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Cleveland Police Arrest Protesters After Officer's Aquittal


And we begin this hour in Cleveland, Ohio. Community leaders there are expressing disappointment following a judge's verdict yesterday acquitting a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a black motorist and passenger nearly two and a half years ago. Protests yesterday were largely peaceful, though, police arrested more than 70 people overnight. M.L. Shultze of member station WKSU reports from Cleveland.

M.L. SHULTZE, BYLINE: Officer Michael Brelo was one of more than a hundred Cleveland officers who joined a 20-mile high-speed chase in November 2012 that ended with 13 officers firing 137 bullets at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Brelo was singled out for jumping on the hood of the car and shooting 49 times, reloading twice. He requested a judge, not a jury trial. And John O'Donnell cleared Brelo of both voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault.


O'DONNELL: Brelo's entire use of deadly force was a constitutionally reasonable response to an objectively reasonably-perceived threat of great bodily harm.

SHULTZE: Besides, O'Donnell ruled that no one proved Brelo's shots were the fatal ones; though, many disagree, including Russell's sister, Michelle.


MICHELLE RUSSELL: I know that those officers were upset. Adrenaline was flowing. By the time they reached up - caught up to Tim and Malissa in that parking lot, they simply let them have it.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

SHULTZE: Throughout the day, there were pockets of protestors; something Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams spent weeks planning for.


POLICE CHIEF CALVIN WILLIAMS: Our people are going to come out, and they're going to be peaceful, and they're going to voice their opinion. And they may get a little over-boisterous, but that's their right.

SHULTZE: Bishop Eugene Ward of the Greater Love Baptist Church is among those criticizing the verdict.

BISHOP EUGENE WARD: It's a continued injustice against the people who pay for the bullets, the cars, the taxes, their salaries.

SHULTZE: Ward is one of a group of African-American pastors, former gang members and city outreach teams working neighborhoods over the past two weeks seeking to ensure that any protests remain peaceful. On Saturday, they were looking for hot-spots, and Khalid Samad says keeping the peace does not mean denying the anger.

KHALID SAMAD: To be able to voice their frustration, their angers in ways that may be - not be ready for prime time, it would be better for them to do that than for somebody to try to incite them into doing something to their own community.

SHULTZE: Michael Brelo remains on unpaid leave and is facing disciplinary charges. The Justice Department says it will review the evidence to see if any federal charges are warranted. And the case did lead to a civil rights investigation that found major problems with Cleveland police training and use of force. And the city is negotiating a consent decree with the Justice Department. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty says losing this case also highlights another issue - Brelo was an Iraq War veteran, and the defense said the way he responded was partly because of his military training.


TIM MCGINTY: Soldiers are trained to kill the enemy at war. In high-stress situations, a veteran can easily revert to what has been taught to him by the military unless properly retrained as a civilian officer. They are very different jobs.

SHULTZE: Not everyone disagrees with the verdict, and Michael Brelo certainly has his supporters, though, they're less vocal than those protesting yesterday. Appeals for calm continue. And another potential flashpoint is just around the corner. A decision of whether officers involved in the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last fall will face charges. Pastor R. A. Vernon says allowed what many are thinking.

PASTOR R. A. VERNON: Can our city sand two cases of glaring injustice with the whole world watching? Something's not right about that.

SHULTZE: For NPR News, I'm M.L. Shultze in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.