A national expert on police use of force testified Monday that Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo acted unreasonably the night of Nov. 29, 2012, when police shot and killed two people in a Chevy Malibu.
W. Ken Katsaris, a Tallahassee, Florida-based consultant on law enforcement issues, said Brelo acted “completely foolish” by moving from a position of cover and jumping on the rear of a police car to fire at the Malibu.
“It’s not trained,” he said. “It’s not appropriate. It’s taking yourself out from behind cover, and you’re putting yourself in crossfire.”
The testimony came on the 11th day of Brelo’s trial in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The 31-year-old officer is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell, the driver of the Malibu, and passenger Malissa Williams.
Police officers initiated a chase after they heard a loud noise come from the 1979 Malibu as it passed them outside the downtown Justice Center. Officers believed at the time they were shot at, though prosecutors have maintained the noise was just an old car backfiring.
Katsaris said that police officers involved in the chase acted on faulty information, but in the heat of the moment acted appropriately. Katsaris also said an “aggressive” chase was in order.
But Katsaris said standing on the police car and then the hood of the Malibu was “objectively unreasonable,” because it put Brelo in a position of danger, and endangered any officers who might have had to attempt to save him.
Prosecutors have said Brelo jumped over to the hood of Russel’s car and fired straight down at the individuals.
Defense attorneys have said their client does not recall standing on the hood of the Malibu, but another police officer, Brian Sabolik testified earlier to seeing someone on the hood of the car. Sabolik also said Brelo later told him that he was the one on the hood of the Malibu.
Brelo told agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation he was the most afraid he’s been his life during the chase and shooting.
During testimony Monday, Katsaris said that Brelo’s fear is precisely why he should have sought cover.
“If you’re in fear of your life and behind cover, I can’t imagine the fear you’re going to have standing on top of a car in the middle of a firefight,” he said.
But when asked if Brelo’s actions broke the law, Katsaris said the judge must make that call.
We’ll hear the rest of Katsaris’ testimony Monday afternoon.