CLEVELAND (AP) — A judge in the city where two unarmed blacks died in a 137-shot barrage of Cleveland police gunfire can hear dereliction of duty charges against five police supervisors accused of failing to control a high-speed chase involving more than 100 officers, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The ruling addresses only where the case can be heard and not the substance of the misdemeanor charges against the supervisors.
The supervisors’ attorneys filed an appeal in July 2015 that said the case should be tried in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, where charges were originally filed. The 8th District Court of Appeals agreed and issued an order prohibiting East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson from hearing the case after county prosecutors filed identical charges in that city.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling says the supervisors have legal remedies through appeals of Dawson’s decisions in the case.
A court employee said Dawson was on the bench Thursday morning and wasn’t available for comment.
Susan Gragel, the attorney who wrote the appeal on behalf of the supervisors, said that while she respects the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Eighth District’s prohibition order correctly addressed the fact that charges were filed in East Cleveland while the same charges were pending in county court.
The supervisors — Randolph Dailey, Patricia Coleman, Michael Donegan, Jason Edens and Paul Wilson — were originally indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in May 2014 for failing to control the 22-mile (35-kilometer) chase that led to Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams being killed in the parking lot of an East Cleveland middle school.
Also indicted was Patrolman Michael Brelo, one of 13 officers who shot at the car, on voluntary manslaughter charges. Brelo fired 49 times, including a final 15-round volley from the hood of the car.
The chase began near Cleveland police headquarters after an officer standing outside the building reported that a shot had been fired from a beat-up Chevy Malibu passing by. Experts later said it was likely the sound of the car backfiring.
The supervisors’ trial originally was scheduled to begin in July 2015 in front of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell, who weeks earlier acquitted Brelo during a bench trial, sparking protests. Then-County Prosecutor Tim McGinty told the supervisors and their attorneys at a hearing before trial that identical charges had been filed in East Cleveland and asked O’Donnell to dismiss the county case, which he did.
A message was left Thursday with the new county prosecutor, Michael O’Malley, who took office in January, asking whether his office plans to continue pursuing charges against the supervisors.
The city of Cleveland paid the families of Russell and Williams a total of $3 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit.