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Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams were fatally shot by police in 2012. (Photo: AP)

Protests Erupt in Cleveland Over Not Guilty Verdict for Police Officer

White police officer shot unarmed black man and woman in 2012

Nadia Prupis

A white police officer who stood on a car and shot its two unarmed black occupants in 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault on Saturday.

The verdict has been anxiously awaited since the spread of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, which came about after a spate of unarmed black men and women were killed in police custody around the country, including 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

Officer Michael Brelo shot into the car of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams 15 times after he and his colleagues fired more than 100 shots during a 20-minute car chase. The officers involved said they heard gunshots from the car before pursuing it, but neither Russell, 43, nor Williams, 30, had a weapon. Each was shot over 100 times.

Prosecutors said the sound may have been the car backfiring.

The case was included in a two-year Justice Department investigation, published late last year, which found that the Cleveland Police Department engaged in a "pattern or practice of unreasonable and unnecessary use of force" and violated the civil rights of local residents.

Prosecutors said Brelo's actions crossed the line into recklessness when he climbed onto the hood of Russell's car, but Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O'Donnell disagreed, stating it was "reasonable despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car, and he was mistaken about the gunshots."

O'Donnell's announcement of the verdict quickly sparked protests on the steps of the courtroom and throughout the city of Cleveland.

The actions are being updated on Twitter under the hashtag #BreloVerdict.

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