The families of two people killed by Cleveland police one year ago after a car chase are suing the city and officers in federal court. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports.
The lawsuit says 13 Cleveland police officers exerted excessive force by firing 137 gunshots at a car occupied by Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, killing them both.
One year ago, officers believed Russell or Williams had shot at them from their car. Police pursued, and the chase swelled to include more than 60 vehicles, ending in the fatal shooting in East Cleveland. Neither Russell nor Williams was ever found to have had a gun.
Stan Donaldson covered the impact of the shooting for the Plain Dealer. He no longer works for the paper, and now speaks for one of the attorneys in the case. He said the Russell and Williams families want peace.
“Until things are settled in the court of law, with this civil complaint being filed, I don’t think that they will have that peace," he said in a phone interview. "I think that the families are hurting, they want justice and they want answers.”
The suit accuses police supervisors of failing to limit the size of the chase. The suit also says the city of Cleveland allowed police to work in a culture in which they felt free to disregard normal procedure.
The city has disciplined numerous officers and supervisors involved in the chase, but hasn’t yet done so for 13 officers who fired their weapons. A Cuyahoga County grand jury has been weighing whether to bring criminal charges.
Patrick D'Angelo, an attorney who represents the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, defended the officers in a phone interview Thursday.
He said officers believed they were responding to an "active shooter situation," and that Russell had tried to hit officers with his car.
"We feel that the facts will show that all the officers who used deadly force acted appropriately and consistent with their duties and legal authority," D'Angelo said.
Maureen Harper, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's communications chief, says the city will respond in court.
"As with any legal matter, we will review it and address the issues raised by the lawsuit through the legal process," Harper wrote in an email Thursday.