Notes on the Trial and Oblivion of Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo

The trial of Michael Brelo — the one Cleveland police officer charged with anything heavier than “dereliction of duty” in the shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in November 2012 — was supposed to begin this week. But getting this one off the ground amid fiery politicking among defense attorney Patrick D'Angelo, prosecutor Timothy McGinty and Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell has raised more than a few issues.

Here’s the latest: McGinty filed a motion last week to set the trial’s start date for Nov. 5, the day after the election in which O’Donnell is running for an Ohio Supreme Court seat. “If this court does not set a firm 2014 trial date for Defendant Brelo's case, then Mr. D'Angelo will continue to hijack justice for however long he is able to delay a public trial,” McGinty writes.

D’Angelo has repeatedly claimed that the amount of evidence funneling in from the prosecutor’s office is just too much — equal to “37 two-hour movies,” he said, employing a weird metric — and that what McGinty is perceiving as delay is simple preparation time. It’s basically the middle third of your average Law and Order narrative.

O’Donnell, for his role in all of this, has said at least once that he’s not into the idea of a November or December trial. Some involved in the case (D’Angelo, et al.) pointed out that his original Oct. 22 start date would have tossed him in a nice spotlight right before Election Day. And it would have. He later countered that he just wanted the thing to wrap up tidily by the two-year anniversary of the police shootout. It’s looking more and more like that won’t happen.

In sum, real quick, Brelo pleaded not guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the now-infamous police chase that ended in 137 bullets being fired into a 1979 Chevy Malibu, killing two unarmed black residents. Brelo himself fired 49 bullets.

He now dwells starkly at the center of a shaky police department. He's the face of a rotten public service body whose shortcomings have only become more public. As former Police Chief Michael McGrath garnered a promotion within Mayor Frank Jackson's administration, Brelo took the criminal charges for the department's most visible breach of justice in decades. He now adorns Plain Dealer front pages, dead-eyed and devoid of remorse. 

His criminal case hangs in oblivion.

McGinty and The People should rest assured, though, that, like most things that define this city’s moral and aesthetic character, the trial will be complete by the time the RNC shows up in mid-2016. Fingers crossed, anyway.
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About The Author

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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