Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, were killed on the night of November 29 in Cleveland, Ohio by thirteen police officers that fired 137 rounds at them as they failed to stop for police after being chased for 25 minutes, apparently because either a gunshot or backfire came from their car as they past by police headquarters.
The chase began about 10:30 p.m. and went along Interstate 90 and ended up near the back entrance of a school in East Cleveland late in the evening, where police opened fire. According to News NEet 5, Cleveland police officers had encountered the 1979 Chevy Malibu SS, Russell was driving just moments before the chase began.
The community has been up in arms believing that what took place was nothing more than the execution of two people. No evidence has come forth that they were armed.
The state took over the case and families for both victims and civil-rights groups have demanded a federal investigation. They accuse officers of alleged civil rights violations in the pursuit and gunfire barrage.
"You just can't help but wonder how so many officers were able to shoot so many bullets at these two people in this vehicle," said Paul Cristallo, an attorney representing Russell's family.
Protesters yelled "execution" at a community meeting called by Mayor Frank Jackson to quell rising tensions. The city tried to defuse the outrage by reaching out to federal officials for help. There was no immediate federal decision to intervene.
The officers involved in the shooting have been assigned to desk duties, which is standard procedure after a shooting. They want to avoid talking to the media while subject to the state and internal investigations, their union president said.
Both victims did have prior criminal records. Russel had convictions for receiving stolen property and robbery. Williams has convictions for drug-related charges and attempted abduction. Clearly they were not upstanding citizens, but the question remains, did the police handle this incident properly?
Stan Donaldson reports that "The Cleveland man and woman shot by police last week died as a result of a homicide, Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas P. Gilson ruled today."
He writes that, "Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, both died of wounds to the head, neck and extremities, according to Gilson's spokesman, Powell Caesar."
"Gilson ruled Russell had been shot 23 times and Williams had been shot 24 times," Donaldson reported.
The investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation will initially focus on how the pursuit of Russell and Williams played out. On just-released police tapes, the voice of a male senior officer can be heard saying, “No cars have permission to pursue,” followed by a woman’s voice saying, “Fifth District cars, terminate pursuit.” An officer in the pursuit can be heard responding, “Yeah, but this is our patch and we’re going to see what’s going on.”
Under Cleveland police department rules, high-speed pursuits are to be terminated when there exists “sufficient identifying information and high probability of arresting the suspect later.” A dashboard-camera video from one of the vehicles pursuing Russell shows an officer running the plates on the Malibu.
The rules also state that except under special circumstances, no more than two police cruisers are to be involved in a chase. Police union officials are claiming such circumstances existed in this case—specifically, that officers believed they were under fire.
According to a local government official, officers from other jurisdictions were also present at the shooting, but evidently none of them discharged their weapons.
The investigation is ongoing.