children Colin and Kiera, to defend his actions in court and in the court of public opinion. Mike is fully supported by the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association as well as his legal team.
UPDATE — FEB 2016: Last spring, Mike Brelo was acquitted of all charges against him by Cleveland Judge O’Donnell. Despite the victory in the state court, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they would be reviewing the case for potential civil rights violations.
The DOJ attorneys know they cannot possibly build a case against Officer Brelo but that hasn’t stopped them from hanging a sword over his head for months. And almost as bad as the threat from the Department of Justice is the administrative action by the Cleveland Police Department. In January, Officer Brelo and five other officers involved in the dangerous chase through the streets over three years ago were FIRED by the department.
As we have in the past, the LELDF will continue to support Officer Mike Brelo and the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association as his politically-driven termination is appealed.