A Cleveland cop cleared Saturday on state charges in the deaths of two unarmed people in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire could face federal charges.
The Justice Department said after the acquittal of Officer Michael Brelo’s on voluntary manslaughter charges that it would “review all available legal options.”
“We will now review the testimony and evidence presented in the state trial” to determine if “additional steps are available and appropriate,” the department said.
Vanita Gupta, head of the department’s civil rights division said the review is separate from its efforts to resolve a pattern of civil rights violations at the Cleveland police department. A report in December outlined a string of examples of excessive force, including officers who unnecessarily fired guns, hit suspects in the head with weapons, and punched and used Tasers on people already handcuffed.
An Ohio judge said he could not determine Brelo alone fired the fatal shots that killed the occupants of a car at the end of a police chase.
Brelo, 31, put his head in hands as the judge issued a verdict that prompted an angry protest outside the courthouse, including chants of “Hands up! Don’t Shoot!”
The acquittal came at a time of nationwide tension among police and black citizens punctuated by protests over deaths of blacks at the hands of white officers — and following a determination by the U.S. Department of Justice that city police had a history of using excessive force and violating civil rights.
Before issuing his verdict, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell noted the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore over the deaths of black suspects but said he would not “sacrifice” Brelo to an angry public if the evidence did not merit a conviction.
“Guilty or not guilty, the verdict should be no cause for a civilized society to celebrate or riot,” he said.
Community and city leaders braced for the possibility of unrest in response to the verdict, which came as investigators work toward making a decision on whether charges will be filed in the death of a black 12-year-old boy carrying a pellet gun who was shot by a white rookie officer late last year.
“We will get justice,” said Art McCoy of the Black Man Army, a coalition of black leaders. “We are not happy with this verdict.”
Shortly after the verdict was reached, about 30 sheriff’s deputies stood in front of the courthouse bearing clear shields as protesters with bullhorns chanted. One demonstrator bowed his head with hands folded in front of the phalanx of deputies, praying in silence.
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SOURCE: Fox News, The Associated Press