CLEVELAND — Prosecutors are preparing to question more than a dozen police officers as hostile witnesses if they continue to be uncooperative before the trial of another officer accused of firing the final shots of a 137-round barrage that killed two unarmed suspects in November 2012, according to court documents.
Most of the officers subpoenaed to testify have refused to speak with prosecutors ahead of the voluntary manslaughter trial of Cleveland patrolman Michael Brelo, 31. His trial is scheduled to begin April 6. In their motion, prosecutors said without the opportunity to interview the officers first, there is a concern that their testimony will differ from their previous statements given to criminal investigators after the shootings.
Should the judge in the case determine that an officer is a hostile witness, prosecutors will be able to suggest answers to questions, something that normally is allowed only during a cross-examination. Sixteen officers have not responded to requests for interviews, prosecutors said, while several are cooperating.
Most of the officers subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify either fired their weapons or were in the parking lot of an East Cleveland school where the shooting occurred. Thirteen officers fired into a car that night after a high-speed chase, but only Brelo was indicted because he jumped on the hood and fired 15 rounds through the windshield after the car had stopped and the two suspects, driver Timothy Russell, 43, and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, no longer posed a threat, prosecutors have said.
Brelo fired 49 rounds that night, which meant he had to reload twice. Autopsies showed that Russell and Williams were each shot more than 20 times.
Brelo's attorneys did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Prosecutors argued in their Monday motion that most of the officers have been engaged in a "scheme" to protect Brelo and that their police union continues to "impede and hinder the criminal investigation and prosecution against their fellow union member."
Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, said the prosecutors' claim is "ridiculous."
"The facts will show we've done nothing but cooperate with this investigation," Loomis said. "It's time for (Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J.) McGinty to stop showboating and put his case on."
The motion said that officers who saw Brelo jump on the hood of Russell's car did not tell that to investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. It was only later, after numerous interviews, that an officer mentioned Brelo's actions that night, the motion said.
On Sunday, Judge John P. O'Donnell denied a motion filed by Brelo's attorneys to dismiss the charges after they claimed prosecutors used protected statements in the grand jury that indicted him. O'Donnell also denied a motion asking to dismiss the charges because his job as a police officer provides immunity from prosecution.
At Brelo's request, O'Donnell — not a jury — will decide his charges.