It all began On November 29, 2012 when . . .
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. The officer 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 separate police officers who reported heard loud bangs come from the car , which they both believed were gunshots. Others in the area also reported hearing gunshots from the vehicle.
A long and dangerous late-night pursuit began—ultimately involving speeds over 100 miles per hour and dozens of law enforcement officers and vehicles and covering many miles across the Cleveland are. During the chase, several more officers reported hearing gunshots and car backfiring. Some even reported that the passenger of the suspect vehicle had a gun.
The chase led the spree to a middle school parking lot in the city of East Cleveland, where the driver circled back against the pursuing line of police vehicles.
The driver of the fleeing car made a number of dangerous evasive maneuvers inside the lot, causing collisions with police cruisers. Turning back toward the entrance, the driver 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 in their hand. He fired his pistol at the passenger as the vehicle accelerated toward him, firing continuously because he feared being pinned between his cruiser and the subjects’ car. Police radio traffic again exclaimed, “Shots fired.”
In the ensuing seconds, as the fleeing car rolled toward additional pursuing police, a total of 13 officers—each in fear for their own lives and for each other’s—fired 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 found no weapon in the subjects’ vehicle or along the miles long chase route.
The investigation did find that both subjects had lengthy criminal histories:
- aggravated robbery
- driving under the influence of alchol
- fleeing and eluding
- reckless operation
- failure to comply with police and resisting arrest
- attempted abduction
- receiving stolen property
- criminal trespassing
Both also had cocaine and other illegal substances in their bloodstream.
Despite every officer on scene—including 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 Brelo. An Iraq War veteran, Mike served his country proudly as a U.S. Marine, enduring weeks of insurgent attacks that took the lives of 26 of his fellow Marines and two Navy sailors attached to his unit. He returned home to the Cleveland area and became a corrections officer at the Bedford Heights, Ohio jail before going on to serve with the Cleveland Police Department.
Officer Brelo is a respected patrol officer who had never before fired his weapon in the line of duty. On prior occasions, Officer Brelo opted against using deadly force when he faced knife-wielding subjects, valiantly wrestling away the weapons and subduing the subjects.
However, the local 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 everyone nearby. Despite Officer Brelo’s fears and actions being consistent with the other police officers who fired bullets that night, he was singled out for prosecution and now faces years in prison, separation from his family, and financial ruin for doing what he thought necessary to stay alive and keep his fellow officers from harm.
LELDF stands firmly with Officer Brelo, his fiancé Andrea, and their young children Colin and Kiera, to defend his actions in court and in the court of public opinion. Officer Brelo is also fully supported by the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association as well as his legal team.
UPDATE — February 2016: Last spring, Officer Brelo was acquitted of all charges against him by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell. Despite the victory in the state court, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in February they will review 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 DOJ is the administrative action by the Cleveland Police Department. In January, Officer Brelo and five other officers involved in the dangerous chase from over three years ago were fired by the department.
As we have in the past, LELDF continues to support Officer Brelo and the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association as his politically-driven termination is appealed.